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Comment: Hope is not a strategy for business travel

Businesses must take a fresh look at their duty of care policies, says Dan Richards, chief executive of travel risk management provider Global Rescue

As of mid-July, more than 66% of the UK population has been fully vaccinated (with 83% having received at least their first dose). That makes the country among those with the highest vaccination rates in the world.

It’s fitting that the country is easing travel restrictions to countries on its amber list earlier than expected, opening up roughly 140 countries as opposed to the slim 15 that make up the green list.

Yet travel concerns still linger.

Despite high vaccination levels, Britain is seeing case numbers rise from the Delta variant – potentially hitting 100,000 a day as restrictions lift.

When it comes to the eventual return of business travel, UK business leaders need to be more aware, and more concerned, about the duty of care they have to their traveling employees.

If you send someone somewhere and they get ill or have an adverse event happen to them, it is the law in the UK, and the US, that a company’s responsibility is to provide a reasonable level of support for the employee.

It was little more than a year ago when business travelers were more concerned about lost luggage or missing a flight connection. No one worried about catching a disease that could kill them. Today, the risk profile for travel is different, and traveler awareness is at its highest levels.

Mitigating those risks falls to an organisation’s chief security officer, travel managers, and human resources directors, who are accountable for the development and oversight of policies, programmes, and logistics that protect traveling staff.

Employees turn to them to do everything possible to keep them as safe as possible. Chief executives rely on them too, because they carry a duty of care responsibility to their people, namely to take care of them and avoid exposing them to any unnecessary or undue risk.

Safeguarding your people is a big obligation. Business leaders are not experts in disease prevention and transmission, but they are now forced to make decisions during very difficult times.

It’s been more than a century since we’ve had a pandemic of this scale. That’s why it’s imperative for business leaders to recognize the need for expert guidance and to work closely with specialists to plan and implement the necessary risk mitigation strategies for employee safety.

Employers must be able to demonstrate they took a best practices approach for their business and their people.

They cannot send their employees on the road and simply hope nothing bad happens. The old saying, ‘hope is not a strategy’ is truer today than ever.

Leaders have to take meaningful, measurable, actionable steps and be responsive to actual emergencies whether it’s Covid-19, an accident, or a natural disaster.

While video conferencing will likely reduce total business travel volume in the near term, there is no substitute for being in the same room with others.

While the days of traveling long distances for one meeting with one person could be gone forever, people will travel for business at scale into perpetuity.

If the pandemic demonstrated anything about remote working, it is that productive work can be done from almost anywhere – and people are going to take advantage of that.

The days where you had to be tethered to an office are going to go away for some industries. We’re also going to see people combine business and leisure travel in ways that haven’t been done before.

People may choose to travel and work remotely for longer periods and then come back to the physical office for shorter periods. Each of these potential changes will require a fresh look by business leaders to plan and prepare for the evolving characteristics of post-pandemic business travel.

And while they should hope for the best, they should be prepared for the worst.

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