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What do we mean by "safe"?

Duty of Care

The issue of safety is a greater concern for travel managers than ever before. Indeed, according to studies, it is currently the most important issue of all, both in society as a whole, and in companies. But what does "safety" actually mean? Where does it start, and where does it end?

The precarious political situation in many countries and regions, as well as incidents and attacks in places previously seen as being „safe“ have made many people feel insecure. At the end of 2017, for example, market researchers in Germany asked survey participants to list the countries in which they felt „safe and secure“. You may find the result alarming: the list of countries in which the majority of people feel safe includes just five names – with their home country of Germany leading the way (77 per cent). In Great Britain, and this is surprising, only 32 per cent of those questioned feel safe, in the USA the figure is 23, and it is just eleven per cent for Russia. Even though these assessments are greatly dependent on the level of eduction (of the participants with higher education, roughly twice as many said that they thought that Great Britain or the USA were safe travel countries), it is clear that the issue of safety is right at the top of the agenda.

Business trips follow business
The same is also true for business trips. "I wish it were different", says Ben Park, Director Procurement and Travel at Parexel, "but for us the issue of duty of care is at the forefront at present." Park is one of 112 travel managers who were recently asked about their current concerns and difficulties by ACTE and HRS. The result? Safety is currently the most important issue in travel management.

For business travellers, it is not possible to simply switch destinations, because they have to follow the business. "We are increasingly getting enquiries from companies which have suddenly taken on onshore orders from Iran, Iraq or Nigeria", explains Pascal Michel, Managing Director of security service provider Smart Risk Solutions. So it is not surprising that, following the general trend in society, companies also put safety first.

image & vector data: Adobe Stock

Perceived safety decreases
Experts disagree about whether the world has actually become less safe. For example, the London Institute for Economics and Peace documented a slight reduction in worldwide terror victims in 2015. However, above all, it is the feeling of safety that has suffered, as the security service provider International SOS identified: out of 667 decision-makers questioned at the end of 2017, 63 per cent believed that risks for business travellers had increased. Even so, this is a slight decrease in comparison with the previous year, when 72 per cent expressed this concern. Travel managers are particularly concerned by the more fragile geopolitical situation (41 per cent) combined with the increasing globalisation of their business (39 per cent) and a growing number of travellers (37 per cent).

It is therefore no wonder that it is not only travel managers who are worried about the subject, but also TMCs and other providers. From all parties, travellers can get apps which keep them up-to-date about risks (whether they are related to strikes, storms or attacks), track their location and establish contact with the company in the event of a crisis. The fascinating part of this process is what happens after an alarm, says safety expert Michel from Smart Risk Solutions. In most companies, there is no department for corporate safety and security, and the contacts are therefore the travel managers of the travel office. What’s more, approximately one in four travel managers have no emergency plan, as shown by the ACTE-HRS study from 2017. Smart-Risk Director Michel has the following advice: "Ask yourself: does the travel guideline consider the altered risk situation? Has training been provided on dealing with emergencies, and can you act appropriately in stressful situations? Is there effective travel safety management?"

image & vector data: Adobe Stock

For example, if the travel office is informed about an earthquake or an unclear terror situation, then the travel manager needs to quickly clarify certain aspects, says Michel. Are there travellers in the vicinity of the incident? Can I contact employees and clarify their status? What do I recommend to those who are still in danger? Are travellers currently on their way to the location? Can I stop them? Who in the company needs to be informed and involved in the process? For example, when there was a bomb attack on a bus of the presidential guard in Tunis, the authorities imposed a curfew for the entire city. Business travellers were not allowed to leave the arrivals hall until the morning. As Michel explains, anyone who found out about this before their flight took off, would not have to go through a night like that.

Identify risky trips during the approval process!
Matthew Judge, Managing Director of the British security service provider Anvil, therefore advocates a booking and approval process that is fundamentally stronger in terms of safety and security than just looking at the costs. This is not about approving or refusing certain trips, but rather, for example, automatically identifying residual risks on the basis of current data as early as the approval process, and taking targeted preliminary action. If nothing else, this would allow companies to document that they have fulfilled their duty of care, says the Anvil manager.

Therefore, on the one hand companies are strengthening their efforts to control business travellers in their internal booking tools. On the other hand, the large security providers are also attempting to integrate all other booking channels into their systems. For example, in addition to its own People Locator, HRS also has interfaces to Anvil, International SOS or even iJet. On request, the booking data of mutual customers can be forwarded to these service providers in order to locate travellers quickly.

Pascal Michel, Smart Risk Solutions: early training for emergencies
Pascal Michel

Safety means different things to different people.
But what exactly does the vague term 'safety' mean for companies and travellers? Anyone who has employees in Delhi or Beijing might perhaps be concerned about the smog in these cities, and anyone who sends out a whole host of field sales staff will want them to be safe while they are travelling around. At the same time, a beauty company, which has mainly female business travellers, will tend to be more concerned about ensuring that the employees' accommodation is not in the darker corners of a city.

This is not an insurmountable task. Even small, practical measures can be very effective when it comes to safety, particularly when it comes to the hotel. For example, the ASW Association for Safety in Business has a whole range of detailed tips dedicated to this subject. These include the fact that the lower floors of a hotel are potentially easier for criminals to access, while the upper floors are more difficult for the fire service to get to in the event of a fire. In addition to a spyhole and safety hooks, the experts recommend taking a wedge with you to put under the door. Furthermore, you should inspect all aspects of the room, such as the locking mechanisms on the windows on arrival, and you should never give out your room number in public. HRS is currently considering the extent to which hotels could be classified according to their safety level based on certain criteria during the sourcing phase.

Preparation and communication make you safer
Irrespective of the events around the world, well-informed employees should be at the heart of safety management. This starts with information on vaccinations or upcoming elections, and extends through to individual training on conduct on location. However, a study from the DRV association in 2015 indicates that there are great deficits in this area. While 92 per cent of business travellers said that they would prefer to be informed of possible risks by their employer before the business trip, in reality not even half of employers actually did this.

People Locator
The HRS People Locator essentially consists of a world map which visualises all bookings. Via a geographic search, it is possible to see who is in a particular region at a particular time at the touch of a button. Affected travellers can be contacted directly via the application.