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?

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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?”

Product contamination-Did I hear someone say “Tiger Woods”

Crisis leadership or crisis management?

“We estimate that in the days beginning with Tiger Woods’ recent car accident and ending with

his announced “indefinite leave” from golf, shareholders of companies that Mr. Woods endorses
lost $5-12 billion in wealth.”

http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/knittel/papers/Tiger_latest.pdf

The perpetual requirement for any company, especially those with a strong commercial brand association or derived income from public opinion, is the identification and management of stakeholders. The priority of communication can be readily identified with a simple x and y chart that apportions values for the level of interest and influence any group or individual may hold with your brand/company. For example, a stakeholder (media, investor, regulator, consumer, etc) with a very high level of interest in your brand, product, processes or return on their interest and is likely to know most things that occur relative to your success of failures. If that same entity has a high level of influence in your operations or the communications specific to your company, they will invariably be one of your highest needs when developing holding statements, pre-emptive advisories or response to publicly circulated content. Communicate with this group, quickly, sincerely and frequently and as a matter of priority. For those with less interest and influence, they will still get your message but at a time more appropriate to their weightage. Do not however underestimate the cumulative or cohort potential of this group should they surge to become a much more credible element should an issue of high emotional (mothers on issues affecting their children, unions), financial (investors or sponsors) or consumption (consumer groups; inclusive of the media) value rapidly circulate among one or all of your associated stakeholder elements.

Information time to market is (in contemporary terms) all but instantaneous, even if you are not! It is therefore imperative that a degree of preparation be conducted for all companies, big or small. It is a folly for any company to operate with this knowledge and not have a process or service to continuously monitor the myriad of available networks that introduce or perpetuate content that could adversely affect your value proposition. This is only part of the preparation required, as any time spent on planning or preparations established before demand presents, will pay dividends well beyond their establishment value. For this you need a number of holding statements, media release, stakeholder communications and the like. This is further supported with a detailed, rehearsed and timely escalation protocol that allows you to identify, analyse, adapt and respond to applicable situations that invariably require customization as you can’t always predict the nature and theme of every issue in advance. You could of course ignore this totally and rely on your response only capacity but as they say “prevention is always better than the cure”, cheaper too!

Where Tiger, and many individuals and companies before him went wrong; despite the sizable investment and earnings capacity associated with his personable brand (especially since it appears to have been substantiated on a pious and family friendly ethos) was apparently to invest only in a response, albeit weak, without preparation and substance. You get what you pay for essentially. I personally could not care less about what he or any other athlete, actor; media personality does outside of their chosen expertise/profession. However, there are plenty that do and it sells.

The net result of the information storm that has ensued has the “Tiger” brand has been impacted. Pre-event equity will protect the brand to a degree but much like natural disasters whereby the government or companies are not “blamed” for the event, they will be evaluated on their subsequent response to the issue. Just ask the Prime Minister of Taiwan who lost his job as result. The impact in this case be measured in dollars and cents, both now and any future earnings.

A number of studies have been conducted on the investment loss attributed to crisis leadership failures and the results are consistent. Your investment pre-incident will pay dividends for daily and extreme disruption events, whereby a failure to plan all but guarantees a plan to fail. If only Tiger and his paid executives bothered to read the instructions first, we may have seen a much different outcome than is currently a slow moving train wreck.