Asia Pacific Business Travel: Taxi Risk Index and Decision Tool

Learn how to measure and manage the risks and threats of taxi travel within Asia Pacific when on travelling for business


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What every traveller should know about the Philippines bus hijacking

Yes or No?

If you want to learn the real impact and lessons learnt from the Philippines bus hijacking on the 23 Aug 2010, then you will want to read this article. Specifically we’ll cover the role and impact of the media, the heightened awareness created by the event, wildly varied responses and the impact it has on travelers. After you read this article, you should have a more balanced and informed view of the situation  that will help you determine “Is it safe to travel to the Philippines?”

The media played a pivotal role in the event as it occurred but what is more important is the legacy of the event and how it will influence the future. This may seem obvious but there is more to the story. Due to the fact, there was no attempt or control of the media throughout the incident, not only were live events beamed around the world but thanks to the online video explosion in recent years, this event will be referenced and recalled unlike similar incidents for years to come. Some commentators have already predicted that the catastrophic assault will become the global doctrine for military and police forces on “how not to assault a hostage filled bus.”

Conventional media broadcasting coupled with the greater penetration of social media has guaranteed that this event has affected far more people than any similar, historical example. Hong Kong is a very interconnected society with high technology ownership and usage. So much so, this event was broadcast live across the country in public areas on screens ranging from private hand phones to large building size public screens in the middle of shopping centers. Entire shopping districts stood in silence and starred as the tragic events unfolded. In this case, it would be a better question to ask “who did not see it?” This tragedy has cut the very core of a country’s social heart on a new and disturbing level.

Few people who travel to the Philippines, particularly leisure, are fully aware of the threats. Widespread access to firearms, internal low-level conflicts, violent crimes, targeting of specific ethnic groups and many more. However. much like a shark attack report, that grips every swimmer with dread and the potential to over react to the real threat, this event has amplified the minority while overshadowing the majority. You are still at greater risk of a bus crash in the Philippines than being boarded by a hostile gunman and shot dead. Fact! It seems that the elements of the government are equally less aware.

The Hong Kong government’s total and specific ban to the Philippines is baseless and more political than measured. The current government advisory indicates that countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan have “signs of threat” and recommends monitoring and caution. Whereas the Philippines, the only country in this category, is labelled “severe threat” and advice states “avoid all travel.” This act has brought the well meaning government advisory intent into disrepute. There is a social demand to respond to this event but over stating and manipulating the advisory destroys the confidence and use of such advisories. It will not be held credible or trusted in the future. It also forces other nationalities to question just how emotive, censored or adversely influence are their own government advisories.

There is a bigger concern, unrealized by many as a result of the government advisory. Many, if not all insurance policies base their assessment and policy standard on government threat levels. It is a far from effective, let alone perfect, approach but the prevailing practice none-the-less. This means, that if a government declares a travel ban to location or country, all travel policies tied to that threat level are affected. This means, there are people traveling, or potentially traveling with a null-and-void agreement or suspended travel insurance policy. How many travelers or corporate travel managers know about this affect?

When terrorists attacked the London underground and buses, how many countries banned all travel to London or the UK? When thousands were killed and displaced due to an earthquake in Sichuan province (China) how many countries banned all travel to China? When terrorists attacked a hotel in central Jakarta (Indonesia) how many countries banned all travel to Indonesia? Hong Kong didn’t, why now? Even the Mumbai attacks were treated more rationally than this event. This is due largely due to media coverage, social impact, depth and breadth of community affected and the violence of action witnessed live.

This event puts us all at risk. Criminals and terrorists calculate how affective the emergency services, police and military will be in countering or stopping their plans. They have to make an educated guess unless they have firm evidence on just how competent these positive blockers are in fulfilling their duties. Everyone now knows just how capable the police were in this instance. Others, who may have been deterred in acting in a similar fashion, will potentially be embolden to act now they know they have a greater chance of success. Conversely, those that have been looking for “a way” to get their issue heard and grab the headlines, now have pre-tested marketing plan laid out for them. How many incidents involving buses, attacks on tourists or violent crimes will we now see in the Philippines and around the world? Following the Mumbai attacks, we saw at least 3 similar attacks and many others prevented. Similar threats remain a concern for many to this day and beyond.

