If your CEO or head of risk management walked into your office today and asked you how many employees recently traveled to China, and hence could be at risk for exposure to coronavirus, how confident are you of your answer?
The swift outbreak of the coronavirus across China and beyond has underscored how important it is for travel managers to have immediate, comprehensive access to data about their employees’ travel activity -- including bookings made directly with airlines, hotels, and other travel suppliers (or, “leakage”), which aren't visible via TMC reports. These blind spots in travel data present a serious duty of care risk for both companies and employees.
Traxo recently conducted an analysis of clients’ leakage booking activity to/from/through China for the month of January, and identified hundreds of travel segments (air and/or hotel bookings) booked outside the companies' mandated booking tools or agencies.
This means there were potentially hundreds of employees at risk for exposure to this virus outbreak during their business trip, but because these bookings were made outside their company’s TMC channel, they were otherwise “invisible” to their travel teams, duty of care support, and risk management providers.
Some of these travelers may be also subject to significant disruptions as airlines suspend service to the region, delaying their return flights home. The U.S. is just this week beginning to evacuate stranded citizens via charter flights out of China.
As a travel manager, the need for timely, accurate, and comprehensive data is critical for addressing fast-moving situations like this. Regardless of your travel program mandates, you will have some bookings occur out of channel -- which means you must have a data strategy to address those blind spots so you don't leave any employees behind.
Data Sources: Timeliness is Critical
If you are relying on expense data to get this type of visibility, you’re already too late. You likely won’t know about these trips until 30-90 days from now, when employees submit their expense report. That’s well beyond the reasonable window to notify them of the potential exposure risk from their trip.
If you’re relying on employees to self-report these trips, you’re missing out on timeliness and coverage -- employees don’t always remember to self-report their off-channel bookings, and even when they do, it may not be until the day of the trip or after they’re already back. You lose the opportunity to advise them of the risk pre-trip, or provide enough notice so they could change their travel plans accordingly.
Duty of Care: Comprehensiveness is Key
Whether you use Traxo or another data aggregation service, the core value of having real-time, comprehensive visibility into all your corporate travel bookings goes well beyond compliance enforcement or supplier negotiations.
Events that impact the health and safety of traveling employees will continue to happen -- and so will off-channel bookings. Enlisting data aggregation technology solutions helps eliminate your booking blind spots by bringing these off-channel bookings into the risk management workflows you already deploy.
Data Strategy: No Silver Bullet
The coronavirus outbreak may turn out to be a relatively small event, or it could grow even worse -- there is no way to tell at this point. But it’s just the latest example in a string of contagious disease outbreaks: MERS, Ebola, Zika, SARS, and various flu strains have all had major impacts on business travel. And the important thing to bear in mind is that these outbreaks not only impact your traveling employee, they can also impact that employees’ family and co-workers upon return.
A well-defined data strategy that supplements your TMC booking data with off-channel booking data in a timely, actionable manner is foundational to a successful modern travel program -- which includes comprehensive duty of care support. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach to travel management, so you will need to enlist multiple partners to help you, along with your security and risk teams, your finance team, and your data privacy team.
When it comes to business travel, everyone is a stakeholder in keeping your traveling employees safe.
If you’d like to learn more about current US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policies for travelers going to and returning from China, read more at CDC.gov.
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