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Profits and pitfalls of business travel

At a glance

  • Globalisation is seeing more firms sending employees further afield. They have a legal duty of care to protect them outside the UK
  • The threat of natural disasters, political turmoil and kidnap cannot be ignored but loss of goods and illness remain the most likely claims
  • Zurich’s Business Travel policy provides excellent medical and security cover globally, as well as travel advice, and can actively reduce corporate risk

Responding to global economics, between 2007 and 2012 the number of overseas business trips by British business people fell from nine million to seven million.

While budget pressures and increased video conferencing can account for much of this decrease, the trend now seems to be turning with the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), predicting UK business travel to increase by 1.7% this year.

Safety checklist for overseas travel

  • Find out the country’s laws, customs and healthcare system and put in place a robust risk management plan in advance. In the Middle East, for example, some hospitals won’t admit a patient without payment in advance. A simple card for the traveller with emergency numbers accessible all over the world, 24/7, is essential.
  • Familiarise employees with the UK Bribery Act 2010. Business practices that may be tolerated overseas can lead to prosecution at home.
  • Personal security – Never divulge financial, personal or business information to strangers.
  • How safe is your destination? Check with Zurich Travel Assistance for up-to-date information on whether travel there is recommended.
  • IT – an area of increasing concern. All countries present a high risk for IT equipment but where there’s lax security or law enforcement, this does increase. Speak to your IT team about protecting against data loss, take as little data as possible and never check in your hardware on a flight.
  • Women – travel organisers can reduce risk by booking accommodation above the ground floor, arranging meet and greet (or similar).

European destinations still account for nine out of 10 of these trips but globalisation has seen an increase in travel to emerging economies, especially the ‘BRIC’ countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Travel to these alone is expected to increase two or three times as much than to developed economies in the next few years, according to the GBTA.

“Last year, there were 43,000 business trips to Brazil, 96,000 to India and 129,000 to China,” said Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), a UK travel trade association. Figures for Russia are unavailable, possibly because of the number of business travellers using tourist visas.

“Business travellers need to get their visas to BRIC countries sorted out in plenty of time, as well as any inoculations. Yellow fever, for travel in Brazil for instance, is best done eight weeks before you go,” he added.

And as businesses look for new markets and lower production costs, travel is increasing in range as well as frequency and employers must not overlook the dangers when sending staff overseas.

Duty of care

There’s a lot that can go wrong and employers have a ‘duty of care’ that is both legal and moral, just as they would under domestic health and safety legislation. A company can be held criminally responsible for harm to employees or their dependants in high-risk locations abroad, should the risk result from a failure of duty of care in UK.

For instance, trips to these emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East can increase the likelihood of a business traveller becoming caught up in terrorism and riots, as well as contracting diseases.

Exposing staff to kidnap or terrorism can also hit an employer’s reputation as well as their finances. While kidnappings remain a relatively low risk overall, a Western suit can represent a lucrative target for all types of criminal activity.

Zurich Assistance

With Zurich, on your next trip, you can have the all-round protection of the insurer’s cover and global expertise. Zurich’s policy doesn’t just give you comprehensive insurance, it also ensures you have access to immediate help, via Zurich Assistance, 24 hours a day. This means support is only ever a phone call away. As part of the service, you also have access to the online portal that gives you expert advice on travel to countries at no extra charge

It is these more common incidents, such as lost or stolen luggage or minor road accidents in taxis, which are more likely to affect business travellers when abroad.

“It’s important to remember that the main risks facing business travellers are the same as leisure travellers; illness or losing or having belongings stolen,” added Sean at ABTA. “Due to the likelihood of travelling with high value goods, laptops, tablets, etc, business travellers do need to ensure they have adequate cover.”

But whatever the potential risk, natural disasters such as tsunamis or earthquakes, man-made crises or something as simple as getting the right pre-trip jabs, the spotlight is now on employers to complete proper risk assessments and ensure they do their upmost to keep staff safe. In an age when international air travel is commonplace, no employer can afford to be complacent.

Image © Getty

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