This article was provided by AXA XL
The gradual phasing out of COVID-19 restrictions around the world has brought hope that business travel will start to pick up again. As businesses begin to send colleagues back out on trips, Jessian Randall (pictured), senior underwriter, Retail Accident & Health, UK & Lloyd’s at AXA XL, explains how the pandemic underlined the duty of care that companies owe their business travellers and highlighted the questions companies need to ask when sending colleagues on trips away from home.
Business travel is an important cog in the UK economy: according to the Business Travel Association, in a normal year, it contributes more than £220 billion to the UK’s gross domestic product. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that trips for work all but dried up in 2020 and 2021. But the success of vaccination programs and the removal of restrictions in many countries has seen business travel begin to pick up again at the start of 2022.
The number of business trips slowed drastically as the effects of the pandemic took hold across the world; according to the Global Business Travel Association, business travel fell by about 90% in 2020. As governments took steps to try to stem the spread of COVID-19, flights were grounded, schools and shops closed, and the movement of people was significantly curtailed. Many countries placed restrictions on both inbound and outbound travel, and people were advised only to travel if strictly necessary. Over the following months, as the advice remained for people to work from home where possible, most business meetings took place over video calls or on the phone.
The resilience demonstrated by people in all types of work was extraordinary, and the pandemic showed that companies and their employees can adapt to new ways of working. But while video conferencing and other forms of virtual meeting have come into their own over the past two years, there’s no doubt that, for some industries, face-to-face meetings cannot be entirely replaced.
As companies look to re-start sending colleagues on trips – both at home and overseas - traveller safety is likely to be their biggest concern.
The Institute of Travel Management, which represents businesses in the travel management industry in the UK and Ireland, each year surveys its members about their top priorities; every year for the past ten years, traveler safety has ranked number one.
The global pandemic has reinforced this priority and underlined the duty of care that employers owe to their colleagues who travel for work. As business travel resumes, there are steps that both the travellers themselves and the companies that employ them can take to mitigate some of the risks they may face.
Even though travel is possible once again, it will likely look quite different for some time. And there are things that colleagues can do to be prepared for these changes and ways in which they can increase their comfort and safety.
Before making any trips, travel security teams should research the end destination and ensure that travellers are furnished with as much information as possible about any security concerns. Any transfer journeys should be pre-booked to increase security too.
And there are steps travellers can take to reduce their risk of COVID exposure on journeys. Healix International, our embedded global assistance partner, reiterates the advice that crowded indoor spaces, especially those with poor ventilation, should be avoided if possible. If travel to these environments is unavoidable, it is important to wear a well-fitting mask. In some regions this may be mandatory, while in others this is now optional. It is still important to wash or sterilise your hands at frequent intervals. This helps reduce the risk of many infectious agents, including COVID-19.
Once travellers arrive at the destination airport, they should allow extra time for temperature checks and other processes that may be required by the host country; extra time for airport transfers should be taken into account.
If possible, travellers should download the App of their hotel to a mobile device to minimise contact. They also should bear in mind that some areas of the hotel, such as gyms, may be closed or have restricted access.
Companies that deploy colleagues on business trips can take steps to try to minimise the risks travellers may face. When businesses are sending colleagues on business trips, communication is key. The unfolding COVID-19 situation has underlined the importance of providing clear, consistent and advice based of real-time developments to all members of staff.
Risk professionals, employers and travellers must ensure they monitor the situation – on a daily basis – to have up-to-date information on the areas where staff are working or may be asked to work. Employees should be given advice on how to reduce their exposure to COVID-19, how to recognise symptoms, and what they should do if they develop them.
Companies that send significant numbers of employees on business trips are strongly encouraged to have dedicated resources to monitor the latest developments and cross-check information from sources such as the World Health Organization as well as local media outlets.
All travel plans should be risk-assessed, taking into account the traveller’s unique risk profile as well as medical and logistical concerns, for example. Understanding a traveller’s specific risk profile, combined with the risk profile of their activity and destinations while abroad, is the key to ensuring a safe and successful trip. For example, if a traveller has pre-existing medical conditions which mean they are more vulnerable to complications or adverse outcomes from COVID-19 infection then their trips could be targeted to low-risk areas only and other risk mitigation measures could be put in place. Tools such as Healix’s COVID Travel Safe work to automate this process.
Before any business trip, companies should review the evacuation plans in place should a situation develop or worsen. Those plans should include specific triggers and the steps that should be taken if a repatriation is unfeasible for any reason, among other things. Evacuation plans should also include not just access to supplies and equipment but take into factors such as mental wellbeing and the psychological impact on travellers of any change in circumstance.
Any evacuation requires a coordinated approach between different areas of an organisation – such as HR and legal – and clear communication with affected employees is also vital.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief some of the potential exposures that business travellers face, these steps should be taken for all types of business trips, whether during a pandemic or not.
International insurance companies can work with businesses to not only provide risk transfer, but access to risk management tools and apps to monitor situations and plan trips.
We’re all looking forward to a time when travelling, both for business and pleasure, will become “normal” again. Nobody quite knows what that normal will look like, but the experiences and lessons learned during this pandemic will no doubt shape the way in which will travel, and the precautions we take, for some time to come.
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