Comment: Covid can be catalyst for health and safety change

Deloitte’s lead partner for travel and aviation Alistair Pritchard says now is the time for travel to take a harmonised approach

The travel industry has reinforced health and safety measures in response to Covid-19, but when UK consumers were asked in February 2021 about their perceptions of safety, less than a third felt safe to stay in a hotel or take a flight.

While there is greater optimism for travel in the year ahead, there is also a compelling reason for travel organisations to continue investing in safety-related arrangements and making them work well.

This poses a challenge for those in the industry responsible for restoring consumer confidence and managing safety risk. If health and safety holds the ticket to restoring traveller confidence, where should the industry focus first?

Agreeing a ‘common to all’ standard

Standardising safety risk management across geographies would give clarity of expectations to travel operators (“what is expected”), as well as remove considerable duplication and effort for the organisation leading the booking (“what we will measure our third parties against”).

This would enable the industry to focus on meaningful and collective improvements, rather than making knee-jerk reactions following the latest findings of similar, but slightly different, safety assessments.

Local variations in regulations and government standards has always made like-for-like safety risk management difficult.

However, the borderless nature of Covid-19 has provided a catalyst for change that the travel industry can influence.

It may not be practical to seek complete global alignment on all aspects of health and safety, but the travel industry could agree minimum standards applicable to all. This could be done using the Pareto principle of 80% of the results coming from 20% of the effort.

Travel industry trade associations, including those in aviation, cruise, tour operations, and retail will play a pivotal role in supporting this international standard.

Many of these associations are already experienced in working with governments and highly complex industries and are well positioned to not only support their members but also align and improve safety protocol standards, globally.

Now is the time to take a harmonised approach to health and safety, risk auditing and assurance, as observed in other industries.

Pooling intelligence and sharing data  

An effective means of pooling ‘intelligence’ on health and safety risk could accelerate the mitigation of risk. There is also power and statistical significance in pooling past incident and due diligence information on third parties into one place.

By doing so, operators can more readily differentiate ‘blips’ in performance from ongoing trends of concerns and, importantly, see the whole picture for the first time. This might better inform the strategic decisions in terms of pro-active third party management.

Think big

Customers, regulators and other suppliers provide an invaluable stream of content and commentary which is directly relevant to operations. The pandemic has accelerated the need for digitisation and the call for using Big Data and analytics to inform risk-based decisions is fundamental to the future success of travel businesses.

A wealth of health and safety relevant content is also available via numerous tools, such as web-scraping, or free text analysis software. These tools are helping the industry understand and be more sensitive to live risk issues and are invaluable when tour operators, bedbanks and online travel agents are faced with managing large portfolios that are located across the world.

Where next?

Work to improve results from health and safety activities was underway even before the pandemic, but it has arguably revealed more to be fixed.

Beyond the initial shock, and as the industry looks to recover, now is the time to design a resilient and ‘fit for the future’ programme for health and safety risk management.

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