‘Non-Binary’ Travel Risk Management, Explained

As decision makers, humans like to think binary. This is particularly true when prospective travelers must weigh the risks and benefits of walking out the front door and making their way to the airport This can often lead to aggressive or conservative decision-making regarding travel, a tendency that has become all the more relevant during the recent pandemic. Many organizations must now determine whether it makes sense for them to resume travel, and if so how?

In the heightened risk environment posed during the pandemic, a binary mindset will likely frame travel as either a complete stop or complete resumption. Every organization must determine its own appropriate risk exposure, and make their own informed decisions as to when a full resumption of travel may be appropriate for them. For many organizations a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ may not be the answer, these organizations must use a non-binary mindset to assess the question at hand. This involves taking a methodical approach to identifying the risks and rewards of different levels of travel resumption and then getting creative about which combination of travel segments and precautions can best serve their organization and their travelers.

First off, organizations should scrutinize their pre-pandemic behaviors and for each travel segment ask themselves: How important is this segment? How risky is this segment? Are there any possible non-travel substitutes that could achieve the goals of this segment? And are there any precautions or adjustments that could lower the risk of this segment? By reflecting and methodically answering these questions, an organization can identify the segments most critical and take appropriate precautions to make them possible while finding substitutes for those for which the risk outweighs the reward.

Let’s look at an example. Say an organization is based on the east coast of the U.S. and in 2019 was regularly traveling between office locations across the country, visiting prospective clients throughout North America, and providing onsite consulting services to an existing critical relationship client in South America. Like many organizations, travel for this organization was significantly disrupted, and now the leadership team is assessing how to proceed. While the leaders don’t feel ready to completely restart travel to pre-pandemic status, they also don’t feel that a full ‘stop’ is necessary for their travelers either. To explore their options, they must establish a clear understanding of the value, inherent risks, and potential alternative options and precautions for each travel segment.

They could consider that travel in between organization offices in the U.S. will provide value by promoting interorganizational coordination, likely resulting in more creative projects and better communication. It also could be deemed as relatively low risk since travel would be limited to within the U.S. and only to known offices within the organization. Various precautions could be implemented and standardized across the organization to minimize risk. Potential alternatives to this travel include telecommunication and project management technology solutions that allow for enhanced remote communication and collaboration between teams. Though the limits of these solutions have been well observed these past months, they have also been largely effective in helping many organizations foster communication and collaboration through the transition to working remotely and could likely serve the same purpose in decreasing travel for interorganizational coordination purposes.

The next travel segment involves traveling to meet directly with prospective clients in the U.S. as well as Canada and Mexico, if possible. This is considered extremely high value as a key part of developing relationships and converting prospective clients into paying customers. The ability to resume these types of trips could be considered critical for the ongoing success of the organization. The risks involved with this travel are higher due to greater likelihood of travel disruption for visits to Mexico and Canada as well as the relatively unknown risk of exposure associated with visiting the prospective clients’ offices and cities. One important action that could be taken in this situation is establishing proactive, agreed-upon expectations and precautions for both parties to minimize risk of exposure. Some examples of these precautions include the use of outdoor or well-circulated spaces for meetings, a collective agreement on the use of face masks to protect both parties from the risk of exposure, and symptom screening or even testing of all participating individuals prior to meetings.

Finally, traveling to South America to visit an important existing client is the highest risk travel segment with the most potential for exposure and the highest likelihood of travel disruption. The benefits of such a trip would be substantial, contributing to the retention of a very important client which may be more important than ever if prospective client to customer conversion is down. Travel risk could be minimized by establishing shared precautionary measures and also by closely monitoring the epidemiological situation in the country and specific destination region. Given the existing relationship and nature of the consulting work, video chat could be used as a substitute with limited but sufficient effectiveness.

With a clear view of all the potential options, the organization can now determine which combination of travel segments, precautions, and temporary alternatives will provide the most value without overexposing itself and its travelers to risk. Possible non-binary options for this organization are: first, delay interorganizational travel and utilize telecommunication solutions; second, delay travel to South America and utilize video chats and a sustained communication strategy; and third, pursue travel to meet with and develop relationships with prospective clients while ensuring shared precautions are agreed-upon to minimize the risk to all. In this case, the organization is avoiding resumption of travel for the least critical and easiest substituted segment, delaying resumption of travel for a high-risk and important segment, and prioritizing a risky but absolutely critical segment to meet with prospective clients where alternative solutions might not cut it.

The assumptions and details of this example are of little relevance as the importance of travel, priorities, and individual risk tolerance will be completely unique to each and every organization. What matters is the overall process and methodology, which can aid decision-makers in better understanding the many potential paths available to them. No matter how much the world changes and the risk environment evolves, having a clear understanding of one’s options and a willingness to explore non-binary solutions to solve complex problems can help all organizations in effectively managing travel risk.

Need help with determining a travel restart strategy that makes sense for your organization? Contact us today.


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.

*The information provided within this post has been compiled from a multitude of available sources, and is based on the current news and situational analysis at the time of writing.