There is no reason to cancel all travel to the Philippines for either business or leisure purposes. Some will cancel travel plans because of this misunderstanding, unnecessarily. Social media and conventional media are great tools but the popularity of any given issue should not determine the gravity of response. A single violent man created this situation and his actions alone lead to the loss of life and suffering, not the police. No one is perfect and for the most part the emergency services within the Philippines do the very best they can with what they have but they do have shortfalls and you need to be aware and prepared for the consequences. Governments have the interest and concerns of the entire population in mind when they set any benchmarks. Broad-spectrum advice will never suit the few, the prepared or special circumstances. The true risk to travelers is based on the individual’s preparation, activity while traveling, support available, ability to respond to events and location visited. If assessed specifically and consistently, you too will determine that travel to the Philippines remains no more/less risky than it was prior before this event. Despite what some may have lead you to believe. Travel safely!

Pareto’s Law-20% of your assets will be exposed to 80% of threats. Do you know which ones?

What is your calculation?

Bad weather or even natural calamities do not affect every city in the world nor every resident of the affected area. Accidents, an inevitable part of some environments, do not affect all your people or totally devalue all your assets. Terrorist do not consider everyone a viable target nor are their actions likely to impact everyone over the course of their lives. The facts remain that only a small percentage of events or incidents resulting in loss of value or productivity will affect your business but conversely a smaller part of your overall assets are likely to succumb to these events; possibly even repeatedly. If this is the reality, why are there so many singular strategies for organizations, one-size-fits-all policy, uniformity in the approach when greater economy could be achieved by focusing on the priority areas? Most of the threats (80%) will only likely place at risk a smaller percentage (20%) of your assets. Do you know which ones?

Too much time and deliberation is spent perfecting the process of identifying and qualifying the threat. While it remains a valid and useful phase the process becomes unexplainably weaker or less popular once value and measurable impact are introduced. This is in part possibly due to the skill and experience of those conducting the analysis/assessment who typical originate from a weak financial background. Even for those with little resources, training or even time, a qualifying exercise to determine what the impact of service failure, disruption or other stressors will provide you with a workable project plan for applying solutions, counter measures or treatment options. This should have financial implications, tangible and intangible. The higher the number, the greater the priority and easier to be presented to business leaders or collaborators. The easier you make the measurement or driver, in a format most commonly used, the greater adherence and buy-in you will get. Abstract terms, ratings, scientific pontification or just made up data will only erode the objective and almost all will loose interest. No single person ever saved an entire organization, it takes systems and team work that follows a plan.

Many conventions are derived from habit or transferred from what others believe to be comparable models. Take fire sprinklers and suppression systems for example. A worthwhile investment and certainly mandated in some jurisdictions to prevent loss of life, undue stress on public services or even making local authorities look bad. Whatever the driver they are common place. However, not every square meter of a building is at risk of having a fire originate in that locale. Much of the planning and installation works on the assumption it could start anywhere, spread anywhere so lets just cover the entire structure. Not necessarily an efficient or effective process but wide spread practice none-the-less. Transferring this methodology to all/any other part of the business would have questionable benefits or make financial sense. These kind of general applications of similar strategies discredit the validity of risk management and force undue cost onto organizations that quite reasonably at times will forego the entire solution because the bulk of the concept is unnecessary, leaving the critical minority (20%) unprotected.

Vision and direction begins with policy. However, this policy is a guiding principle with brevity and clarity not a standalone document. It should include the priority of care or concern such as people, brand, buildings, etc. Priority of response along with the objective of the efforts should be made clear to all. Any and all measures, outlined in subsequent procedural documents and training, should be measurable (financially, operationally and even brand integrity) and constantly reviewed. While policy is unlikely to change for longer periods of time, the process and even certain objectives may as the business changes in both culture and nature. The most effective policies are a single paragraph that encompasses all the aforementioned elements and does not dictate tactics for execution but ensures everyone at least moves forward in the same direction.

