Travel risk management: are you ready for a crisis?


If you know that business travel is not without risks and potential for a crisis, then you should read this article. In this article, we are going to talk about the management and containment of a crisis related to travelers and travel managers. The purpose of this article is to share with you the collective knowledge of how to handle a crisis and significantly improve your ability to identify and manage a crisis, as well as improve the efficiency of your business travel.

In this article I will discuss travel risk myths, crisis management, plans and options so that you can immediately compare or improve your own travel risk management system for your travelers or travel management department.

A crisis, by definition, is something you didn’t plan for or weren’t prepared for. Moreover, it can be a series of events that together create a crisis. Events or problems that occur, for which you have a plan and strategy, are just an incident.

Crisis management/leadership

The first is to clarify the difference between crisis management and leadership. More importantly, which one is more important?

Crisis management refers to the response to event(s) that threaten your business, travelers or travel operations. The event leads and you follow with plans, decisions and actions.

Crisis leadership, on the other hand, is more about being ahead of the events and issues to prevent, manage and even mitigate the impact on your business or business travel activities. While management is part of the leadership question, your actions and involvement lead to the results rather than a more passive wait and act approach with pure crisis management.

Crisis leadership is the less practiced of the two, but the most significant in terms of results and reduction of risk and impact. If nothing else to take away from this session, it should be that your focus should always be on crisis leadership, not crisis management.


There are many myths and half-truths about crisis, disruption and threats within the travel management industry. Much of this misinformation comes from travelers themselves, media, travel managers, friends and family, or so-called “experts”.

For example, many travelers and planners are focused on terrorism. The reality is that you have a very, very small chance of being exposed to or directly affected by a terrorist act. It doesn’t mean you should consider it a threat at all, but it shouldn’t dominate your plans or processes, if not a proportionate threat to you and your travelers. Conversely, almost everyone overlooks motor vehicle accidents. Yet they are far more common, can have devastating consequences for travelers, and are the least common plan within a company’s travel departments.

Travelers and travel managers must be prepared, trained and have supporting plans for any event that could delay, disrupt or harm the traveler or business.

The most common events are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Airline delays or cancellations
  • Airport closures or disruptions
  • Transport delays
  • Bad weather
  • Sickness and illness
  • Minor crimes
  • Hotel fires
  • Political Disputes
  • Demonstrations and rallies

Motor vehicle accidents within your home country can be stressful and dangerous, but on a foreign business trip they can be 100 times more challenging and dangerous. Consider language, local authorities, first responder, standard of health care, families and support in your plans and initial response.

Airline delays and cancellations. They happen all the time, but they’re not just an administrative response. You may need to consider safety, transportation, quarantines, security threats, government response, and widespread service suspensions to resolve the issue and maintain the safety of your travelers.

Airport closures or disruptions. Faulty systems, electrical problems, threats, weather conditions, structures, and so on can prevent you from even making your flight. Think about the impact this will have on your plans and how your traveler might need to extend their stay, move to a different airport, or find accommodation.

All others transportation delays and disruptions can create a crisis when everyone loses access to trains, buses, major roads or even water transport. Make a plan and add it to your immediate decision-making process.

In 2010 and early 2011, all types of travel suffered natural disasters and weather. Weather and forces of nature have always influenced travelers. It happens and will continue to happen. It is of great concern how unprepared travelers and businesses are for volcanic eruptions, typhoons, floods, earthquakes and general inclement weather.

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People get sick or feeling unwell all the time. This is significantly exacerbated when traveling. Standard of care, language, access, costs, complications, choice and many other location-related matters determine the risk that your traveler is exposed to. A single “one-size-fits-all” plan or solution will fail and you should be immediately aware of these issues as soon as an affected traveler starts.

Crimes are a reality of every city in the world. However, travelers are rarely aware of the risks and may be targeted by thieves and criminals. The loss of phones, money, and other items may seem less likely to pose a crisis, but if you’re abroad, injured, or don’t speak the local language, all of these simple occurrences can be a major concern for your business travelers. This can be amplified if you hit a senior executive or a group of executives.

