Security Assistance for Your Trips Abroad – Things to Consider

Cyber-attacks, terrorism, organised crime, natural disasters, social unrest - the list of risks affecting employees living abroad and travelling for work is long. Thus, the question arises: how can companies protect their travelling workforce?

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International SOS


A comment by Gautier Porot, MCrim EMBA, Regional Security Manager, International SOS:

On March 26th, 2019, I had the privilege of leading a workshop on the risks related to business travel at the AWF 2019 in Zurich. As part of this session, I had the pleasure of discussing the global evolution of business travelling, elaborating on current high-risk travel locations, explaining traveller’s behaviours and cognitive biases, as well as presenting good effective practices to reduce travel risk exposure.

Towards a Globalized VUCA World 2.0

Is today’s world more dangerous today than it was yesterday? While this is a much-discussed topic among experts in the field of travel risk management, one thing is certain: the VUCA world defined in the 80s by the US military doctrine (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) has evolved, as risks have become globalized. As such, through the fourth industrial revolution, the way of travelling has changed - both for the better or worst of travellers. Our modern international workforce's projection in this VUCA World 2.0 is constantly challenged and needs to be regularly adapted and rethink. This unprecedented development of business activities coupled with ultra-fast changing technologies (i.e. shared economy, new generation of mobile phone network) is irrevocably redefining our vision of Travel management but most of all, the Risk matrix.

Challenges for business travellers

One thing is certain: in a World where business traveller risks everything, we must prepare them to face everything. We all know that Magic recipes don’t exist; but it’s on us develop and put in place countermeasures that will allow them to act, instead of react. As such, some companies have turned this major challenge into an opportunity for their sector of activity. Indeed, where there is volatility - they put sustainability and stability (i.e. continuity plans, retention and HR benefits); in uncertainty - clarity and decision making (i.e. perspective analyses, push information to their travellers, site evacuation plan); in view of complexity - simplicity is key (i.e. training and support for travel preparation); and finally, in ambiguity - foresight must be applied (i.e. travel safety policy, support for risk profiles).

A concern of all departments

These initiatives have to be addressed through comprehensive overarching internal policies breaking the traditional silos organizations. Business Travellers operability is the concern of all departments within a firm. Concretely, the freedom of movement of a traveller allows the temporal realization of his mission and his well-being the success of his actions.

To evaluate your company’s risk exposure, International SOS has created a tool that allows you to obtain a holistic understanding of your efforts in the area of travel risk management. You can find it here.

                “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s quote above might be interpreted differently, yet what I learn from it is this: plans are obviously not useless, but Murphy's law teaches us at our expense, that they are evolutionary, and that planning enables anticipation. In order to survive and navigate in this VUCA World 2.0, SMEs and multinationals alike, must support their business travellers on the following axes: awareness - throughout 360° situational risk overview trainings; information (both actively and passively) – before and during the travel; assistance – available in operational capacity 24/7, 365 days a year.

To prepare travellers and companies for their missions abroad, International SOS and Switzerland Global Enterprise have developed a checklist for travellers and companies. Find the checklist in the download area below. 

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Unfortunately, this prominent saying appears to be often the motto of business travellers on their missions abroad. A survey conducted by the International SOS Foundation, Kingston University and Affinity Health reveals astonishing findings. The paper demonstrates that of all international business travellers:

  • 46% consume more alcohol when travelling for work
  • 32% go to neighbourhoods considered to be at risk or whose dangerousness they are unaware of
  • 9% start a new sentimental relationship

Reasons for behavioural change on business trips

A possible explanation for this behavioural change may be due to the distance to the respective home country, fatigue of the traveller, professional and personal pressure or the absence of the family. Beyond that, another factor that affects our behaviour is what is considered the cognitive bias. This distortion of the reality is our natural tendency to look for evidence that proves our conception of a situation to be right. One example for this may be when reading the news: an individual will naturally seek either to make the content speak for him or herself or to ignore the recommendations of the text that do not meet his or her expectations.

Please find here the full results of this study.

Good Practices while travelling

Do not trust “Best practices” in travel risk management, they don’t exist. Every story is different, and so is every traveller. As explained above, while travelling every individual has its own way of behaving. Thus, we recommend all our travellers to go through a quick four questions self-assessment base on the three following security key focus: strategic, personal and psychological.

  1. Strategic: what is my personal and corporate exposure in the context of this mission (i.e. the Hunter and the Hunted paradox)?
  2. Personal: which (of my personal) behaviours can be consider at risk in this environment?
  3. Psychological: how should I react in case of a clear present danger (max focus on three scenarios i.e. road accident, physical aggression, social unrest)

Tomorrow is Another Day

There is no magic wand, but our experience shows that a comprehensive and multidimensional approach to health and safety risks is essential.

Yet it is every company’s responsibility to implement comprehensive policies that break down traditional silos, to develop robust internal communication plans sponsored by management, and to regularly provide staff training for all travelling profiles and destinations.

Do not let predictable risks damage your business, your reputation and your travellers; think ahead and don’t be “the next one”.


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