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Crisis management safeguards for the proactive travel manager

March 23, 2020 / Africa

It goes without saying that your employees’ safety is of utmost importance. The spread of COVID-19 is a global topic of concern, and over the last few weeks, companies of all sizes have started taking action to help ensure the safety of their employees. 

It’s imperative to prepare for the impact that crises like this can have on your business and the employees you serve. Here’s how global companies and small businesses alike are mitigating risk and developing plans for crisis management.

Crisis readiness

Define the situation

As we have experienced, crises are times of extreme discomfort, trouble or danger. In the corporate travel world, a crisis situation is something outside the normal risk associated with travel that cannot be planned for in advance and requires immediate action. Think natural disasters, criminal activity or infectious disease outbreaks.

Assess your travellers’ risk 

Pre-trip risk evaluation helps you reach a holistic understanding of the possibilities a specific employee faces when travelling abroad. Travel managers can proactively assess levels of risk and priority based on different geographic, economic and environmental factors. Questions to consider include, but are not limited to: 

  • How is the traveller travelling? (eg, plane, train, boat) 
  • Does the traveller have an emergency contact and knowledge of local emergency procedures?
  • Are there climate issues, natural disaster risks or clean water concerns in the environment of the destination?
  • Does the traveller have all necessary vaccinations?
  • Does the traveller have any preexisting medical conditions?
  • What are the crime levels like at the destination? Is there risk for civil unrest?

Travellers may fill out a risk assessment form before embarking on a business trip to help address some of the topics above. Resources such as International SOS’s Travel Risk Map can also assist you in defining levels of risk for your travellers.

Build a contingency plan

Defining a crisis and assessing your employees’ risk can facilitate the development of your emergency readiness plan. Follow the steps below, and find more information on pandemic preparedness specifically here.

1. Assemble a crisis response team

As a corporate travel manager, you’ll likely be a key stakeholder in planning for and reacting to a crisis, though you may assemble a steering committee, or crisis response team, to support your efforts. The size of the team will depend on the scale of your company and the volume of business travellers. Every team member should have a clear role and level of authority. As you lead the charge, you’ll work with your organisation’s executive team on crisis procedures and policies as they relate to business travel. Then you can share the most pertinent information with employees.

2. Educate your travellers

A knowledgeable traveller is a safer traveller. Sharing health and safety tips, as well as up-to-date company policies, with your employees before a trip will help them avoid crisis situations. It’s best to implement continuous communication with travellers before and during their business travel. 

Pre-travel education also includes providing information about local emergency resources, including hospitals and clinics, emergency phone numbers, mental health support and your organisation’s 24/7 point of contact. Encourage travellers to save important numbers on their phone and give them hard copies with more detailed instructions about how to access these resources. 

3. Have employees gather critical personal information

No one wants to struggle to locate pertinent information when stakes are high and time is of the essence. Each traveller, as well as a designated crisis team representative, should have immediate access to their essential documents, including:

  • Flight numbers and itinerary
  • Emergency contacts
  • Passport and visa, if applicable
  • Health insurance information
  • Prescriptions/medications 

4. Establish a communication strategy

After equipping your travellers with resources and gathering critical information to ensure their crisis preparedness, think about how to effectively communicate in the wake of an emergency. You’ll likely coordinate with the company’s communications team to establish an internal and external strategy. Pay special attention to details like what language to use, how to keep employees best informed and various ways to contact them. 

Timely and frequent communication can be difficult to achieve, but the right technology helps you track and communicate with business travellers no matter the time or place. Duty of care tools like Concur Locate and International SOS give you insight into your travellers’ itineraries so you can more easily locate them in times of emergency. 

5. Train the team

Finally, train your crisis response team and all employees, including travellers and non-travellers, by staging drills and simulations that mimic potential travel emergencies. All stakeholders should run through the crisis readiness plan from steps A to Z, including testing your communication tools for functionality. After running the drills, gather feedback on what may need improvement from your crisis response team and stakeholders. 

Crisis response

The unexpected happens—what’s your first move?

When a crisis occurs, determine first which employees may be immediately affected. Tap your duty of care technologies to locate and establish contact with your travellers. If employees are operating outside of their planned schedules, platforms like Uber for Business take care of any information gaps and give travel managers increased visibility into ground transportation abroad. 

Look back at your pre-travel risk assessment and consider which category your travellers currently fall under. For example, regarding exposure to COVID-19, travellers may fall into 3 risk categories: high, medium and low. Travellers at high risk of exposure include those travelling to and from the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province of China (the place with the highest number of confirmed cases) or those living in close contact with someone who has a lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection. Low-risk travellers include people travelling from anywhere excluding mainland China, Iran, Italy or an area with a sustained widespread outbreak.

After locating your travellers and assessing their risk levels, be prepared to answer initial questions regarding the crisis, such as: What exactly is going on? What do I need to do to ensure my safety? What is the company doing to mitigate or resolve the situation?

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Open all possible lines of communication and be available 24 hours a day. After making sure employees are out of immediate danger, monitor the crisis closely and update company policies as needed. Adjust travel arrangements and accommodations plans as needed. Above all, keep your communication swift, calm and controlled. 

As the crisis develops, employees at home and abroad will expect timely updates and advice. Travel managers should check relevant websites frequently to stay abreast of new developments. In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, Uber has shared CDC and WHO health tips, implemented work-from-home policies and restricted business travel to affected countries. Our communication is deployed by email and consistently updated on internal and external pages dedicated to the COVID-19 situation. 

If your company is receiving media attention related to business travel, direct all questions to a central email address alias (likely associated with your PR team) to avoid discrepancies in your company’s public responses.

Evaluation and post-crisis assistance 

After overcoming the crisis situation, evaluate how you handled it and revise the crisis plan accordingly. If any aspects of the plan weren’t executed smoothly or efficiently, don’t hesitate to adjust your resource allocation for future scenarios. Ask your corporate travellers whether they felt sufficiently prepared for and supported during the crisis. Employees are your most valuable resources when it comes to crisis management evaluation, as many likely experienced the situation firsthand and can provide actionable feedback on your preparedness.

Don’t let your duty of care end when travellers return home. Provide post-crisis resources to help ensure that any employees experiencing lingering effects have continued support and guidance as they prepare to return to work. Not only does this help you improve your future crisis management plan, but it also shows your travellers that you have their back.