International SOS is the world’s leading medical and travel security risk services group. With years of experience helping other companies mitigate travel risks, we decided to find out how Brenda Davis, travel manager for the Americas at International SOS, is approaching COVID-19 safety with their internal travelers. (In addition to being a Rocketrip partner with a duty of care integration, International SOS’s business travelers also use Rocketrip.)
Business continuity is an important mission of International SOS — is that also one of the ways you measure success in your own role as travel manager?
We have a very robust Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and Pandemic Plan in place. We activated our plans early in the spread of COVID-19. Our global Crisis Management Team continues to supervise our organizational response to the outbreak and works closely with our regional crisis management teams to ensure that we enhance our existing capabilities and resilience. We have appointed Pandemic Managers across the business to ensure that our local risks are being managed and our resilience is enhanced.
It is exactly these types of situations where our robust processes are critical so that we can continue to concentrate on supporting our clients and members in this rapidly developing situation.
International SOS recently published our Travel Risk Outlook, which predicted the top threats for business travelers in 2020. As part of this study, our experts found that outbreaks of infectious diseases would be a continuing challenge to organizations. Our Travel Risk Outlook study also found that main risks to physical health cited by experts were illness and disease. Risks to physical health were seen as likely to persist and increase into the future, particularly pandemics.
And what are some of the ways International SOS ensures its own business continuity and travel risk management during a time of global health concerns like this?
What we are practicing, and what we encourage all companies to do, is consider employees’ health and potential infectivity when they return from travel, instead of only considering this before and during their trips. It will be helpful to explore the potential impact of an outbreak before it occurs and to enhance preparedness. Organizations can greatly benefit from reviewing preparation and response plans for infectious diseases regularly and rigorously.
Epidemics are spreading faster and further this century than ever before, and “emerging diseases” once considered uncommon are being identified at an unprecedented rate. Planning for an infectious disease outbreak enables a faster response — the earlier that interventions are implemented, the less likely further transmission occurs, and the quicker the outbreak can be stopped.
How do you ensure your travelers are well-educated on security and health risks before a trip?
Provide resources to your employees to ensure that your travelers have access to learn about the risks in the destinations to where they are headed (medical and security information analysis and advice) and can access alerts for their destination. This can be useful in understanding go-/no-go neighborhoods to book accommodation, avoid on their free time, to identify appropriate modes of transport, or to stay apprised of any changes to the risk landscape while they are in country (i.e., demonstrations, terrorist attacks, natural hazards).
What are your best practices for communicating emergency or crisis policy changes to your business travelers?
Organizations should provide resources to employees including:
- Education on the symptoms and precautionary hygiene measures and ensure people have access to the most up to date information.
- Advise employees to seek medical attention if they feel unwell and to not travel.
- Arrange crisis management teams and meet regularly.
- Review travel management plans, potential for travel disruption, risk of imposed quarantine.
- Review pandemic plans including how to manage travelers from affected areas.
- Review protective equipment, cleaning protocols.
- Allow additional time for travel and flexibility in itineraries.
How would you recommend companies find the right balance between safety concerns and necessary business travel?
Organizations should ensure country-specific Business Continuity Plans (BCP) are current, realistic and ready to implement at short notice. Such BCP plans should:
- Have flexible triggers (based on the potential risks outlined above) for initiating employee segregation, work-from home policies, restrictions on internal and external events, and the relocation of international assignees and their families.
- Confirm whether international assignees and their dependents are comfortable to remain in-country with the conditions identified in the risk assessment above.
- Identify and account for:
- International Assignees whose presence in-country is deemed essential.
- International Assignees whose presence in-country is deemed non-essential.
- All international assignees’ dependents.
Why has it been important for International SOS to incorporate a rewards and culture-driven program like Rocketrip into your safety-driven travel culture?
Our employees are the backbone of the company. They work extremely hard and answer the call of our clients when and wherever they are needed. Our travelers consistently make sacrifices in service of the job. Time spent away from the family, days spent on business, just to name a few. Bearing all of this in mind, this is an incredible incentive and is just a great way for our company to say thank you. Lastly, based on Rocketrip’s recommendations, our travelers are changing their choices in travel in order to help make savings for the company, but being rewarded at the same time.
And finally, we have to ask, how has a partnership with Rocketrip generated value within your travel program?
Rocketrip has provided us with a program that is not only helping us give something back to our employees, it is also helping us meet our travel compliance/policy i.e. through booking directly through Concur, reviewing and selecting more economical choices i.e., hotels, flights. The list goes on and on!
Thank you to Brenda and the International SOS team for taking the time to share their expertise with the Rocketrip community. This interview was lightly edited for formatting.