Hotel fires and emergencies are more common than most people think. The immediate threat to an individual is quite obvious, but the impact that the lack of accommodation choices can have from a hotel’s temporary or permanent closure is a much greater concern. This was graphically depicted during the Mumbai terror attacks (extraordinary as the event was), when most of the best/preferred hotels were now unavailable in a major part of the city. Thousands of rooms for business travelers were cut as a result, and many were forced to cancel or significantly alter their travel plans simply because there was a lack of suitable accommodation options, whether or not they were affected by the events.

Any event that the political stability of a location or region or displaces thousands of people, puts your business travel plans and travelers at risk. They can arise spontaneously or take time to develop. The immediate dangers and ongoing disruption can have a major impact on your business or traveller.

Again, planning, preparing and thinking about these issues will greatly reduce the impact and improve your business as well.

Now that we’ve removed the most common misconceptions, let’s focus on crisis management and containment.

Crisis management

The key to successful crisis management is planning, training, planning, decision making and adaptability.


Given the issues covered earlier, you now have a better understanding of how and why planning is important to remove the more emotional issues from the reality of real business threats and events.

Planning must span multiple departments and perspectives to be truly effective. One of the biggest weaknesses I see on a regular basis is that departments continue to manage travel risk through multiple departments with multiple plans. The input and the plan must be united. Depending on the company, they could include travel managers, security, HR, finance, marketing, C-suite, and operations.

All plans should be continuously updated, site-specific, aid in the decision-making process, and be modular enough to extract elements quickly and effectively. Modern, effective plans embrace technology. Fast, efficient access to information, along with ongoing updates, are hallmarks of a modern sustainability plan, regardless of the size of the problem or company.


No plan is effective without training and rehearsal. Training, whether through simulations, exercises or live, large-scale exercises, is essential to the success of any crisis situation. Such sessions don’t have to be boring or overly complicated, but they should involve travel managers and planners in addition to the more common crisis and emergency managers.

Training is increasingly becoming a mandatory requirement for key positions and roles. It can be linked to internal HR processes, but must support business objectives and be measurable on how it reduces risk to people, businesses, brands and travel needs.

While the plan sets the framework for crisis decision making, teams can learn a lot from training on how and when to adjust their plans. How the team interacts, strength, weakness, leaders, followers, constraints, resources and many more planned and surprising results are possible with effective training.


No plan will fully describe all available events, issues and options for every plausible travel delay, disruption or crisis. You must be able to adapt and evolve from the original plan and intent. This can only be achieved with planning, planning and training.

Solutions So what do I need in my plan?

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Here’s the best travel risk management content for your plan:

  • Objective (the most important part of any travel policy)
  • References
  • Domain
  • Legal
  • Insurance
  • Finance
  • Fees
  • Limits
  • Priority/precedence
  • Managing authority(ies).
  • situations

The procedure is likely to include:

  • Schedule
  • Sources
  • Tools
  • Authority
  • Executive decision-making
  • Limits
  • Budgets
  • Education
  • Compliance
  • Pre trip admin
  • Providers
  • Booking
  • Accommodation
  • Airlines
  • Ground transportation
  • Safety and security
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Emergency
  • SOP/Actions on
  • Insurance
  • Trip monitoring/tracking
  • Report
  • HR
  • Rights
  • Threat/Risk Levels
  • Shelter in place
  • Relocations/evacuations
  • Managing Authority
  • Review

Remember that your risk assessment should include the most important elements:

  • Traveler
  • Place
  • Efficacy
  • Support/Resources
  • Answer


There you have it. Now that you know what is needed, how do you assess your current plans and preparedness?

You now have the most relevant issues and focus areas to mitigate or mitigate most incidents you may encounter. Your travelers will be safer, your business more profitable and your costs can be reduced by reducing your exposure to costly crisis events.

We’ve debunked popular myths about travel threats, identified the difference between crisis management and leadership, outlined plans and options so you can directly compare or improve your own travel risk management system for your travelers or travel management department. Review your plans and make immediate improvements.

You will know when you have an effective crisis management system for your travel risk management strategy when you have little to no crisis.

You may have countless events or incidents, but you have a plan, you’re prepared, and your decision making is quick and consistent. If not, you have failed and you regularly go from crisis to crisis.