The rapid spread and sustained impact caused by COVID-19 has caught many companies off-guard. Unlike most past health scares or global emergencies, the pandemic has extended well beyond the typical business cycle, challenging even the most rigorous of crisis communication plans and risk management strategies.
With an aim at addressing these concerns for the future, Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) recently hosted a webinar of experts, Managing a Prolonged Crisis 2020 and Beyond. Although you may find the presentation in its entirety to be of value, we’ve distilled here a few essential takeaways for you to share with your team.
Dealing with Uncertainty
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the lasting effects of the pandemic has caused companies to pause non-essential travel. Erika Weisbrod, Director of Security Solutions - Americas for International SOS, likened the upheaval caused by COVID-19 to a game of musical chairs. In this analogy, the music has stopped, leaving travellers and businesses in whichever chairs they last occupied until “business as usual” resumes again. This might mean dealing with multiple pieces of coronavirus-related changes including:
- Travel restrictions and border closures
- Cancelled flights and insolvent airlines
- Closed hotels and rooms converted to medical facilities
- Furloughs and layoffs
Weisbrod recommends adapting to the “new normal” rather than focusing on the uncertainties or listening to unverified news on social media. Focus on prioritizing your psychological and emotional health through maintaining a consistent schedule (including built-in breaks), taking care of your physical health, and connecting with others (at a socially distant level if needed).
The Road to Recovery
As experts conduct studies and modeling to determine when large-scale travel operations will resume, one consensus is clear: the industry will not return overnight. Bruce McIndoe, President and Founder of WorldAware, predicts an 18-month cycle with various stops and starts along the way. Travel managers should work with a Travel Management Company (TMC) to consider their organization’s resilience, budget, and risk aversion when planning for future travel.
Although the disruption caused by COVID-19 has crippled many travel segments in the short term, the resulting period of recovery may make travel safer in the long term. One area in which this has already taken effect is existing travel policies, which are being rewritten to prioritize traveler health and security. Additionally, because the pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on a global scale, businesses can expect a worldwide effort to introduce new safety measures. Travel professionals speculate the result will be similar to the aftereffect of 9/11: the new security rules created initial pushback but ultimately were accepted and integrated into modern standards of travel.
Managing Future Risks
Since the enacting of travel restrictions and social distancing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, some traveler risks such as civil unrest or global demonstrations have eased. However, this temporary lull does not apply to threats posed by natural disasters and climate-related emergencies. An important part of managing a major crisis is managing layers of others risks at the same time. Weisbrod says companies need to think about their broader resilience and plan for additional hazards to prevent being immobilized by bigger risks such as a destructive earthquake.
Most importantly, travellers need to be supported by a comprehensive standard of care platform. Detailed itineraries and live messaging tools allow for a multi-level approach for locating travellers, versus relying on a single tool or piece of data.
Enterprise Risk Management
Although organizations cannot entirely prepare for a crisis on the scale of the current pandemic, they can strengthen their ability to respond accordingly and adapt quickly by using an enterprise risk management approach. Enterprise risk management typically refers to the process of evaluating and planning for all risks that could potentially impact an organization, including protecting its people, sites, supply, and information assets.
For travel, McIndoe asserts that risk management is in fact people risk management. As a result, a one-size-fits-all policy does not work, especially when dealing with regional curves as travel comes back online after a crisis. In order to prepare for future, smaller waves of COVID-19, businesses need to have robust tracking and data strategies covering their workforces in entirety. They should also evaluate their supplier and TMC strategy to ensure proper support.
The tips from this GBTA webinar provide an important base of information for managing your travel during crisis. To further evaluate the strength of your travel program’s health and safety management measures, contact us for a complimentary consultation.