Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
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International SOS regional security director Julian Moro discusses Middle Eastern business travel risk management after the Arab Spring
A key lesson the international business community has learnt post-Arab Spring is that applying a purely reactive methodology becomes complex, difficult to manage and expensive if caught off-guard by a major incident.
As a consequence, organisations everywhere are demonstrating an appetite to move from a reactive to a preventative travel risk management approach.
The key to the latter is that decisions are supported by, and based on, quality information, analysis and expert advice. Accurate information about the prevailing risk environment is not meant to dissuade organisations from doing business in complex and challenging environments. The aim is quite the opposite, in that if risks, specific to an individual’s profile (nationality, gender, familiarity with environment, itinerary, nature of work etc), are well understood, the trip is likely to proceed with the commensurate measures in place to mitigate.
While travel risk management and the concept of duty of care are in the relatively early stages in the Middle East and Africa, organisations are importing best practices from the more established and highly-regulated business regions. This is because organisations here recognise the material ‘return on prevention’ benefits that can be achieved by improving their travel risk management maturity.
During the events of the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, we saw that companies with minimal resources allocated to preparedness were forced to spend many times more than their initial budgets, in order to deploy reactionary measures to support employees.
However, with tough lessons now learnt, we are seeing organisations now dedicating 80 per cent of their travel safety and security resources to the preparation stage, and 20 per cent to response activities – a complete reversal of a couple of years ago.
The return on prevention in this model is that we keep travellers safer by reducing their exposure to risks, protect the reputation of the employer and have a positive impact on the bottom line by enabling business – a win/win/win outcome.
Reducing the exposure of risk to travellers boils down to how well-informed the decision-making is at the preparation stage, and how fast information and advice can be relayed to the traveller or international assignee once their trip has commenced. Specifically, organisations must first ensure they have visibility of the traveller’s intended itinerary or location of an expatriate assignment.
For example, an Indian travelling from the UAE to Mumbai for business is at far less risk than a traveller of another nationality, particularly if they are unfamiliar with the local environment. This allows the management to make a risk-based decision as to whether the business trip should proceed and, if so, what (if any) precautions must be taken. Second, the traveller should be ‘pushed’ information that is pertinent to them based on their actual location. Finally, and perhaps the most difficult part for a multinational to navigate, is ensuring that informed and timely decisions are made in the event of an emergency. This is where many organisations operating in the Middle East struggled during the Arab Spring.
Part of the challenge of defining and embedding a travel risk management approach has been that responsibilities often cross multiple functions and disciplines within an organisation. All constituents – including senior management, security, travel management, finance, compliance, legal and operational risk, and human resources – have a role to play in an integrated approach. In my opinion, we will continue to see more responsibility for managing risk pushed to regional management, but not necessarily with all the functional and technical expertise represented locally.
This means managers need to engage with all departments to design and implement a cohesive travel risk management programme, including enshrining the agreed practices in policies and procedures, with clear demarcation of responsibilities.
With the further improvement of tools and technology that automate processes across the travel risk management lifecycle, organisations have never had a better opportunity to do this cost-effectively and relatively simply.
CVJulian Moro joined International SOS in December 2011 as regional security director, MENEA (Middle East and North-East Africa) and is responsible for the day-to-day management of his team of travel risk management specialists. He supports clients by providing information and analysis, travel security training and consulting, and operational assistance.
Julian gained 20 years of risk management experience prior to joining International SOS and, before embarking on his career in the corporate sector, he was a member of the Australian Army, where he reached the rank of major.