How to ensure the best travel security for SMEs

Lewis Sage-Passant on a field security deployment

By Lewis Sage-Passant

Overseas travel is integral to modern business, but sending staff overseas can bring security and liability concerns if not managed correctly. While large companies often have internal corporate security teams to manage travel risks, this comes at a cost that can be prohibitively high for SMEs, despite all business being equally vulnerable. Often, line managers or HR staff are asked to sign off on travel, accepting liability in an area where they lack training and resources. Consulting with an external specialist can be a good investment for a company’s long-term overseas business strategy, and may even form part of the decision-making process regarding building new operations in a new territory. The local security environment could impact sourcing decisions and finding sustainable routes-to-market, meaning that a specialist security review can in fact save companies from investing in a territory facing instability or uncertainty.

It is critical that companies fulfil their duty of care obligations for travel to all destinations, and not just the obviously risky ones, to avoid both liability and staff endangerment. For businesses looking to cost effectively manage travel security I would suggest the following steps:

Destination assessment

The destination, whether high or low risk, must be reviewed by a qualified individual. This review must include crime, conflict, terrorism, political, health and kidnap risks, and how they will relate to your staff. Hotel and transport safety must be thoroughly vetted from a security, fire risk, and medical point of view.

A common mistake is to assume familiarity with a destination based on past experiences, neglecting the changing nature of security environments. Several resources exist to support businesses with destination reviews, such as the free guides found here, however you must keep the unique nature of each trip in mind and not be overly-reliant on generic advice. Just because a destination is listed as being lower risk does not make it exempt from your duty of care responsibilities.

Traveller profile

The travellers themselves should be considered, as specific complications can arise in connection with the traveller’s nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender in certain regions. Does the traveller speak the local language? Do they have any special medical considerations? Do they have hostile environment training or military experience? Prior to departure, the traveller should be briefed on the destination risks and how best to navigate them. For higher risk destinations, specialist training should be considered.

Crisis planning

One of the most critical components of travel safety is crisis planning. Prior to the trip, managers must have a clear crisis management plan. This should include multiple points of contact within the business who can be called 24/7, who are briefed on the trip, and what steps should be taken in a crisis.

Threat monitoring

Once the traveller has departed, it is critical to continue to monitor for developments that may impact them. Political, terrorism and armed conflict risks can emerge rapidly, and often with little warning. Global news media can be useful, but can often be late to deliver critical updates. Social media and subscription intelligence sources play an important role in monitoring, but this can be difficult for smaller businesses to implement on a 24/7 basis and may require external support.

Flexibility is key with travel security, and businesses must be willing to change plans with little notice in the event of a deterioration of the security environment. Meeting venues may want to be moved, transportation security may want to be “beefed up”, and in extreme circumstances you may consider extracting the traveller altogether.

While many businesses will be wary of taking a robust approach to travel security, and managers may feel that such a programme may become an obstacle to business, ignoring travel security risks can be deadly. Staff safety, morale, and retention can be drastically impacted by poor travel management, and litigation can cripple companies found to be placing staff in harm’s way without fulfilling their duty of care obligations. Where possible, businesses are encouraged to consult with an expert.

Lewis Sage-Passant is a former British Army intelligence officer and ex-corporate security intelligence and crisis manager with Goldman Sachs. Lewis now directs, a travel security consultancy specialising in vacation, academic and SME business travellers.