Recently, Wall Street Journal contributor Scott McCartney published an article titled, “A New Level of Security on Your Business Trip.” In it, McCartney introduced the concept of duty of care to his “The Middle Seat” travel column, focusing primarily on the need to be able to track business travelers, wherever they are in the world.
But while traveler tracking is important, it is a reactive tactic. Tracking only comes into play after an incident occurs and a traveler needs to be located. A far more important consideration for business travelers and those supporting them should be avoiding or preventing these incidents in the first place.
There is, of course, no way to guarantee safety while traveling. But there are important steps travelers and their teams should be taking to improve their awareness of specific travel risks, as well as the opportunities that exist to minimize them.
Understanding the Real Causes of Trip Disruption
McCartney opens his article by introducing companies’ current obsession with duty of care and the deep implications those legal and moral responsibilities have on the reality of business travel. People travel more than ever before, but in many ways, travel is still as unpredictable as ever. The fact is, things can and do go wrong – sometimes horribly so – especially in unfamiliar territory.
But McCartney fails to note that mitigating travel risk starts with an awareness of what those risks are in the first place. He addresses the most common perceptions of risk:
“Surveys show travelers’ biggest fear often is terrorism—45% of business travelers in a recent Global Business Travel Association survey called terrorism their greatest safety risk. Street crime was the biggest fear of only 15%, illness only 13%. Yet street crime and illness are far more likely than terrorism.”
McCartney is right to point out that – though they can’t be dismissed entirely – concerns about terrorist attacks during travel are often overblown. But he validates this mistaken perception by failing to clarify which threats are most likely to actually disrupt – or even end – business trips.
Although McCartney hints at the true impact of street crime and illness, the real risk to travelers, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is automobile accidents. According to the agency’s David A. Sleet, David J. Ederer and Michael F. Ballesteros:
“In 2013 and 2014, an estimated 1,670 US citizens died from nonnatural causes, such as injuries and violence, while in foreign countries (excluding deaths occurring in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Motor vehicle crashes—not crime or terrorism—are the number 1 killer of healthy US citizens living, working, or traveling overseas.”
To put this into context, consider that, although terrorists have killed fewer than 175,000 people globally over the last 16 years, more than 1.25 million people died in vehicle accidents around the globe in 2016 alone.
The real risk to domestic and international business travelers is ground transportation – and it’s a threat we aren’t talking about enough.
Recognizing the Risk of Ground Travel
Flight and hotel safety standards are well established and monitored by governing organizations in many countries. Yet few people apply the same level of rigor to ground transportation – despite the fact that one of the most vulnerable points in any travel journey is the initial movement between the airport or fixed-base operator (FBO) and the hotel.
Plenty of factors conspire to put travelers at risk at this point:
- Travel fatigue and jet lag may mean they aren’t operating at peak mental acuity upon arrival. This can be especially challenging if they’re traveling to new areas, where they may be confused or disoriented upon disembarking. A lack of situational awareness can cause travelers to miss signals around them that might indicate an emerging threat.
- Travelers may struggle to find their drivers at busy airports or hotels. Without an advance plan in place for car service, and available information to identify that vehicle and driver, travelers are more likely to make poor snap decisions on ground transportation or enter the wrong vehicle. At best, those situations can be embarrassing. At worst, they can enable abductions (58% of kidnappings occur in or around a vehicle).
- Personnel working at small airports and private FBOs often know more about travelers than the travelers know about them. If this information falls into the wrong hands, it could contribute to premeditated crime being perpetrated against travelers.
- Even if this does not occur, the way high-end travelers dress and behave may give away their status to opportunistic criminals. Given that an estimated 60-70% of kidnappings go unreported, it’s safe to say that few travelers and their teams are aware of the magnitude of this risk. Yet the data suggests that it happens every day, all around the world.
Each of these potential risks manifest themselves before travelers even get into their vehicles. But travelers aren’t necessarily “safe” because they’ve connected successfully with a driver.
Investigate Driver Qualifications and Screening Criteria
How many times have you hopped into a taxi or ride-sharing service without a second thought? Looking back, how much did you really know about your driver? In the U.S. at least, you can assume most professional drivers have undergone background and driving records checks of some sort, though their rigor may vary greatly. But even that is not always the case – and it isn’t enough when you consider the safety of top travelers.
When selecting a ground transportation provider, ask questions. Don’t just ask for the cost to go from point A to point B. Ask about the steps they take to ensure the person behind the wheel is one you can trust to get your traveler to their destination safely.
Be Aware of Country-Specific Regulations
Ground travel risk doesn’t only impact those using a car service. Driving in unfamiliar places carries its own inherent challenges. Laws, regulations, cultural norms and emergency services standards vary from country to country. Familiarize yourself with them if your traveler will be driving themselves while on location.
Take the example of Cody LeCompte, a Canadian tourist in Cuba, who in 2010 – at the age of 19 – was detained by Cuban authorities for nearly three months after causing an auto accident that injured four people. Although LeCompte was never formally charged for his role in the incident, Cuban laws treat all auto accidents as crimes and can compel those involved to remain in the country until their cases are settled. As a result, LeCompte and his family racked up $30,000 in debt covering lawyers, hotel rooms and flights while waiting for the situation to be resolved.
Situations like LeCompte’s led the Canadian Government to issue a warning to its citizens traveling in Cuba, which remains in place today. Researching warnings like these in advance is an important part of safe travel planning. U.S. Department of State travel advisories can help, but one of the best sources of information are the U.S. embassy websites for your traveler’s specific destinations, which often offer dedicated guidance on how travelers should manage driving and auto accidents abroad.
Consider Static Versus Dynamic Threat Monitoring
Travel advisories and advance destination research, as described above, should play a role in pre-trip security preparations. But these types of reports only provide a static view of historical facts, which means that – at best – all they can offer are predictions of what might be expected to happen next.
This is why organizations that care about safety and security are increasingly turning to dynamic threat monitoring, which pulls and interprets real-time intelligence from communication channels all over the world (including social media, news alerts, etc). These solutions detect incidents as they occur, providing travelers with the up-to-date information needed to reroute away from or to remove themselves from emerging situations.
Take the example of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. While travel advisories for the Houston area warned of general flooding conditions, dynamic threat monitoring solutions operating at the time were able to interpret social media posts from those on the ground to determine which specific roads and bridges were out – even which gas stations remained in operation. These granular insights enabled travelers to move safely through the area, even as conditions changed from minute to minute.
Supplementing static intelligence with dynamic information can provide important visibility to help travelers and their teams minimize danger and disruption on the road.
Facilitating Safe Business Travel
We can all agree – as Scott McCartney suggests in his Wall Street Journal piece – that visibility into traveler movements is beneficial from the standpoint of security. But that visibility can only be achieved when we understand where it’s required and the context within which it’s necessary.
Preparing for major threats like terrorist events or street crime is important, but doing so does not address the significant risk to travelers represented by ground transportation. Be proactive in the face of these dangers. Properly screen drivers, research country-specific regulations, investigate solutions offering dynamic threat monitoring and undertake any other activities indicated by your company’s unique needs.
Your travelers’ schedules and effectiveness on the road depend on these activities. Their lives may as well.
Did you catch the article when it came out? What else would you add to either the Wall Street Journal piece or our suggestions above? Share your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.
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Mr. Dobrient has focused his career on refining the movement of people and materials from one location to another smoothly and seamlessly. After leading a time-critical delivery and logistics company for over a decade, he recognized the need for an elevated ground travel experience and launched Savoya. Building on this expertise, he currently serves as Chairman of Travel Research Advisors, the parent company of Savoya and two related entities in the travel space.