Data is a great tool for creating foundation analysis but it should originate from both objective and subjective sources. Single minded collection, measurement and review lead to much bigger falls. No company knows everything about itself or everything else around it, no matter what some may think. Comparative information, data, review and even assessments ensure greater transparency in the final outcome. Care needs to be applied to ensure it is not a popularity contest or management by consensus, a final impartial decision maker is still required. Companies of all sizes can apply this approach cost effectively and expediently while enjoying maximum return on investment not just plain old return on investment (ROI).

The clock is ticking, the world moves on and the business you had an hour ago is not the one you operate now. The process needs to be renewable, adaptive but above all constantly applied by monitoring and surveillance. Monitoring is required of the business, its actions, its impact, resources, threats, disruption impact potential and relevance to the overall business concerns. Many events that arrive on the doorsteps of your business first visited your neighbor or the business down the street. Just because you weren’t watching will not get you a leave pass on the impact your lack of preparation may bring to your organization. Larger companies have internal resources for this purpose, but the smartest have both internal and external for the reasons of effectiveness previously mentioned. Smaller companies, increasingly thanks to technology and a global market, can enjoy all the benefits of outsourced support that the larger companies do without the cost of ownership or inefficiency but with all the benefits.

Only a fraction of your workforce are at risk; a percentage of your travelers too. Not all your fixed assets are of equal value nor will they be exposed to the same single loss expectancy (SLE) or annual loss expectancy (ALE). Only some markets need heightened levels of support and protection as much as only some markets are the most valuable to your overall financial health. Every single email piece of information your company possesses shares the same value. A single piece of code could be worth thousands but a warehouse of files could be nothing more than an administrative cost and operational burden. The problem with this all is that most companies simply don’t know which end is which. The one-size-fits-all approach is cheap, easily understood and been around for years. Secretly the more profitable, efficient and even safer companies have dispensed with the rule-of-thumb and focus their 80% resourcing on the most valuable 20% assets. Do you know your most valuable assets and are they better preserved than the lesser value assets? Or are you just applying the same approach for everyone, thing, process or bit because that is the way it has always been done?

Shake, Rattle and Roll-Natural Disasters; Asset preservation and business continuity


Enter at own risk

Disruptions due to natural phenomena are far more prevalent than many individuals and certainly companies are aware. For some inexplicable reason people appear to be unable to retain the frequency, probability, damage, disruption and location of natural disasters in comparison to other events such as terrorism or political unrest. Ask yourself, do you remember more details around the Union Carbide leak, the Exxon Valdez spill, World Trade Center attack or the Sichuan Quake, Myanmar Typhoon or PNG Tsunami which all singularly killed more people than the 3 prior events in total? It is perhaps due to the fact that many individuals and more concerning companies, relies on living memory to determine the planning requirements and probability of natural events. The impact and frequency however is far greater than that of most other business disruption events and catastrophic incidents.

Over the past few decades increasing numbers of the world’s population have migrated to the long-term cities and developing mega cities across the globe. It is in part the reason why in recent years the impact and devastation from natural disasters has become greater than that of years gone by. Additionally, one of the few consensuses by experts is that the predictability and probability of natural disasters is still an inexact science with far more research or study required. This has led to locations thought to be free of Mother Nature’s fierce reprisals suffering surprising events with often catastrophic outcomes. Further amplifying the affects of such unpredicted incidents has been the diverse and inconsistent building or development standards engaged as cities and communities increase their economic and infrastructure development. Tragically, the worst natural calamities in recent history has been where poor preparation and standards have met with moderate to extreme natural disasters that most likely would have had less impact had it hit those locations with the higher level of development and standards due to their acknowledgement that they are within the accepted area of natural disaster events.

