The world is starting to open up for travel again…and we know you have some questions! While there is a lot of great information out there about restarting your organization’s international travel programs, it’s also getting increasingly more difficult to sift through what’s relevant and decipher what it really means for your travelers and your organization. On Call’s VP of Global Assistance Services and in-house security/risk management expert, Ryan DeStefano, is here to help by answering some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received on this topic to date, and to also help guide you in creating a travel restart strategy that makes sense for you and your organization.
We keep hearing about this ‘new normal’ that organizations are facing today—can you talk more about what this means from a duty of care and travel risk management perspective?
Ryan: I think we first need to put some definition around what this new normal is. When we discuss duty of care we generally speak about the “legal and moral obligation to provide reasonable care against foreseeable risk.” Has this “new normal” altered how we do that, or has it affected our constituents’ perceptions of what we should be doing? The “new normal” in the short-term most likely means traveling in a world with COVID-19 and now greater awareness or respect for the risks of infectious disease in the long-term. Our students, faculty, business, and leisure travelers will be faced with constraints and/or new protective measures in places as they move about. Once markets are poised for re-entry, I don’t think our risk mitigation practices will have to alter drastically albeit from greater traveler awareness, adherence to local requirements, and the advised hygiene practices. That said, I do think organizations are faced with a greater need for due diligence, robust go/no-go decision-making processes, real-time situational awareness, and proper rapid repatriation planning.
Can you talk more about risk tolerance and how this factors into an organization’s travel restart strategy?
Ryan: An organization’s risk tolerance is the barometer for what level of risk to their assets they are willing to accept in pursuance of their mission. Most organizations already knew that certain countries, and honestly anywhere, can carry a threat to travelers of infectious disease. However, a majority did not consider a far-reaching and rapidly spreading pandemic that affected all its locations, processes, and travelers. Has the presence of COVID-19 adjusted that go-forward risk tolerance? If so, are there variations in tolerance based on the type of traveler or the length of the mission (e.g. at-risk travelers vs. healthy travelers, students vs. faculty, short-term programs vs. long-term programs etc.)? Can you tolerate even one traveler contracting the disease? If not, that would certainly affect your strategy of even going to that particular destination. If yes, can you tolerate one death or exposure to others? If not, there may be additional protective measures or restrictions to put in place. Finally, an organization’s domestic return to occupancy strategy also plays into the equation. If we have certain criteria to meet in that regard it stands to reason we would want to see similar protection measures and criteria elsewhere to create some parity in our risk tolerance strategy.
Can you talk about tripwires and why developing them is so important when it comes to making informed travel restart decisions?
Ryan: The traditional use of the term “tripwires” relates to conditions that are present or emerging on-the-ground in a locale that cause an organization to increase its security posture or consider evacuating its personnel. When we speak about travel restart planning, we refer to “reverse tripwires.” Basically, it’s answering the question of what needs to be true in order for you to consider the risk minimal enough to re-introduce your operations and/or personnel into that environment. It is important for an organization to have clear and decisive criteria that they can cite to guide them in their risk-based decision-making frameworks. We generally see these under a few categories for the current situation, 1) Government Warnings (e.g. CDC, U.S. Dept. of State, etc.), 2) Operational Status (border status, commercial flight availability, social distancing, etc.) 3) Medical Infrastructure (COVID case trend, hospital capacity, etc.) & 4) Organizational Considerations (economic, reputational, etc.).
Can you talk more specifically about some of those key factors that impact an organization’s decision of when to resume travel?
Ryan: I have been breaking these down into a simple tiered framework for decision-making criteria. First, can we go? This is really based on Operational Status conditions such as borders open to allow international travelers complemented with the availability of commercial transportation to get into country. Second, what are the risks if we go? Once the borders are open and there is adequate transport, the data gathering turns to COVID-19 case trends and the local medical systems capacity to test, isolate, and treat. Third, what will it look like if we go? The government warnings and restrictions in place will educate on this variable. What U.S. embassy support would be available? Are essential services easy to access? Do social distancing measures prevent a costly return to operations environment (e.g. capacity constraints, temperature screening, materials required, etc.) Finally, should we go? This gets to the individual risk tolerance of the organization. What are your peers doing? What economic risk/reward is in play? What is the reputational or relationship risk? Does your travel base even feel comfortable traveling? Do we resume in country x but not county y? All these customized and organizational variables help funnel the final decision.
There are obviously a lot of important factors that play into this decision and a lot of moving parts – what are some logical next steps for organizations to take to best get a handle on this due diligence process?
Ryan: Organizations have likely been meeting regularly on COVID-19 risks, collecting data from relevant sources, and discussing their stakeholders’ concerns. The next phase is really to refine that process so that you have a defensible position about return to operations as well as solid plans to mitigate and respond to the risks. Organizations should be leaning on their insurance and assistance partners to understand coverage and receive intelligence on medical status, capability, and contingencies for markets desirable for re-entry. They should also ensure they are collecting and receiving credible, accurate, and specific intelligence. We also cannot stress enough the importance of benchmarking and local partner networks. Organizations should actively consult with their peer groups, review industry guidance and subject matter expertise, as well as engage in direct conversations with support agencies on the ground in the market of consideration. All of these efforts will ensure you have a holistic and risk-appropriate response.
In closing, can you talk more about what travelers and their organizations can expect to see once travel resumes?
We are already starting to see what it looks like when travel resumes to a certain extent by just looking at our own country. The phased re-opening we are seeing in the United States mirrors similar tactics in other countries. Of course, it will vary by country, by COVID-19 status, and by culture, but travelers should be prepared to see and experience the following;
Slow ease of border restrictions for international travelers and isolated travel bubbles.
Continued prevalent or required utilization of face masks.
Decreased ability for commercial transportation to effectively manage social distancing.
Continued capacity constraints inside and outside and 6ft social distancing practices.
Medical screening, proof of negative COVID-19 test, and/or potential temperature checks upon entry and to participate in certain activities.
Encouraged or forced quarantine/isolation periods upon arrival.
Other risks to consider that could have the potential to be exacerbated in a post pandemic world include: mental health issues, criminal activity, political/economic unrest, and attitudes toward foreign visitors.
Want to learn even more about restarting travel?
On Call’s Travel Restart Program provides your organization with comprehensive tools and resources to make informed decisions around restarting travel and adjusting your duty of care to the new normal. Whether you’re looking for a standard solution to apply to specific locations of interest, or a customized option that includes location monitoring and regular updates, On Call can help you create and implement a Travel Restart strategy that is aligned with your organization’s unique needs. Contact us today if you would like to learn more about getting started with On Call’s Travel Restart Program!
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.