By Chris Knight, Head of Assistance for Charles Taylor Assistance: providers of global medical & security assistance, travel risk and claims management.
Not so long ago, global travel intelligence platform Skift coined the term, "Permanxiety" to describe the high levels of worry felt by business travellers - about everything from technology to terrorism and culture wars to climate change. Little did it anticipate the coming of COVID Anxiety to add to this extensive list.
Back in March of this year, almost every member company of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) reported that they had cancelled or suspended all or most international business travel, because of COVID-19. But, as global corporate travel almost ground to a halt, Charles Taylor Assistance continued to operate. Our UK-based teams worked closely with our global network of partners to ensure that we could support COVID-related medical assistance needs the world over.
Today, over half of GBTA member companies are considering resuming all travel in the near future, although they do not currently have definitive plans for when it will resume. In addition, only one in ten GBTA member companies report they do not plan to do so.
GBTA CEO Scott Solombrino says, "As restrictions across the globe begin to lift, small green shoots of optimism are sprouting in the industry. That is a positive, albeit small, sign that we are finally headed in the right direction." But he adds, "People aren't going to travel until they feel safe. Our member companies want to see several health and safety steps taken at every stage of the travel process."
Set this situation against the backdrop of existing travel worries and it becomes obvious that travel anxiety and risk management have never been so important. Even before the pandemic, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives reported that a third of travel managers were seeing a rise in enquiries about business traveller safety.
There's little doubt that re-igniting global business travel will be a challenge that calls for a bespoke approach: companies with globally mobile employees will need to reconcile internal and external policies with their employees' disposition to travel.
It follows that, when international travel resumes, clients in the corporate travel sector will have an increasing hunger for medical and security assistance tools that enable them not just to react rapidly to emergencies, but also to support travelling employees before, during and after assignments abroad – and to reduce worries in the process.
Increased anxiety could also lead to better awareness and monitoring of travellers' mental health: something that was already happening well before the pandemic. And both employees and employers could reap the benefits.
Reducing a business traveller's "Permanxiety" will mean anticipating and mitigating the risks of every stage of their trip overseas (COVID related or otherwise) – and that includes the journey.
Preparation will be crucial; not least via pre-travel medical and security risk assessments, employee-training for all eventualities, and education about everything from local social distancing regulations to preventing mosquito bites and road accidents.
As essential will be constant awareness of real-time health and security risks once an employee is abroad - for example, not just the likelihood of contracting COVID-19, but also impending bad weather, terrorist attacks, political unrest and more. And this must come hand-in-hand with expert medical and security advice and responses.
Testament to this is the fact that recent GBTA surveys show that 73% of business travellers expect their company to contact them proactively within two hours of an emergency abroad. They also reveal that almost half (44%) of travellers expect their employers to use tools like GPS to locate them in an emergency.
Delivering these anxiety and risk mitigation measures is as important as planning them - and that's where technology plays a vital part.
Turning to technology
From our own risk portal - that helps screen employees for COVID-19 and assess back-to-work fitness - to international contact tracing and tracking apps, technology is playing an important part in reducing COVID-related worries.
Emily Roberts, managing director of our security partners Solace Global, says, "In a wider context, technology is already helping to prepare, inform and protect travellers working abroad, as well as those looking to resume travel. Our mobile app, for example, can offer access to everything from information about current COVID-19 travel restrictions and employees' related risks overseas, to real-time medical and security intelligence and alerts.
"COVID has highlighted the need to know not just who is where currently, but also who has travelled recently – and to what countries. With risk solutions in place, travellers can start to travel again with an increased awareness of location-specific restrictions and necessary precautions. They should feel safe in the knowledge that, while these restrictions are being monitored, they won't be stranded overseas, should a 2nd peak of the pandemic close borders once again.
"With location-based monitoring, check-in and tracking tools, mobile technology can give employers a birds' eye view of their global staff and assets in the context of real-time threats on the ground in different countries abroad – so they can change travel plans or find and assist staff quickly, if an emergency or change in situation occur unexpectedly."
Importantly, an app can also offer employees speedy access to integrated medical and security assistance and remote advice, tailored to specific destinations and needs: all of which can ensure a safe return to work after an incident, be that COVID-related or otherwise.
In this context, it's clear that the onus will be on assistance partners to act proactively - and to reduce all kinds of traveller anxiety, the world over.