Like any global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in travel risk management (TRM) plans as scenarios sketched out on paper played out just a little different than expected in real life. Several common TRM ‘planning pitfalls’ can be identified from this globally shared experience which forced many risk managers to learn on their feet to keep travelers safe in our new world of travel. This article will explore four of these common planning pitfalls. It will also highlight some tactics which can be used to overcome these pitfalls by exploring new ideas, approaches, and planning practices—this brings significant benefit to TRM planning overall with lessons applicable well beyond COVID-19.
1) NOT preparing for “If” but “When”…
It’s natural human tendency to weigh immediate costs heavier than future ones, a concept known in behavioral economics as Present Bias. But a sober review of crisis scenarios, whether that be a volcano eruption shutting down the airport, testing positive for COVID, or even a lost passport, when faced with and without appropriate planning, will show that forward-looking development of mitigation strategies is nearly always a good investment.
For example, in the instance where a traveler tests positive for COVID-19, there are several considerations from quarantining conditions and facility types; support of physical/mental wellbeing; access to testing facilities; and potential access to healthcare. When something like this happens, the best way to minimize operational impact and maximize traveler support is to have a well fleshed-out response plan in place. This kind of plan, addressing all the numerous facets of an effective response laid out above, requires a mindset that assumes from the beginning that the crisis in question is not only possible but probable, necessitating investment in preparation for the day it comes to pass.
2) NOT considering traveler/group profiles…
This common pitfall could severely limit one’s ability to see clearly through the lens of probability and severity of crises during travel. For example, in reference to the COVID-19 positive test scenario, if a traveler’s medical history suggests they could require advanced medical care, then it is critical to not only ensure this level of care will be available at their destination, but also that there is a comprehensive plan in place to accommodate for their quarantine period.
Of course, knowing is (more than) half the battle, but at the end of the day, traveler profiles–be it medical, cultural, or otherwise–is quite personal and often confidential. While all organizations are unique and will have different rules in place, requiring the disclosure of certain information can in many cases be impossible.
What then can be done? As is often the case, the best solution here is education. No one knows the traveler profile better than the traveler, and almost always the most efficient way to make sure a risk assessment is conducted prior to travel is by arming the traveler with the information to do it themselves. This means talking to travelers about the current risk landscape for their destinations—whether it be around COVID-19, environmental concerns such as pollution levels and standing advice for those who may have asthma; or even the history of travelers being harassed in a destination due to specific identity traits. All organizations and situations are different, but educating travelers will always be a positive contribution to enabling effective travel risk assessments.
3) NOT having a pulse on “what’s covered” and “what isn’t”…
While policies and plans will certainly differ according to the organization and situation at hand, having a working knowledge of your organization’s insurance/assistance benefits is a critical part of any successful crisis response.
Things to consider and find answers to ahead of time in this realm include “cancel for any reason” clauses; quarantine coverage; medical evacuation and hospitalization coverage; and triggers and windows for evacuation assistance. However, all that being said, it’s perfectly ok if you personally don’t know all the answers—the key is identifying who can answer these questions and ensuring they are accessible in the event of a crisis to help shed some light.
4) NOT utilizing third-party resources effectively…
When a crisis occurs that impacts travelers abroad, there are a number of resources that can be brought to bear to assist in the response—many of whom aren’t being appropriately utilized if no one even knows they are available.
Some of these resources to keep in mind include Government resources (embassies, OSAC for US organizations); travel risk management and global emergency assistance providers; peer organizations operating in the impacted area; and service vendors (transportation, study abroad providers, local fixers , etc.).These groups can end up being the cornerstone of an organization’s crisis response, but only if conversations regarding their assistance are broached ahead of time—and if specific capabilities, roles, and contacts are also established in advance to maximize the utility of these groups. In appropriate cases, it may even make sense to integrate such groups into an organization’s Emergency Action Plan or annual Crisis Response Exercises.
These four common travel risk management planning pitfalls provided valuable lessons to organizations operating around the world during the last few years. Absorbing these lessons and the tactics for overcoming them can help prepare organizations to effectively handle their next crises and move more confidently and fluidly into the future.
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For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.