The adoption of the term natural disaster is perhaps more applicable to man’s response and preparation to natural events. While a flood, fire, quake, eruption, wave and wind is not indicative of a disaster, it is often the inability of governments and companies to protect their assets in the wake of such events that determines the true scale of a disaster. The concentration of population, insufficient infrastructure, limited emergency procedures, poor emergency services provision, the potential for loss of life and suffering of affected communities along with extended duration of loss of acceptable living standards following the event all contribute to the overall formula for determining if a natural phenomena is indeed a disaster or calamity.

Planning and preparation for natural disasters is relatively simple when compared to other business disruption events. By using a threat-based approach and determining as many of the plausible outcomes (such as power failure, denied access to premises, stranded commuters, etc) planners discover that many of these events are similar if not common with other business disruption events albeit not occurring simultaneously. Identifying existing resources and required resources to mitigate or prevent negative outcomes is also a straightforward process. While the training and preparation of personnel is not that demanding it is important to ensure travelers and expats receive a more targeted and frequent training curriculum. The reason for this is that due to their business mobility requirements they may be exposed to a wider variety of natural phenomena than that of the fixed office location, therefore requiring a wider range of information and response knowledge. Furthermore, the level of support or footprint of disaster could be significantly wider in locations of their travel than that of their location of origin. They should also assume that a higher degree of self-assistance or vendor support will be required when traveling, especially in developing countries as the government response is often generic in application, non-commercially aligned, minimalistic in design and hampered by inter-agency communications and language barriers.

It is becoming increasingly paramount that businesses maintain and monitor  a higher level crisis management system such as at the country or regional level as many local offices are the first affected in such calamities and potentially unable to notify corporate support due to the failure of communication infrastructure. Similar planning consideration should be applied to travelers. This monitoring and surveillance should have both predictive and preventative intervention capabilities coupled with continuous activation and notification capacity. Businesses will also find that such systems result in business and operational efficiencies due to the elimination of false activations and failures in activation due to ill-perceived assumptions on whether or not the company had people, facilities, equipment or processes exposed. Moreover, such systems will be the governing factor for the time taken from identification to response and the ability to preserve assets or prevent loss of life, damage to other company assets or continuity of operations.

In the wake of the global economic challenges that are resulting in many governments even less capable of large scale emergency response, diminished safety and quality standards as well as a decrease in internal company resilience at a time when we continue to see an unprecedented change in climate, environmental hazards, fierce natural phenomena and multiple large scale incidents it is possibly more hazardous to people and property now than it has been in the past decade. Individuals should be reviewing their immediate action plans for such events, specific to each location of travel and companies should be reviewing or implementing consistent applicable training programs for those affected personnel and assets. All of these tactile preparedness measures are underpinned by a wider business resilience plan and allocation of resources.

Ashes in our mouths-How a volcano shed light on the true state of affairs in corporate travel risk management

Friend or Foe?

Friend or foe?

Volcanos that erupt and disrupt the world’s travel plans don’t happen every day but travel disruptions and threats to travelers do. It often takes a dynamic or amplified event to display just how much planning and oversight goes into day-to-day risk management, in order to reveal just how ineffective the process may be overall.

Travel buyers have admitted that the volcano eruption in Iceland has taken a substantial bite out of their 2010 travel budget, if a new survey is to be believed.

Polling its international members, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) found that some 71% of global travel buyers said the disruption in Europe has resulted in a “substantial” economic hit on their travel spend for the year. Of this 71%, 36% percent described the unanticipated expenses as “severe”. An additional 21% indicated the hit was slight, while 8% reported being unaffected.

“It is important to note that the financial factors of this crisis have a special significance in the light of the fragile global economic recovery for business in general and business travel in particular,” said ACTE president Richard Crum. “If even just 1% of the industry’s financial contribution to the global economy were affected, that would equate to roughly 4 billion euros.”

Crum added that travel managers have been preparing for contagion, pandemic, conflict, war, and earthquakes for years. For many travelers, that level of preparedness was reflected in their corporate response to the eruptions in Iceland. Forty-seven percent of companies responding to the ACTE survey had a plan in place to accommodate stranded travelers. Twenty-nine percent did not have a specific program for this crisis, but moved forward with implementing one cobbled from other crisis programs. Twenty-five percent believe this crisis is so extraordinary and rare, that no preparation could have dealt with these developments and have no immediate intentions to change their policies.

