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The Mumbai terrorist attacks prompted many global travel managers to reconsider security measures within hotel programs, but as with other terrorist activity, the key lesson is that traveler safety is enhanced when they book within the managed travel program.
Half of 134 international business travel managers polled by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives said that, depending on the region, they would be "reevaluating" hotel programs "with greater emphasis on guest security in the immediate future." Another 29 percent said they would reevaluate regardless of region while 22 percent said they would not reconsider.
The attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel and the Oberoi Trident Hotel in Mumbai last month followed September terror at a Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Although the targeting of luxury hotels sends an unsettling wake-up call to corporations and travel mangers, most told ACTE that their travelers have not reported general concerns about staying in hotels. Among those who did say travelers expressed concern, the vast majority said travelers were only concerned about specific regions.
Still, ACTE encouraged business travel managers to ask such questions as whether the blueprints of the hotel or detailed floor charts have been provided to security officials; if there is a secondary communication system for guests trapped in rooms; whether the hotel staff and security personnel are trained in evacuation techniques; what staff can do to minimize the impact of an attack or emergency; and what surveillance systems are available to authorities.
Some travel managers seem to be cracking down on the hotels within their programs that do not have such security standards. Of those surveyed by ACTE, 14 percent said they would curtail travel to hotels that do not meet security requirements and 12 percent said they are already doing this, although 62 percent said it was "too soon to tell" and 11 percent said their companies would not avoid hotels that "cannot or will not meet" requirements.
"We have a solid hotel program," said Bruce Finch, senior global travel manager for Autodesk. "All of the hotels we offer have been vetted in terms of safety and security." He said he wasn't aware that specific terrorism-related precautions had been taken.
"We have not seen our clients ask for very specific security-related information from their hotels," said Priyan Fernando, American Express Business Travel COO and customer group president.
"Ironically we haven't seen a great focus on security moving forward where clients said, 'Let's take another look at our security measures.' We haven't seen those type of changes yet," said DeAnne Dale, Travelocity Business vice president of sales and account management.
While they use travel management companies to help track traveler whereabouts, corporations also employ such security companies as iJet Intelligent Risk Systems and International SOS to help ensure travelers are tracked and located in case of an emergency. Bruce McIndoe, president of iJet, said that if a hotel property is not up to par with security measures, "it should be a knee-jerk reaction to take these properties out of the program."
Several hotel companies contacted for this article declined to comment on specific actions they may be taking to enhance security measures.
In addition to India and Pakistan, iJet labels as "high risk" major cities including Caracas, Lagos, Lima, Mexico City, Jakarta and Sao Paulo--due to criminal or terrorist activity.
International SOS officials said that during the Mumbai attacks, they assisted 30 clients, handled about 100 medical cases (with a few resulting in evacuations to Singapore) and received about 1,100 incoming calls.
Tracking And Compliance
The Mumbai attacks reasserted the need for compliance to preferred travel booking methods, travel managers and TMC executives said, since travelers who don't book through approved systems may not be as easily located. In some cases, though, travelers are not able to book through consolidated systems because certain properties are not listed.
"We still struggle with some hotel information not being in the system since many times the local admin will book the visitor coming in to the city," said Autodesk's Finch. "This is really a cultural change that we are working to fix. The global distribution system doesn't list all of our deals (depending on where the booking is being made) so it sometimes it isn't possible to load the hotel information and discounts."
TMC officials encourage the use of their telephone services for properties that are not available in designated booking systems. TMCs then can manually input the traveler's hotel booking for tracking purposes.
Effect On Travel Volumes TBD
The lasting impact on corporate travel to India is unknown, ACTE noted, but short-term cancellations in business travel were prevalent. The association reported that more than half of companies surveyed were curtailing travel to India at least temporarily.
"This response is in keeping with a typical industry reaction," according to comments attributed to ACTE executive director Susan Gurley in a 4 December press release. "Subsequent research has revealed that the majority of travel managers with business in India simply wants to make sure that their travelers will not get caught up in street demonstrations or public reprisals, should any occur."
"Our folks in India say that there has been tremendous resiliency in India and those in Mumbai are very determined to get back to business as usual," according to Amex's Fernando. "What we do know is there is travel to Mumbai but we have to encourage the companies to follow their policies and go on official [government] Web sites."
"India has been such a growth market and it is fully integrated into the global economy," said Pam Keenan Fritz, vice president of Asia-Pacific and global partnership for Egencia. "There is a strong demand from our clients to travel there because it is an integral part of their business."
Speaking at an ACTE event in October, Global Insight chief economist Dr. Nariman Behravesh said that terrorist attacks and natural disasters normally are "disruptive, but temporary." He presented data showing arrival growth in Madrid reached 6 percent in 2005 following just 1.2 percent growth in 2004. The city suffered a train bombing in March 2004. When SARS afflicted Hong Kong in spring 2003, arrivals fell by 28 percent for the year but rebounded for 30 percent growth in 2004.
According to Travelport CEO Jeff Clarke, "Travelers are amazingly resilient. Certainly after September 11 and after the Spanish bombings [and others] you would see a couple weeks' delay and then the bookings would come back. I think Bali had a six-month delay until you had people coming back. There is an increasing understanding that these events can happen nearly anywhere."
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