In today's global business environment, the world is evermore connected. Companies of all sizes may have sales territories or business operations that extend beyond U.S. borders. Capitalizing on growth opportunities in 2017 and beyond requires international travel. In fact, companies spent more than $1.2 trillion on global business travel in 2015, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year. This trend is expected to continue, according to the Global Business Travel Association, with spend increasing 5.8 percent annually to $1.6 trillion in 2020.
Whether you're a technology company with manufacturing operations overseas, a distributor attending a trade show or an employee at a law firm heading abroad for training, your company has international risk exposures. Yes, travel is an important element of global business but being efficient, safe and prepared while doing it is critical.
Here are some best practices for protecting your company's greatest assets — your employees:
Controlling International Travel Risks Before Getting on a Plane
Adequate preparation is critical to ensure a successful business trip. Some basic precautions and forethought can make all the difference. Stress to your staff that they need to address any medical needs before traveling. Recommend that they get a physical before their trips, as that can bring to light any pre-existing conditions that should be treated stateside. Recall the movie "Castaway" to imagine a worst-case scenario. Tom Hanks' character, Chuck Noland, had to perform an emergency dental extraction using an ice skate because he had an abscessed tooth. Now, it's unlikely that your employees will be stranded on a desert island, but the lesson remains: Take care of any lingering medical issues — or abscessed teeth — with your personal physician before traveling.
Employees also should refill their medical prescriptions prior to the trip and pack more medication than what will last beyond their dates of travel. Additionally, it is important to carry the medicines in their original packaging. In some countries, it is not uncommon for authorities to confiscate medicines if the original prescription is not with the traveler. Depending on the length of travel and countries visited, also carry paper prescriptions to verify the pharmaceuticals and refill drugs abroad. Should an emergency occur, this can alert local physicians and expedite treatment.
Travel to developing countries or rural areas have health risks that can be mitigated with vaccines. Don't know where to start? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an online tool that makes suggestions toward what vaccines may be necessary, depending on the traveler's health and destination. In addition, check with the CDC for information regarding an area's specific diseases and pertinent health updates. Once armed with that information, employees should visit their physicians.
Employees should back up all important documents on their laptops prior to their departures. An employer could experience a critical loss if the laptop is lost or stolen overseas. In addition, the laptop should be fully secured with virus protections that prevent hacking.
Where in the World Is Your Employee?
Ensure traveler security by implementing a company tracking and tracing tool. Your human resources and travel/expense management departments find this kind of tool invaluable as it enables quick summaries of individuals and the countries where they are traveling. This system also can prevent the risk of flight concentrations, which occurs when too many employees are traveling on the same flight. Imagine this: A financial company rewards 25 of its top contributors from the past year with a trip to the Bahamas. Looking to save costs where it can, the company secured lower airline ticket prices with a bulk purchase for the same flight. However, the plane crashes during takeoff, and that financial company just lost 25 of its key employees.
Remember, this isn't Kansas anymore!
Some staff members, particularly millennial business travelers, may prefer to book ride- and home-sharing services such as Uber and AirBnB, for the sake of convenience or to enhance travel with a more local experience. Although quite "normal" in an employee's home country, when abroad this activity increases exposure to kidnap, theft or other risks. When in less-developed countries, employees should use public taxis or reserved car services, and lodge at business travel hotels known in the destination country. Consult a travel assistance service for best practices regarding international transport and accommodations, and also research current travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department.
Even if the Language is English
Traveling to a foreign country where an employee doesn't speak or isn't fluent in the native language creates obvious challenges. What might not be obvious are the risks inherent in "familiarity," which occur when an employee embarks to a country where they feel more comfortable. In these situations, such as an American traveling to the U.K., it is not uncommon for employees to let down their guards and be exposed to added risk.
Consider this scenario: An American employee flies to London, a time zone several hours ahead, for a healthcare conference. The employee is jet-lagged, but must head to the office before entertaining a client for dinner. After a late meal, the employee walks back to his or her hotel, perhaps lulled into a sense of the familiar: street signs are in English. At the crosswalk, the employee looks to the left for cars, but gets hit on the right side of the head by the mirror of a turning city bus. If it is not a bus mirror, it may be a bicycle! This kind of accident is unfortunately quite common. It's imperative to remember that travel risks can occur anywhere — not just in remote or non-English speaking locales — and ensure that employees keep aware of their surroundings at all times.
Although business travel is often not seen as "glamorous," depending on the length of the trip and if allowable by the company, an employee may invite his or her spouse and dependents to join in for all or part of the trip. Ensure that your policy includes travel assistance services with emergency medical assistance, repatriation and legal support to provide appropriate services and coverages.
No matter where in the world your employees are traveling or where you conduct business operations, ensure that your company is positioned for future prosperity by keeping your employees safe. After all, they are your company's greatest asset.