Get, Set, Go! Exploring the Whole New World of Business Travel with Bertrand Saillet: Candid Q&A

June 17, 20168:20 am562 views

Embarking on this interesting journey through an engrossing tete-a-tete with Bertrand Saillet, General Manager, FCM Travel Solutions Southeast Asia, we at HR in Asia are privileged to explore the uncharted territories of business travel in detail.

From understanding the dynamics of business travel, to the need for third party intervention during a business trip to ensure safety and security of employees in a foreign land, optimising technology to track employees during their stay abroad, need for a well-articulated travel risk management policy by companies and the list continues…

Bertrand takes us through a sea of ideas here, to leave you with thoughtful anecdotes garnered from his experiences to teach, train and educate business travellers on the move.

What are the key guidelines that HR departments should look at to ensure care and safety of employees on business travel at all times during the trip and stay in a foreign land?

Pre-trip

1. Travel Risk Management Policies

It is imperative that companies put robust travel risk management policies in place that provide business travellers with assistance in a crisis situation.  In fact, a company’s lack of assistance to employees during their business travel could create legal liability, even reputational damage, thus ultimately impacting the company’s bottom line.

2. Educating travellers

The employee sent on a business travel trip should be made aware of the potential risks at the destination prior to his/her departure. FCM Travel Solutions now has solutions to automatically keep the traveller informed of the country he/she is visiting once a booking is made. This concise document is complementary to the itinerary and will equip the traveller with key facts and figures of the destination, as well as potential risks like health-related, social unrest, and particular areas to avoid.

3. Adequate Insurance Cover

Travel insurance is very important as it does not just cover lost baggage or flight delays, but also extends to trip cancellations, emergency medical treatments or at times during emergency, evacuation to safer grounds.

4. Medical risks

If the destination country is known to have a certain virus outbreak such as the Zika virus in South America, it is imperative that the traveller is made aware of the risk and the precautionary measures to be taken to minimise exposure to this virus. Likewise, if vaccines are required, the traveller should get them before departure. It is also important to highlight location of international hospitals in the event of random destruction.

5. Emergency Assistance Companies

The company should also work in collaboration with emergency assistance companies such as iJet to receive latest information and security alerts. These companies also provide emergency services and onsite medical assistance in times of need.

Bertrand Saillet, General Manager, FCM Travel Solutions Southeast Asia

Bertrand Saillet, General Manager, FCM Travel Solutions Southeast Asia

On the ground

  1. Round-the-clock follow-up on an employee’s status is essential during an emergency situation to get an up-to-date information about the situation on ground
  2. Work very closely with the travel management company, if one has been appointed, to make travel arrangements, medical or emergency evacuations.
  3. If the organisation does not have a travel management company, work with third parties who are able to handle travel arrangements, medical assistance, accommodation and evacuation on immediate notice during an emergency situation.

What are some of the technology tools and mobile apps that HR departments can leverage on to provide a more enjoyable travel experience for their employees?

Technology is empowering individuals with up-to-date information at their fingertips everywhere they go. There should be no exception for companies that are sending out business travellers.

One emerging trend is the use of mobile apps to help business travellers access real time information regarding their trips and destinations.

For example, upon arrival at the airport, the app can tell the traveller what roads to avoid, to ensure a smooth journey to their next location. Travel apps, such as one from FCM Travel Solutions, allow businesstravellers to “check-in” at a location, such that the company is able to identify where their employees are, which could be crucial in high-risk locations.

Such apps also remind frequent travellers of upcoming trips and share real-time information about their locations where they are headed. A company’s ability to harness such digital capabilities will go a long way in providing more enjoyable travel experience for its employees.

How can companies use technology to their advantage to help business travellers navigate and manage work-life balance across blurred geographies today?

Technology is now driving the future of the marketplace for everything – from travel arrangements to expense reporting as well as vendor and purchase preferences for employees.

However, the ability to translate this potential into business processes that improve efficiency and save time for the business traveller is crucial.

For example, advancements in mobile and cloud-based expense reporting has been transformational for business travellers. To have the ability to capture receipts electronically with any camera-ready smartphone cuts down so many layers of manual reporting.

Additionally, mobile devices takes personalisation to all new level by capturing preferences based on user activity. These services can possibly help business travellers with everything from planning and booking trips to getting through the day-to-day logistics when they’re on the road.

The possibilities are indeed many fold and the onus is on companies to make most of it.

What is the best way to educate business travellers on the do’s and don’ts prior to and during overseas trips?

  1. A pre-departure briefing is essential in order to ensure that the staff is well aware of the company’s travel policies. This is important especially in cases where travellers wish to make independent travel arrangements (as an extension to their business trip). Being well versed with their company’s policies, they can be more cautious of the do’s and don’ts to avoid any unnecessary exposure to risk. The travellers should also be informed of their insurance coverage and understand what’s being covered under the insurance.
  2. It is also vital to impart information specific to the travel destination. One of the most important areas for business travellers to take note of, is the presence of any medical risks that are prevalent at their destination. If a potential medical risk is identified, employees should be advised to be vaccinated and take any other necessary health precaution. Apart from medical risks, employees should be made aware of any social or communal risk in the region they are travelling to and if there are any specific red-zones to avoid.
  3. Travel apps, such as the one from FCM Travel Solutions, allows business travellers to “check-in” at a location, so the company is able to identify where their employees are, which could be crucial, in an emergency situation. Such apps also remind frequent travellers of upcoming trips and share real-time information about the locations they are travelling to better prepare them.
  4. Lastly, intercultural training is an important but commonly neglected aspect of business travel. Helping your staff understand how clients/suppliers/vendors do business and their common practices could go a long way in ensuring they are not misunderstood due to lack of cultural awareness.