The unanticipated expense of the crisis has already taken a big bite out of existing travel budgets for 2010, but survey respondents believe the crisis would not force the company to travel less in 2010 (76%). Twenty-two percent were unsure as the crisis is ongoing and 2% said yes.

Stories continue to emerge of how travelers and companies have been forced to sleep in airport terminals, pay thousands of dollars for taxi rides across countries or cancel major business activities, all the while suffering substantial productivity losses of some of their company’s most valuable human resource group. It is not acceptable that company travelers be subjected to the same limited response or emergency interventions as your everyday tourists, in the event of such wide spread disruptions. If you have been significantly affected, you have failed and your system just doesn’t work.

Poor surveillance of developing events, superficial plans and even less effective decision making methodologies reduce workable response options; if any exist after such systemic failure. Failure to identify and plan for whole-of-journey risk management leads to situations where your traveler/s is stranded in transit without a valid visa forcing them to sleep en mass in terminals with limited solutions. Similar oversights lead to false hopes that the situation will correct itself and “anytime soon” everything will be okay. After all this, if you believe that the overall situation will return to normal and you and your travelers will be on their way immediately after the airspace ban has been lifted, again; you’re in for a nasty shock.

Numerous managers and travelers now understand the various roles required to achieve productive, efficient and safe travel management. Your insurance company is more than capable, and perhaps willing, to process your claim for losses and expenditure incurred but you are still stuck at the airport without a workable solution and suffering a major loss in productivity for those that are typically within the top 20% of your human capital earning (compensation and business contribution) demographic. Your cheque will arrive in the mail and tangible loss/expenditure compensated. It still doesn’t get you from A to B or even via D. Your local office or contacts don’t possess the network or experience to manage your requirements, especially when the rest of the world is scrambling for the same resources. Those without wild stories of adventure to relate after this event are not inclusive of a well thought out plan and capacity to act. Those with a more boring story to tell but maintained productivity and contained costs, all the while preserving the safety of their people, have in their team brokers, insurance, travel management companies and assistance. Which is the smarter business option?

Total failure resulting in numerous stranded people are the result of high walled departments without collaboration. Lack of unification and leadership/ownership in the practice of travel risk management has lead to wide spread helplessness and stranding. If you have key executives traveling for leisure also affected that will prevent them returning to work as scheduled, you have yourself to blame and your appreciation has proven to be too shallow.

This is not over. Hotels are likely to default on bookings for pending travel as they still haven’t been able to clear the backlog of stranded travelers. Ground transport will be stretched and prices will rise even further. Government departments will debate the options but essentially there is nothing you can do to influence their inconsistent influence. Airlines will be pressured into economic decisions long before safety data is consolidated or examined under normal parameters. The thousands of inbound and outbound travellers will take much longer than a few days to clear, not forgetting those adding to the mele than need/want to travel this week. Overtime payments, supplies of food and water to airports, cash reserves and transnational collaboration will all act upon the solutions and choices. It is one thing to read about this in the media but do you really have a handle on what is happening and how it affects you? Failure to do so will compound past mistakes too.

There was adequate warning that this event would have far reaching implications. The impact could be calculated. There was opportunity to implement plans or develop an effective solution to support the objective and effective, rehearsed management teams would have had sufficient time to assess the impact and act accordingly. The final impact was not fate but determined by everything you have done to date. You have been weighed, you have been measured; have you been found wanting?

Business class is cheaper than economy: whole-of-journey travel risk management

Just what have you cut?

Just what have you cut?

The majority of travel departments/managers are only empowered, authorized or capable of looking at travel management from a cost perspective exclusively. However, to truly ensure that the process of travel is efficient, profitable and safe; a much wider focus is required-predominantly in the areas of cost, productivity and safety.  When such a wider and more comprehensive perspective is engaged, most organizations will discover that business class flights are in reality much cheaper than economy class for the majority of their executives and traveling talent.

