As travel opens up, how are businesses protecting employees, and how are individual travellers staying safe?
Staying safe amid a pandemic is key
It has been a long year of limited travel. However, as vaccines are administered and COVID-19 infection rates decrease, border restrictions are beginning to ease, and travellers are emerging from mandated hibernation. Businesses are as eager to resume face-to-face meetings as tourists are eager to find new ways to unwind.
While travel procedures now come with a pandemic element, there are several issues that travellers need to be aware of as they hit the open road. Businesses must concern themselves with the safety of their employees, and families and individuals must understand fully the areas in which they will be traveling.
Duty of Care
For businesses, keeping employees safe should be a primary concern when they are traveling on behalf of the company. When sending employees out on work-related trips, businesses have a duty of care – the duty to take reasonable steps to avoid causing harm to their employees.
Your business should understand the risks of the environment to which your employees will travel. That includes understanding the threat landscape, the political climate, the cultural concerns, and the rules your employees should be following in order to stay safe.
For example, employees could run afoul of local laws by possessing sensitive photos, social media content, or other material stored on electronic devices that may be illegal or considered controversial or provocative, according to regional customs.
Some of the questions your organization should be considering include: What are the local laws that employees may not know about? Which variances in customs or traditions could create legal complications for your employees? What are the more common crimes against foreigners? Which scams do your employees need to be aware of?
Even understanding the customs and security risks may not be enough. Your organization should examine individual risks before sending employees to other countries. Is your employee’s lifestyle, religion, or sexual orientation going to put them in harm’s way? What is acceptable for a person to do in their country of residence could be an illegal act in another country.
Those same risks can befall individual tourists and depending on the location and the number of people in your party, can be compounded. For example, you and your friend have planned the hike of a lifetime – one that will take you through six countries on two continents. You have planned transportation, equipment, and food. However, you did not plan for inadvertently crossing borders. Inadvertently crossing a border in some countries could land you in jail.
So could not understanding local laws or customs, or what is considered acceptable. In Macau, you can be detained by police for not carrying your passport. In Papua New Guinea, same-sex relations are criminalized. In Dubai, dancing in public or swearing could get you arrested, and unmarried couples are not allowed to share a hotel room.
Oftentimes, a simple act such as hiking across a border without realizing it could spark an international incident, depending on the political climate between the countries involved.
To stay safe, organizations and tourists alike should learn the risks, educate themselves on what preventative measures they should take, know who to call should something go wrong, and be prepared for worst-case scenarios.
And while most trips occur without issue, there are plenty of examples of how things can go awry quickly: a tourist is kidnapped while on a gorilla watching expedition in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and someone demands a ransom; a hiker gets injured in a remote location and needs to be evacuated; an employee gets into an auto accident in which another party is hurt.
While these incidents cannot be prevented entirely, travellers can plan for what to do if something goes wrong.
Every traveller – employees and tourists – should be educated on the laws and threat profile of the region they will be visiting. They should also understand the limited ability of their respective government to intervene in other jurisdictions.
Employers should provide relevant pre-departure information and encourage employees to examine their backgrounds and individual risk factors. Individual lifestyle choices, political opinions, religious affiliations, or other activities that may be anodyne in their home country, could create legal or security issues for them in another country. Keep the safety of your employee as your priority.
For tourists, create an exit strategy. How will you get advice and support in case of emergency? Do you have the resources to assist you if you lose your passport or need to be evacuated from a dangerous situation that may be emerging? Also, if you run into legal entanglements, your country’s government or embassy may not be able to help. Plan in advance where help will come from, and how you will alert them to problems.
Make sure to stay on top of travel advisories and country information through your respective Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Even understanding the customs and security risks may not be enough. Your organization should examine individual risks before sending employees to other countries.
Staying safe while traveling takes preplanning. Travelers should know the conditions in the country, understand local customs, and prepare appropriately. That means a one-size-fits-all assessment of country risks, without considering individual risks, may not provide adequate protection.
Whether for business or pleasure, travellers need a partner to help them navigate delicate situations or perilous choices. Look for an insurance program that delivers not only coverage for each event, but consultation and points of contact to help, should a traveller find themselves in difficulty.
Stay alert to country advisories and know what the conditions are where you are going. By putting preventative measure in place, and by knowing the lay of the land before you set off, you can keep your travels as worry-free as possible.
Authored by AXA XL’s Denise Balan and Emil de Carvalho