As corporations continue to expand internationally, they are sending more staff to more places than ever before – including destinations associated with elevated travel risk. And as we can tell from the kinds of inquiries we increasingly receive, those responsible for handling corporate travel and security issues often find it difficult to know when what kind of travel risk mitigation is appropriate for where, for whom, and for when.
In this blog, we take a close look at the five questions we get from clients when they consider using secure travel services for employees besides the C-suite.
Q1: Where is it appropriate to consider secure travel services? For which places?
Well, it’s complicated. Determining travel risk is a pretty subjective affair. There are no exact definitions of travel safety or rigorously objective evaluations of how safe different destinations are to travel in.
For one thing, it depends on your risk profile: a highly prominent, ultra-high net worth person will face different challenges than a twenty-something backpacker on a gap-year trip. A technician traveling to an up-country production facility will face different challenges than a CFO in the central business district.
For another, individuals, organizations, and even countries all define and evaluate travel risk in different ways. If two people are going to Mexico City, for example, a number of factors can make a big difference in the risks they face: How well do they know the language, the culture, the place? Do they know what’s normal and not normal there? Do they understand the warning signs that something seems “funny” and it’s time to move, fast?
The U.S. State Department’s recently revised travel advisory system tries to simplify things by introducing four risk levels and categorizing all countries (and some regions) accordingly:
- Level 1: “Exercise normal precautions”
- Level 2: “Exercise increased caution”
- Level 3: “Reconsider travel”
- Level 4: “Do not travel”
But what does it actually mean when countries such as the U.K. and France are evaluated similarly to Algeria and Zimbabwe – all Level 2? Are Cuba and Turkey, both Level 3 countries, really more dangerous to travel in than Uzbekistan and Mozambique, both Level 1? Are the same travel risk mitigation methods required for travel to Iran and the Central African Republic?
We get an increasing number of inquiries from companies who want an outside opinion on destination safety. To provide answers, we first try to understand the traveler’s general risk profile, then dig into open-source and proprietary information about the destination. Finally, we draw on our own on-the-ground resources to get the very latest information on what’s happening where.
Q 2: What are secure travel services, really – and which ones are relevant for us?
Put simply, for us, the biggest parts of secure travel services are cars and drivers: It’s all about getting from A to B in a secure way. Yes, there are other elements, and we’ll touch on these below, but the vast majority of what we call “secure travel services” have to do with ground transportation.
Can’t a traveler just use a taxi or an Uber? Or, if he or she is willing to spend the money, hire a limo service? Of course, they can. And many do. We won’t go into the risks associated with cabs or ridesharing here. But as we pointed in our blog, Secure travel: The missing link of executive travel, what we’re talking about here is significantly different than hailing a ride or hiring a limo – and as much about enhancing productivity as it is boosting safety.
What we call secure travel involves vetted drivers and cars – and a number of critical protocols and checks. We know the driver’s backgrounds (indeed, we check up on them regularly) and skills such as emergency and evasive driving, and languages. We approve the vehicles. If military escorts are necessary in really dodgy places, that’s part of the package. Checking out a hotel or doing a secure pre-check-in for the principal can increase security as well as productivity. We use apps like ProtectionManager to know who’s where and what’s going on. We provide 24/7 backup from our own operations center.
If and as necessary, secure travel can also include close protection agents and ongoing intelligence analysis to further enhance security and productivity
Q3: Should our organization consider enhanced travel security for more employees than just the CEO?
This question is popping up in more and more conversations with existing and new clients. Although we cannot provide a blanket answer, we can share some of the issues that arise in connection with this question:
- Globalization and internationalization
- As businesses continue to grow and expand internationally, more employees travel to more places – also to emerging markets and other locations that have elevated travel risk levels.
- There is more uncertainty than ever due to economic and political disruption, polarization, and increased awareness of income disparity, terrorism, and crime.
- As one of our clients once said, “You guys make it easier to travel, so we travel more.” This is true for everyone from the C-suite to junior management.
- Although secure travel services are often framed in terms of mitigating risk – and keeping the traveler safe is, of course, of paramount importance – the reason many clients keep coming back has more to do with productivity.
- Secure travel’s increased logistical efficiency means that all travelers, from the top to the bottom of the corporate hierarchy, can keep their focus on the business side of business travel – not on the details and hassles of getting from A to B – and get more done on trips than otherwise possible.
- Duty of care liabilities, travel policies, and compliance
- Duty of care, or the legal obligation an employer faces to provide employees with a reasonable level of care as they go about their jobs, is one topic that companies are considering in this regard. Is an organization’s duty of care (or legal and moral liability in case of negligence) to a CEO greater than its duty of care to an entry-level hire? Most likely, no.
- Travel policies dictate how employees travel and usually determine who gets which perks. Depending on your place in the corporate pecking order, you might fly on the company jet or commercial; in business or economy, or stay in different kinds of hotels. While practically all companies have explicit travel policies and most corporations have risk management policies (and track compliance to them), far fewer have the kinds of travel risk mitigation policies which would determine who gets what kind of secure travel support where.
Ultimately, of course, whether or not a company decides to provide secure travel support to more employees depends on its overall risk tolerance and ROI calculations.
Q4: How should we organize our secure travel services for all employees and the policies that guide them? What can we learn from other organizations?
Although some industries (such as oil and gas) and some corporations typically do provide secure travel services to more than the C-suite, many companies have little experience in this area and are curious to learn from companies with more experience. Here are some of the specific questions they are asking:
- Who decides which employees are eligible for what? Is it the board? Travel department management? Security department management? Executive protection department management? The employee’s own manager? Corporations allocate this authority differently.
- Which employees are (or should be) eligible for enhanced travel security? For some corporations, it’s the CEO or selected C-suite members only. For others, it’s EVPs and/or the “Top 50”. For still others, it’s risk-based, depending on a case-by-case evaluation of travel destination risks.
- Who in the organization typically pays for secure travel? In most corporations, travel costs are budgeted at a departmental or divisional level, and this is also the case for secure travel costs, whether they are decided upon centrally (e.g., as part of corporate travel policy/travel risk mitigation policy) or approved by one’s manager.
Q5: If secure travel services are worth it, why do so few companies use them?
Actually, more and more companies do use them. We can see this in our own company, and we hear the same from others.
We think the reason companies ask this question has to do with awareness – or, more precisely, lack thereof.
“Secure travel” is not a distinct industry and its services are not clearly positioned in the minds of potential users. There are a number of larger companies providing related services, and plenty of mom and pops, all with a different angle. Some provide travel risk assessments, intelligence, and alerts; others provide medical assistance and evacuations, some charter airplanes and helicopters. And yes, a few do what we do, approaching secure travel from an executive protection perspective.
Within the executive protection space, distinctions are similarly blurry. The secure travel services we describe above are an integrated part of the most comprehensive, seamless executive protection programs – along with 24/7 close protection, residential protection, intelligence analysis, and other ancillary services. Executive protection always includes secure travel. But secure travel isn’t the same as comprehensive executive protection; it can be, and usually is delivered on a case-by-case, destination-by-destination basis.
Even within large corporations that do provide secure travel services to the C-suite, and make these available to others as needed, awareness of them in the organization can be quite limited. Sometimes they are perceived to be a perk only available to top management and conflated with executive protection, “bodyguards”, and armored cars – even if this is not the case. In other situations, corporate travel planning tools do not make these travel options readily available to the entire organization – even though they are, in principle, according to travel risk management policies.
What do you think? Are you running into similar questions or coming up with different answers? Ping us via email to let us know your views!