Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Jo Lloyd could hardly have been more prescient when she predicted greater focus on traveller security in my 2016 forecast feature for the last issue of Buying Business Travel. “There will be the same risk management whether an employee is travelling to Paris or Caracas, because nowhere is really ‘safe’ any more,” said the partner in consultancy Nina & Pinta. Less than a fortnight later, jihadists slaughtered 130 in the French capital.
Where do those attacks leave corporate travel? Security has formed part of the travel management brief since at least 9/11, with regular and tragic reminders of its importance provided by outrages in Madrid, London and Mumbai, among many. Somehow November’s events feel different yet again.
Perhaps the related citywide lockdown in Brussels will prove even more influential than Paris in the long term. When armed guards patrol hotel lobbies in a European capital, as they did in Belgium, it is clear Lloyd is right and the entire risk calculus has changed.
Rightly or wrongly, one palpable consequence of the Paris massacre has been European governments shifting towards more intrusive, authoritarian handling of their own citizens. Just one example, relevant to the travel industry, is a renewed push to capture and share passenger name record data – an initiative for which the European Union has criticised the US government on data privacy grounds over many years.
What remains to be seen is whether the swing from personal freedom to centralised control will be mirrored by corporations in their human resources strategies in general, and travel policies in particular. Lloyd certainly expected as much even before the Paris attacks. “The visibility required for risk management will drive greater compliance and a lower tolerance for booking off the grid,” she said.
I’ve written many times in this column about managed travel’s perpetual arm wrestle between risk-related compliance on the one hand and allowing traveller flexibility on the other. I believe Paris and Brussels will give command and control the upper hand again for now, but travel managers cannot let gaining a weightier stick make them complacent. They need to continue improving their travel programme to keep travellers inside it.
Providing smart mobile tools is the most obvious example at present – and, of course, mobile is also the best way to assist travellers in an emergency. Expect more use of apps allowing travellers to indicate they are safe, and, for the reasons discussed above, greater acceptance of employers using GPS to track travellers’ mobile phones more routinely.
I anticipate other changes, too. Risk management programmes generally dictate different levels of precaution and preparation according to the threat categorisation of the destination. But, as Lloyd observes, who can label a destination ‘low threat’ with confidence any more? More pre-trip briefings and other interventions look likely wherever employees travel.
Public transport may get another look too. I’m someone who has always taken the RER train from Charles de Gaulle airport to central Paris, but that particular journey will make me uneasy from now on. Might pressure intensify to insulate travellers in the private, controllable domain of taxis and limos instead?
NO ROOM, SADLY, FOR A FULL VERSION OF MY ANNUAL GONGS IN TRAVEL awards, better known as The Gits, but here are just a few unlucky winners for 2015:
The Jam on the Cohen Family Dining Table Award for Services Newly Rendered to Business Travel Journalism
WINNER: Lufthansa’s Distribution Cost Charge (DCC)
At €16 a pop, the global distribution system-clobbering DCC may be costing your company a small fortune, but it’s earned me one writing about it. Three cheers for DCC mastermind Jens Bischof!
The Central Line Cup for Severe Delays
RUNNER-UP: IATA for much-discussed but little-seen New Distribution Capability
WINNER: Berlin Brandenburg International airport
Originally scheduled to open before One Direction had enjoyed their first hit, the world’s whitest elephant now hopes to commence operations at the back end of 2017. Maybe. The latest of 150,000 defects uncovered to date is that the ceilings could collapse at any time.
The Homer Simpson “D’oh!” Moment of 2015
WINNER: Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)
Marking the IHG marketing department’s realisation that the telephone number printed on thousands of cards it posted to frequent guests was not for its elite member customer service as intended but, as those who dialled instantly discovered, “America’s hottest” phone sex line.