With an increasing number of countries reporting new incidents of the COVID-19 coronavirus every day, it’s difficult to predict where it will appear next. What is certain, though, is that it’s causing disruption for business travelers. China became a no-go zone almost immediately, followed by the lockdown of Italy in reaction to the outbreaks. Now, confirmed cases are jumping worldwide.
Meetings and convention organizers have had to wrestle with decisions of whether or not to go forward with scheduled events, as corporations consider the safety of their employees.
So far, numerous events, exhibitions and conferences have been either postponed or canceled, including the world’s biggest mobile device and app show, Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and possibly the Tokyo Olympics. This causes ripple effects across the hotel, airline, entertainment, marketing and hospitality industries, among others. Most important, of course, is the well-being, safety and security of company employees.
In our globalized economy, business travel is critical, and during challenging periods like this – virus outbreaks, natural disasters, political unrest – employers must ensure they fulfill their duty of care to employees.
So, what can businesses do to provide sufficient health, safety and security for those employees that are traveling?
Information. Communication. Action.
Primarily, it is imperative that companies have the ability to know their employees’ whereabouts when traveling for work and are able to contact them in times of emergency to provide the necessary information to help keep them safe.
It’s no use waiting until an event has occurred to create a plan, as this could further burden already strained travel infrastructures.
Larger companies can set up incident support teams specifically to mitigate any issues or crisis situations. Leveraging technology, they can monitor where employees are traveling to understand if anyone is within harm’s way, and then communicate relevant information to ensure their health, safety and security.
Applicable travel policies should also be reviewed by these teams with changes easily implemented within the company’s designated corporate travel management platform.
For smaller organizations, having an HR representative, or dedicated figure, available to speak to employees in impacted areas would be advisable to ensure that workers are in possession of the latest facts and information.
Regardless of company size, businesses should begin by reaching out to all employees with trips scheduled to countries where they may be impacted. Business representatives should confirm that they are following the organization’s policies relating to travel and are aware of the latest information available.
For example, coronavirus is most impactful to those with respiratory problems or the elderly. Employees who fall into these categories should be advised to consult with their doctor before undertaking a trip.
Companies using an external business travel provider should find out what provisions they have in place. Some offer technology that enables organizations to operate comprehensive “duty of care” policies that already cover many of the points above, plus enable country and continent blacklisting to prevent employee travel to areas where they’d be most at risk.
The best corporate travel management platforms constantly surveil global events and provide travel alerts for corporate travel managers and travelers, while also enabling travel leaders to communicate directly with individual travelers.
Having a real-time approach is critical as it empowers travel managers to take swift and well-informed action, if necessary. Alongside this, travelers will feel reassured that they can gain access to 24/7 travel agent support who can rearrange their travel plans, if needed.
Having these kinds of precautionary travel infrastructures already in place can provide much-needed peace of mind for both businesses and travelers alike.