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Corporate travelers are 215 times more likely to encounter natural disasters and weather emergencies than terrorism while on the road and 87 times more likely to suffer from a health emergency than a plane or train crash, according to recently released results of an Arizona State University poll of Association of Corporate Travel Executives members.
Although the poll received only 17 completed responses by the time it closed March 20, it produced some insights into the realities and perceptions of business travel risk, and also illustrated that good industry data is lacking.
At 13,109 incidents per million trips, weather emergencies were by far the most commonly encountered impediment to business travel missions, according to estimates of the surveyed travel buyers managing a total of nearly 1 million trips between their 20 most-traveled city pairs. Rounding out the list were cultural barriers (3,010 per million), loss of telecommuting ability (2,648 per million), health emergencies (1,038), property crime (977), local transportation accidents (326), political disorder (184), personal accidents (178), improper documentation (160), terrorism (61), long-distance transportation accidents (12) and violent crime (12).
The respondents were asked what policies they had implemented in response to the various threats. Eighty-eight percent said they offer emergency medical assistance for travelers; about half use external contractors for assessing risk and for evacuation services; half have travel security policy and procedures and use secure car service at high-risk destinations; and just under half use internal staff for assessing travel risks and employ security personnel at destinations.
Bruce McIndoe, president of iJET Intelligent Risk Systems, said it was "disheartening" that the result for emergency medical assistance was not 100 percent, considering the liability. "These are not small programs and for a program of any size not to have an emergency response and assistance capability is negligent," he said. "It's also disconcerting that only about half have policies and procedures."
Another result of the survey was that most respondents "felt that their level of risk in all categories was below the industry average," noted the study's authors. Corporate security consultant Don Hubbard equated this to the Lake Woebegone effect, where "all the kids are above average." Said McIndoe, "People always feel like they're better, or less likely, or these things don't happen to them. Consider the person texting in the car."
Need For Better Research
"Further analysis was not conducted since the sample is small," according to ASU. "It is hoped that this pilot study can be repeated on a larger sample so that we can compare segments of the corporate travel industry."
Both Hubbard and McIndoe agreed that the study drew more questions than answers and said it pointed to a need for better research. "I am always a bit suspicious of surveys in which security incidents are estimated," noted Hubbard. "What about some real empirical data? Surely, some exist."
Insurance companies, of course, have reams of data about insurance claims, but McIndoe pointed out that the ACTE/ASU project highlights "a little different view about disruption, which I think is useful. Where they fell short was in equating this to lost productivity and revenue. How do you take this and say, 'If 2 percent of trips are disrupted, what does that cost companies in spending and productivity?' If you take 500 trips out of 25,000, and [incidents cost] $1,000 per trip, that's $500,000.
"The other thing I would recommend," McIndoe continued, "is that they bring more people around the table. These 'number of incidents' answers are largely guesses. The travel manager likely does not have this data, so they guess. If they collaborated with security and risk management, and did some work to get at these numbers, I would feel better about it. They should always have a 'completion of trip' survey with both customer service elements as well as anything that impacted them."
McIndoe lamented the attention-grabbers that it takes to prompt businesses to pay attention to travel incidents. While terrorism and pandemics grab headlines, the more common impacts on productivity and spend (natural disasters, cultural naiveté, etc.) can also be managed, but largely remain in the corporate subconscious.
"We got into this market in 1999," he said. "Companies largely didn't give a crap. There were a few companies that signed in early and understood the value--mainly insurance companies. 911 woke companies up to the fact that they have no clue whatsoever where their people are around the world. It was an imperative to the travel managers to get this data. Once they had it, they started to realize how important it was."
A recent Procurement.travelsurvey found that 70 percent of organizations track traveler whereabouts.
This year, said McIndoe, " Swine fluis a 911 for business resilience: Where 2001 focused people on facilities and knowing where their people were, the pandemic is making businesses realize they can see it coming, can't stop it and need to manage through it. They need to marshal cross-functional teams to address the issue."
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