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Returning to Travel: Tips from Risk Management Experts

With unrestricted travel becoming more of a possibility everyday, we now have the difficult challenge of applying the lessons we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic into our risk management plans.

So we thought, why not ask the experts? Together we, along with our partners at Gallagher Student Health & Special Risk: Global Risk and On Call International, brought together experts from our teams to weigh in on the best ways to prepare for the new risk management challenges in 2021. Between the three organizations we cover insurance, travel assistance, and technology perspectives and how they contribute to a well rounded risk management approach.

We'd like to thank Dean from Gallagher and Ben from On Call for their contributions to this article and their willingness to share their expert insights in this post. If you have questions about your risk management plans or the content covered here, contact information is listed below for each contributor to this article.

1. For a university that is starting the process of creating a TRM plan, there is a lot to cover. What’s the first question an office should ask itself to get started?

Ben: Travel Risk Management (TRM) is not a ‘one size fits all’ type of program, it should be tailored to the nuances, culture, size, and mission of the organization. TRM can often be viewed as a prohibitor of travel, when it should actually be viewed as an enabler of travel, specifically how to help travelers make more informed decisions around travel. From a where to start perspective, I suggest the university determines what they hope a TRM Program will accomplish. They should use this goal, along with determining what their risk tolerance is as an organization to guide the program purpose. From there assessing what the organization currently has in place and where the gaps are is a great place to start.

Dean: The first question we start with is, what is our definition of Duty of Care? Without understanding the full extent of what a university's responsibility to their travelers are, we can't sufficiently prepare a package to cover those scenarios. Understanding that fully and having a concrete definition allows us to prepare the right package that offers full coverage for the university's needs.

Bradley: One of the first questions we ask when going through the goals and objectives of a university's travel risk management plan is what is the situations we're trying to be prepared for? Although we hop these situations do not happen often, we usually find that every office has had some type of experience with an event or crisis that leaves a deep memory of the importance of travel risk management planning. After those situations are talked through, the next step is determining what works and what doesn't (or what's missing). Talking through these steps are a great way to add more concrete details and problems with which we can begin to find solutions for.

2. There are infinite possibilities of situations a university has to prepare for in their TRM plan, what do you see as the most common events they should focus on?

Ben: No functional plan can account for every possible threat scenario, the key is to focus on the most applicable threats as well as potential impacts/disruptions to the institution. Conducting threat horizon scanning for the different areas in which an institution has a travel population can help tailor the threats that should be accounted for within its emergency response plans.

Dean: Crisis Response Training and an Emergency Response Plan are the events we start with our universities. Focusing on crisis response training empowers educators, who may not be risk managers, to feel confident to take action when responding to any type of emergency. That knowledge and practice of the training greatly reduces risk during the crisis. An Emergency Response Plan is critical to fill in gaps of training and serve as a guide for educators who may not remember every part of the process.

Bradley: It's hard to determine any one singular event that a university may face in a risk management scenario. Similar to what Ben said, there's no way to focus on every situation. What we advise is to focus on the critical functions needed to respond to most crises. Most situations will involve communicating and locating travelers at the minimum. If administrators can do those two things well and reliably, risk can be minimized.

3. A good TRM plan will have great partners and tools to support the university through any event. What tools or partnerships should universities prioritize when they are creating or refreshing their TRM plan?

Ben: TRM programs for higher education can come in all different shapes, sizes, and budgets and can account for many different levels and types of risks. Breaking down the needs in simpler terms and then seeking tools/providers to fulfill those needs and gaps is recommended—here is a list of basic functions that an institution should seek to accomplish with their TRM program:

  • Preparing and informing travelers prior to departure

  • Knowing travelers’ whereabouts in the event of a crisis

  • Staying apprised of threats throughout the world

  • Taking accountability of traveler(s) amid a crisis situation

  • Communicating with traveler(s) during a crisis

  • Providing the necessary support, emergency assistance, and resources to travelers and their organizations to resolve the crisis

Dean: Working with a broker that has a specialty niche team that focuses on international travel insurance and 24/7 travel assistance is highly recommended for most offices. They will be able to navigate the different offerings from multiple providers to match what fits best for the university's priorities. Travel Tracking is also another service worth looking into. Having a tool or provider in place to help locate travelers can reduce time and risk during an emergency. Lastly, crisis response training can tie it all together. Bradley: Once an office understands it's unique set of priorities, we recommend the area of focus universities prioritize first is technology. The reasoning being a effective technology solution will save hundreds of hours in efficiency for a Global Education Office. Software platforms come in a wide range of budgets too, making at least one solution available to most offices. Regardless of the task at hand, there's a chance a software company has built a solution. Travel risk management software platforms specifically offer universities solutions to major risk management hurdles like communicating with travelers, finding them during a crisis, and preparing them for their trip. There are not many "best bang for your buck" tool available in travel risk management, but technology is certainly at the top of the list.

4. Traveler protection resources can make the difference in reducing risk for universities. After living through COVID now, are there any additional resources you recommend universities should consider for their TRM plan?

Ben: Given the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges that still remain ahead, I suggest institutions look at encompassing proactive monitoring of their program locations before departure and until the travelers have safely returned from these locations. Keeping the organization and the travelers abreast of changes in COVID case counts, travel restrictions, social distancing measures, and hospital capacity is critical in facilitating a safe and flexible program moving forward.

Additionally, I suggest each institution should develop an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) that is specific to their international programs. This could include the appropriate emergency response resources for incidents like medical emergencies and political unrest, while also accounting for traveler support with COVID-19-specific incidents abroad.

Dean: The COVID situation is still ongoing and an event international educators will still need to prepare for going forward. With that, one new protection we see more universities opting to add to their toolkit is Cancel For Any Reason/Interruption For Any Reason (CFAR/IFAR) insurance. These insurance products offer coverage options for travelers and universities to recover costs if a trip is cancelled for a number of reasons.

Bradley: Similar to the comments of Dean and Ben, this is a time now to look at the gaps exposed by COVID in March and prepare to cover those risks with new tools or partners. If this event has showed us anything, it's the importance of a communication plan. Throughout this event, quick and organized communication was a necessity. In the first couple weeks of COVID, it was a firehouse of information (or lack there of) headed towards each entity of the office. Having the tools and processes in place to manage that information, or creating channels travelers can find accurate information, reduces the risks associated with these widespread events.

We'd like to take another moment to thank each of our experts for dedicating their time to answering these questions and offering their expertise. Risk management will be a crucial piece towards returning to travel this year with the COVID-19 pandemic still effecting many parts of the world.

A few common threads were heard from our experts are that 1. No two offices are the same. Every office needs to determine their specific set of priorities for their travel risk management planning. 2. Preparation is key. Accomplishing a written plan/process and training to match, ahead of any incident will greatly reduce risk for both administrators and students. 3. Solid and reliable communication is a requirement. Whether it's presenting travelers with the resources available to them or preparing staff members for potential incidents abroad, clear communication is critical to all parties involved.

If you have questions that are still unanswered about your own travel risk management planning and would like to connect with our experts directly or learn more about their risk management services, use the contact information list below.

Benjamin Longworth - Global Security Specialist at On Call International

Dean Sandonato - Vice President Global Risk at Arthur J. Gallagher Student Health and Special Risk

Bradley Adams - Managing Director at Aerogami


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