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John Morgan explains why business travel can be a business continuity issue and provides a checklist of items which should be considered when developing a resilient business travel strategy.

The world is changing. The global marketplace may be more accessible, but it can also be more dangerous. Sending staff abroad for business is more popular than ever, but many organizations do not take appropriate steps to manage the risks, nor do they always appreciate the potential impact an incident abroad involving a staff member can have on a company.

Boyd McCleary, former Governor of the British Virgin Islands, has years of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) experience facilitating global business partnerships, shaping policy, managing major projects and supervising visa and consular work in a wide range of countries, including Germany, Turkey and Malaysia. Now an international business consultant and mediator, Boyd says: “International travel to areas of political, social and economic instability brings significant risks for individual business people and their employers.  Whether a company delegates international travel arrangements to a travel management company, or does it in-house, these risks do not go away and need to be better understood by those responsible for business continuity. If the finance department is demanding that an employee travels by budget airline and arrives within an hour of their first meeting, stays overnight in the cheapest motel in the least salubrious area of the city, before making their way to the next meeting by public transport, this increases the likelihood of something going wrong.  And it will be the business continuity manager, who is likely to have to pick up the pieces and carry the consequences. The aforementioned scenario is a recipe for tiredness and poor decision-making, which can result in travel documents being lost or stolen (leading to missed appointments, missed flights and additional costs incurred), potential mugging (leading to possible hospitalisation or worse), high levels of stress (leading to unproductive meetings and damaged company reputation), and an assortment of other negative outcomes.

“Fighting fires is not what the successful business continuity manager wants to be doing. Preventing those fires from igniting or extinguishing the first sparks are. Some incidents abroad cannot be prevented, but many can be avoided, or resilience built to minimise the impact on both the individual and the organization,” continues Boyd.

The following checklist suggests items which should be considered when developing a resilient business travel strategy:

Identifying and managing the risk

Research and information gathering
Check out government travel advice or secure the services of an expert who will flag up trouble spots before travel takes place. Debrief staff on return from their travels to identify potential issues for future trips.

Prepare staff
Whether it is by training or a regularly reviewed travel policy, make sure your staff know what is expected of them when they represent your company abroad. Warn them of potential dangers and equip them with the means to avoid or deal with difficult situations.

Teach staff
Culture doesn’t just vary country to country; it can be vastly different in local areas, depending on factors such as religion and ethnicity. Simple gestures including handshakes, eye contact, and thumbs up, can be misunderstood and land you in trouble. As part of your resilience training, cover these issues and highlight to staff where they can access specific, accurate and reliable information before they travel. 

Highlight gender/sexuality issues
There’s no sugar-coating it, in some parts of the world the status of men and women is different, and homosexuality is illegal. In fact, according to a recent ILGA report, same-sex relationships are criminalised in 72 countries and can result in the death penalty in eight. Some staff may choose not to disclose their sexuality to you, so it is important that you advise all members of staff of potential issues and the support available in the event of a related incident.

Keep track
Whether you choose to use tracking apps or whether you have a system in place to ensure regular check-ins, it is important that you know where your staff are. They should also have a code-word to use if they are in difficulty.

Take cover
In today’s uncertain times, travel insurance is rarely enough. Access to the services of medical and security assistance companies covers many issues, but there has been a gap in consumer need for consular assistance which cannot always be met by resource-stretched governments. 

What to do in an emergency
Empower staff to help themselves. Equip them with relevant information and educate them so they can stay safe. Provide fit-for-purpose support in the event of a problem and ensure that they can contact someone who can actively assist them 24/7.

Make alternative arrangements
Unfortunately, governments around the world are not in the financial position to help every one of their citizens who gets into difficulty abroad. Yes, they will help as many as they can, within reduced budgets, but as a result of limited resources, it is usually only the most vulnerable who receive direct support. Calling the embassy at 6 o’clock on a Friday evening is often met with a response effectively advising you to call back Monday morning! 

Boyd continues, “Even something as simple as a lost passport can cost an organization dearly. From additional accommodation and rescheduled flights to the revenue and company reputation lost or damaged by a missed meeting. In the event of a serious incident, repatriation is expensive, as is sending another member of staff/family member out to the destination to support a hospitalised employee.

“If a business continuity manager is trying to resolve the incident from the office, they will be faced with challenges including language barriers, time differences, lack of local knowledge and bureaucracy. When you consider the worst-case scenario of a member of staff being killed whilst on their business travels, the potential implications include not only the loss of a valued team member and the emotional challenges that accompany that loss, but also the impersonal issues of potential corporate manslaughter charges and the high costs associated with a death in service.

“Your business continuity and disaster recovery plans need to include overall management of an incident abroad, but it is not realistic to expect to be able to micromanage a situation remotely. Nor is it likely to be cost effective to fly out to the area. Your plans should include the data needed to ensure that the incident is managed locally. It should, of course, include policy details for travel insurance, contact details of the local Embassy or Consulate, plus any medical or security assistance.  But you should also consider what happens if the Embassy, insurance or assistance companies are not in a position to provide the support needed. 

“If your business continuity plans include the phrase ‘call the Embassy’, with no Plan B, you really need to review them. Today.”

The author

John Morgan is co-founder and managing director of Consularcare. As a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Diplomat with over twelve years’ deployment to a range of oversea and UK diplomatic engagements, John Morgan’s experience encompassing policy making, trade promotion, project management (Whitehall) and diplomatic consular consultancy, led him to co-founding Consularcare to support people travelling abroad and bridge the gap between the public and private sector. John has worked in various Embassies and High Commissions around the world and has visited more than 110 countries.

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