See: Travel Guidelines to Ensure Safety of the Business Travellers

What are the steps companies should take to establish robust travel risk management policies in place to assist business travellers during crisis situations such as recent attacks in Paris, Brussels to cite some?

The collaboration between departments within a company (i.e., HR, legal, medical, security and procurement) is necessary to establish a successful and comprehensive program to ensure traveling personnel safety and comfort.

Businesses must also identify how this programme should be developed and more importantly, executed. Some key questions to ask include –

  • Does the company have a plan in place that covers all the risks their travellers may experience?
  • Are there policies that have been clearly spelt to protect both the traveller and the employer if something untoward were to happen?
  • Are other external organisations that are part of this programme complement crucial aspects of this programme, such as travel arrangements, medical assistance, accommodation, transportation etc.?
  • Are employees able to easily access the information in this programme and are they aware of how it affects them?
  • Lastly, if there is a system in place for organisations to track their business travellers when they are overseas as an additional measure to monitor the safety of their employees?

All these are some of the important points, organisations should consider when preparing a travel risk management policy.

What are the legal repercussions of not providing employees with business travel assistance and ensuring their safety at all times during travel? Tell us more about its impact at a deeper level on the company’s bottom line.

The duty of care in an employer-employee relationship arises at common law and under legislation. Under the common law, the employer is expected to take reasonable care such that the employees are not exposed to unnecessary risk. Otherwise, the employee is entitled to sue his employer for damages.

Depending on the nature of the employee’s work and the nature of the risks associated with his work, it may very well be that an employer, especially one which regularly sends its employees overseas for work, is obliged to prepare a travel policy or handbook for its employees to create awareness of such risks and to provide sufficient information and training.

The relevant work related legislation, as well as common law impose a duty of care on employers to take all reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of its employees.

Whether or not the employer’s statutory or common law duty of care extends to employees travelling overseas for work, depends largely on the particular circumstances of each case. Arguably in current times where it is common for employees to travel, there is high chance that the relevant legislation will apply.

As such, local companies as well as foreign companies based in Singapore must be mindful of their obligations, and as far as reasonably practicable, identify any possible or related risks that their employees may be exposed to overseas.

It is thus important for employers to institute proper corporate policies and procedures to address these risks and ensure that proper training procedures, welfare facilities and emergency plans are made available and readily understandable to their employees. Otherwise, an employer may find himself liable for both civil remedies and criminal penalties under Singapore law.

How important is the role of external organizations towards ensuring stay arrangements, medical assistance in a foreign country, transportation and avoid daily life disruptions for the in-demand mobile workforce?

It is extremely important especially for companies that do not have in-house response teams to address risks employees may face when on business trips.

A company’s network of external partners within their risk management framework will be crucial in determining the speed with which they are able to respond to any crisis or emergency, their employee might face during working overseas.

In cases where the situation is critical, a quick reaction could be the difference between a full blown or averted crisis.

What are the trends in business travel you foresee for the next 4 years?

  1. Personalised journeys. Travel management companies are evolving to better meet the rising needs of the business traveller. Realising that the transactional model doesn’t work anymore, they are becoming increasingly focused on end-to-end customer experience, thus taking up various roles as concierge, advisor and confidant. Additionally, more emphasis is being placed on building long-term relationships.
  2. “Bleisure”, a term used to define business travellers who are extending their business trips for a vacation, has increasingly become a popular way to travel. In a survey of international travellers published last year by Skift, 60 percent said they’ve taken bleisure trips, usually adding two vacation days to work-related travel. This will continue to rise as business travellers look for efficient ways to find work-life balance in their busy schedules.
  3. Technology leading the change – the increased need to go digital. Mobile apps, OBTs are essential to business travel. In addition, many corporate managers are moving towards the digital space to be able to track travellers and their itineraries at one convenient place. FCM has also leveraged on many of these digital tools in order to stay at the forefront of corporate business travel and offer its clients various options on the digital front.
  4. Sharing economy – the market for sharing economy is expected to grow and companies are expected to incorporate elements of these into their travel program in order to cater to their travellers.
  5. Coping with market disruptors. Airbnb has revolutionised the way travellers perceive their accommodation choices.And we are seeing an upward trend as more companies innovate on new ideas and business models. Companies must be agile enough to deal with these new innovations, understand their appeal and customise their travel program to meet expectations of these business travellers.

Considering virtual teams operate across dispersed locations today, with the convenience and ease of interconnected global networks, do you foresee growth of the corporate travel industry in the next few years to come?

I am optimistic that the corporate travel industry will continue to grow as I believe that interconnected global networks, rather than lower the need for business travel, do the exact opposite and increase the need for meaningful face-to-face engagement.

Additionally, with many SMEs increasing their presence regionally, this offers another growth opportunity for corporate travel.

Moreover, according to the GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) BTI Outlook – Annual Global Report & Forecast, global business travel spending hit a 6.5% growth in 2015 over 2014. Growth is also expected all the way through to 2019, signifying the continued development of the corporate travel industry.

Additionally, FCM Travel Solutions has been expanding its presence, a reflection of the growth of not only FCM but also the corporate travel industry. We have observed gaps and some market segments have been left unserved.

As such, FCM is going to introduce new services in the course of the next few months to address the gaps. We are confident that this new market segment has strong potential for robust growth amidst current challenges as businesses continue to cross borders.

Also read: How to Manage Employees Travelling on International Work Assignments?

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