Imagine this scenario: You’re a mid-career professional woman at a Denver-based renewable energy firm. Your company has just acquired operations in Marrakech, Morocco, and you’ve been asked to join a group of senior executives to visit the new site for one week. You’ve always wanted to visit Morocco, and in the preparations for your trip, you start reading some negative online reviews about how unsafe it feels to be an American woman traveling in North Africa. Doubt settles in and you start questioning why your company is making you go someplace that seems especially risky to you.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
For many employees, the potential for business travel can be one of the most appealing parts of a job description. From discovering new restaurants tucked in nondescript alleys to experiencing different cultures, business travel can unlock exciting and extraordinary situations. But let’s face it: Sometimes even the most sophisticated traveler can experience anxiety when going to new places, and this can create enormous pressures on companies to provide an assurance of safety, confidence and transparency for employees traveling abroad.
For many industries, business travel is unavoidable and part of the job description.
Employees will go where their employer needs them, whereas travelers on vacation have more options around location, amenities, activities and safety. Today, it seems there are inherent risks when traveling, and most business travelers realize additional preparation is often required to stay safe or at least understand when and where to be more vigilant. Without local friends or contacts to provide firsthand knowledge, it can be difficult for employees to prepare for what’s happening around meeting venues and which areas of a city to explore.
Employers are responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of their employees – especially when traveling on the company’s behalf. Facing growing safety concerns and legal obligations, organizations are required to demonstrate additional duty of care responsibilities for travelers. By taking credible, realistic steps to ensure the health and safety of employees, companies know that assessing travel safety risks is a critical responsibility.
It’s no longer enough to simply provide accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) insurance in case something goes disastrously wrong. Whether sending employees to another state or overseas, today’s high-functioning companies want to be considered leaders in “safety stewardship,” a nascent but fast-growing concept centered on ensuring employee safety, which in turn accrues brand goodwill and the ability to attract and retain top-performing millennial employees.
What can employers do to promote security and ensure employees remain out of harm’s way?
One of the best ways to keep concerns at bay is to keep both the company and its business travelers informed, and there are a number of tools and techniques available to ensure business trips run as smoothly as possible.
The U.S. State Department’s online Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) allows American citizens to enroll with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate when traveling or living abroad, providing the latest safety and security information in the area and informing the U.S. Embassy of your whereabouts, in case of an emergency.
Additionally, companies such as International SOS and WorldAware exist to provide medical and travel security advice and security assistance to organizations with people living and traveling abroad. These companies services include pre-travel risk information, pre-travel health assessment programs, travel safety advice, medical equipment and extraction services, and their founders believe these boots-on-the-ground approaches offers an advantage over advanced technology and software solutions.
Route-planning tools such as TripIt and RoutePerfect can be used to organize travel plans and create a comprehensive travel itinerary. These tools have an informative and useful content section, detailing various activities as well as what to watch out for when visiting unfamiliar places.
As safety and security evolve across physical and digital spaces, advances in technology and data sharing on a global scale will become increasingly important to protect travelers. Technology has an important role, contributing to seamless security processes that maximize effectiveness, while minimizing interference or intrusion during a traveler’s journey. The way in which organizations communicate about safety to constituents is becoming as important as equipping them with actual tools. Employee safety is no longer a cost or time liability, and instead can be looked at as a core asset of an organization’s mission.
According to the Digital Transformation Initiative, a project launched by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Accenture, “ubiquitous tourist safety” is the preferred term to describe how safety and security are evolving across both the physical and digital worlds. Because safety and security are expected to continue this evolution, we can expect that “security checkpoints will not be an integral part of travel as it merges with daily life, and security will become seamlessly integrated” in the next five years.
The report goes on to note that “travelers will be monitored by authorities who collaborate via a single global system … which relies on advanced data analytics, background checks and data sharing.”
According to the report, the core technologies underpinning ubiquitous tourist safety will be sensors, video and internet of things (IoT)-linked technologies to gather data and analytic capabilities to draw insights from that data. This “big brother” approach may or may not be viable politically, but some cities are already attempting such integration.
So, how can companies protect their traveling employees in the meantime?
While some organizations sell the notion of fear and legal liability to cover obligations or responsibilities, more and more companies are empowering their employees with an assortment of tools and resources to better navigate an uncertain world. Take GeoSure as an example.
GeoSure’s customized personal travel app aggregates hundreds of data sources and crowd-sourced reports made in real time to yield the most detailed location safety ratings in the world. Data is captured from Interpol, the United Nations, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, country and city crime statistics, human rights organizations, private and proprietary data feeds as well as from users submitting reports about their own real-time experiences on the ground. The company then validates data using sophisticated statistical algorithms to produce the world’s most comprehensive and timely safety ratings.
By enabling every traveling employee to engage with their environment by becoming a safety sensor and flooding the market with insights in categories such as women's safety, political/basic freedoms, physical harm, health/medical and theft, organizations empower employees, driving elevated safety consciousness.
By increasing employee engagement and promoting safety awareness through tools such as GeoSure, organizations are enhancing their goodwill, brand equity and ability to attract and retain the best employees by exhibiting they have a vested interest in their stakeholders’ wellbeing.
In the end, business travel can expose employees to new situations, locations, new experiences – and dangers. To take full advantage of these opportunities and to avoid treacherous circumstances, organizations need to be prepared and promote better understanding of the safety environments. The ability to rapidly gauge and measure safety at any moment and anywhere in the world is crucial to protecting employees from any unfortunate outcomes. New technologies permit organizations to do so while simultaneously creating the confidence that comes with bringing more control to themselves.