September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
With global safety issues very much to the fore, what's out there to keep the traveller protected?
RECENT MONTHS HAVE demonstrated how some 'safe' destinations for business travellers can become dangerous overnight, causing difficulties with aborted trips, cancelled events and stranded travellers. We have all seen the turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain - civil unrest and military action in those destinations have caused extreme concern for business travellers, as well as immediate personal safety issues.
The volcanic ash crisis and extreme and unusual weather conditions, such as excessive snowfall, have caused massive disruption, and the major devastation following the earthquake in New Zealand and the tsunami in Japan has given rise to similar issues for business travellers.
It is in these circumstances where the travel management company (TMC) comes into its own and is able to provide immediate assistance and destination information to the corporate and business traveller alike.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) offers immediate and up-todate advice to travellers in affected destinations, and those intending to travel, through regular updates on its website. Not only does the FCO advise about destinations where it cautions against all travel, but it also lists countries where only essential travel is recommended.
In addition to advising against all but essential travel, key information is provided for travellers finding themselves caught in either dangerous countries or those devastated by events such as earthquakes. This includes the Foreign Office helpline number, information about the availability of emergency passports, and a variety of links for further advice. Insurance policies frequently become invalid for travel to destinations where the FCO advises against it - this should be carefully monitored.
European Union carriers have an obligation to provide care and assistance to passengers who have checked in for a fl ight at any worldwide airport. The situation is different for non-EU carriers, where local laws provide for carrier care, although these may be weak in comparison, or even non-existent. In some extreme cases, carriers have cancelled fl ights to dangerous destinations when it has been felt that passengers and their own staff and assets may be at risk.
In such instances, there have been repatriation flights organised by the UK government, and also by corporates arranging private charter. However, these operations may not assist those stranded some distance from an airport in the affected country.
When an event is cancelled because of destination safety, complex legal issues often arise, particularly for event organisers who have not entered into a proper contract. If the airline is still operating in and out of the airport, it may not allow free cancellation or reprotection of the flight component. There are also issues for event organisers where deposits have been made to foreign suppliers, such as hotels and ground handlers, where there may be difficulties in recovery. A properly drawn-up contract should deal with the risk attached to non-refundable overseas deposits where events have been cancelled due to force majeure.
Insurance policies may assist when an event is cancelled and where refunds are to be made to delegates. Generally, force majeure events will not give rise to legal claims for lost expense.
TMCs are able to provide continuing support to their corporate clients and their travellers particularly when a crisis arises. Business travel trade consortia step into action providing newsflashes and the latest information to members and will carefully monitor the latest advice from the FCO. In addition to this there is likely to be a 24/7 advisory system available to the corporate and business traveller to ensure that decisions are made based on the latest advice.
Products such as Sabre's Traveler Security and Data Suite enable the TMC to help the corporate to determine exactly where its travellers are in the world, and provides readily accessible data such as mobile numbers, email addresses and, sometimes, the next of kin to enable the corporate to contact travellers and their families, and to ensure best care for those affected under its corporate responsibility policy.
This is key for travellers stranded in a difficult environment, such as being caught up in civil unrest or in events such as an earthquake.
For its members, ABTA's destination and sustainability team step up a gear when there is a crisis, giving regular destination services bulletins and more strategic information than available on public websites. It also provides close liaison with the FCO, sending texts to its members containing FCO advice, as well as alerts when this information is updated.
Events such as we have seen this year demonstrate that even the most careful planning cannot avoid some of these entirely unexpected situations, which throw travellers into difficult and often dangerous scenarios.
When crises like these arise, TMCs add value, not only by being able to access the latest updated information to enable strategic decisions to be made, but by being able to provide a link in the communications network between the corporate and its people and ensuring the safety of travellers who are stranded in difficult situations.
We have seen, in cases such as Egypt, that there has not always been a consistent approach to helping affected business travellers - some receiving excellent assistance, others not so. For those booking business travel directly, without a TMC, they might well be left to their own devices in difficult circumstances.
Employers accused of failing to properly advise or of abandoning travellers could face legal claims, particularly when proper advice might have reduced the danger facing the traveller.