Consider a short-haul flight of under four hours. For an executive this will typically translate to an eight-hour working day. If traveling in economy class they will typically need to be at the airport nearly 2 hours before departure. Even with privileged frequent-flier status they will need to be checked in much earlier than their business class counterparts. Without such privileges, the time required maybe even longer as check-in queues and airline efficiency lengthen and decline respectively. The immigration processing will potentially be lengthened also as many airlines now have preferential immigration processing of business travelers. The traveller in economy will now be left to fend for themselves in the public seating/WiFi/meals environment of economy class travel. Boarding time will be  lengthened and carry-on luggage will be reduced which again will have added to the overall pre-departure time.  Regardless of the physical size of the traveller, their work laptop, the airline or the seating space; very few people get anything close to productive work conducted whilst in economy.  Not to mention, when corners have been cut,  everyone within proximity of a business laptop user can often see the entire content and context of business presentations, e-mails, discussions and intellectual property. The arrival stage will also entail longer immigration processing times, time lost awaiting baggage and jostling within the bulk of the flights travelers. If after all this, on a short-haul flight you expect the traveller to bring their A game or deliver pivotal business results, you should prepare yourself for disappointment now.

Conversely, a journey that has been considered in a whole of risk  manner will play out significantly different. First, the traveller will have the time and flight best suited to the work productivity objectives and reduced commute, check-in and processing times. Utilization of the business lounge will ensure productivity and access to information and systems prior before departure. Overall fatigue and affect on the individual will also be reduced. Whilst not entirely risk free, the threat to personal belongings, company information  or other valuables will also be reduced.  Productivity (best calculated by adding the per hour cost to the company for the executive and the per hour revenue potential of the trip or executive) will also be enhanced by a compact yet usable mobile workspace. Even if the individual is not conducting work on a computer platform, the demands to the individual  are also diminished.  It is also almost ensured that the executive will hit the ground running and clear the aircraft, immigrations and baggage claim much faster, leaving only the commute from the airport to the place of business. This streamlining and efficiency is also replicable for multiple travelers or trips.

When analyzing all of these factors (even in a developed country) the hundreds or even thousands of dollars between economy class and business class travel is often much cheaper than the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars  of business productivity, time and dollars at risk. However, the functional heads responsible for cost, productivity and safety are all typically measured and evaluated on cost containment rather than profitability or maximized earnings of their senior executives. All of these elements are significantly amplified in developed or developing countries. When the entire journey is constructed along whole-of-journey travel risk management lines thousands or even millions of dollars in opportune business can be preserved while appropriate expenditure managed. Reduction or elimination of disruption and wastage can be easily achieved. When it comes to whole-of-journey travel risk management most companies are penny wise and pound foolish. There is nothing more comical and economically tragic than a senior executive or CEO traveling on a budget airline. While sitting in cheap seats being nonproductive and paying five dollars for peanuts or drinks they are losing thousands of dollars or even millions in productivity or earnings for the sake of a few bucks. In the wake of the financial crisis, some very savvy financial institutions openly conveyed that they dare not reduce the privilege, risk or status of their major wealth generation executives for fear of losing them to more competitive or sophisticated banks or financial institutions. Why should this be any different in the face of many other threats to talent and revenue?

The empirical data and evidence of enhanced productivity and efficient travel risk management exists at present in every company. The only limitation is that few are rewarded or supported in harvesting, processing and analysis of such data. If companies and their respective leadership took the time to stop and analyze such processes or even historical culture within the organization, they would find that simple and efficient adaptation of such processes like the use of business class travel versus economy class travel could potentially unlock thousands of hours of productivity and greater business competitiveness. This is certainly the case in developed markets and significantly more acute in developing markets where there is an accumulation of much greater threat, costs, threat disruptions and safety issues.

The question then  is not “Is business class is cheaper than economy?” but more a case of  “Can you accurately prove that it’s not?”