Business travel is increasing in range and frequency, as companies seek new markets and lower production costs in ever more remote places.

A recent study published by the GBTA Foundation, “Global Business Travel Spending Outlook for 2011-2015,” shows that compound annual growth in business travel spending in emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, India and China, is projected to grow two to three times faster than in developed economies. While travel is on the upswing, companies realise that these destinations can carry significant travel risk. In International SOS’ 2011 Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Survey, 628 participants perceived the BRICs among the 25 most dangerous countries worldwide.

The International SOS study also found that 95% of organisations send international travellers on business trips to perceived high risk or “dangerous” locations. Furthermore, 70% of companies have international assignees in those areas.

When rating the risk level of a country, organisations often assess the threats to travellers and expatriates according to a variety of factors: social unrest and crime, health and transportation infrastructure, natural disasters, endemic diseases and the effectiveness of emergency services. But risk ratings are only part of the equation. With higher risk markets becoming some of the most common business travel destinations, organisations need to determine practical ways to mitigate risk. Good travel risk management encompasses corporate travel governance and policy along with processes to assess travel risk, pre-travel education programmes, tracking employee travel and emergency response measures.

If we take the BRICs as a case in point, what should business travellers be aware of when heading to higher risk destinations?

India is an attractive destination for organisations looking to expand their operations. However, despite increased economic activities and promising opportunities, civil unrest remains an issue in some areas of India. There is also a complex business environment in place, where policies and infrastructure are the domain of individual states, which pose challenges for organisations and their mobile workforces. While threats vary by region, they include crime, traffic safety, terrorism, social unrest and insurgency.

From a medical perspective, there is a relatively high infectious disease risk throughout the country, ranging from travellers’ diarrhoea through to malaria and encephalitis. Rabies is also common. The standard of medical care is highly variable with quality care available in some facilities in the major cities.

China continues to be an attractive destination for organisations looking to expand their operations in a rapidly-growing consumer market. Despite robust economic activities and promising opportunities, the country’s sheer size, cultural diversity and complex business environment pose unique challenges for organisations and their mobile workforce.

Generally, travel into the major cities of China has the same security and safety threats found in most major cities globally. The differentiator is that the level of security assistance available is often much lower than travellers expect. Travel outside of major cities and into remote areas further reduces the level of assistance available and increases the time of an effective response.

Overall, the medical risk of infectious diseases is high. Gastrointestinal infections are common, while malaria and Japanese Encephalitis are present in some areas of the country. Outbreaks of plague occur annually in rural areas.

The largest country in the world, Russia is gaining importance in foreign investment, especially in the mining, agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

The risks associated with travel to the major cities in Russia are slightly higher than in most Western European cities. Security assistance is sometimes poorer than expected and English isn’t widely spoken or understood. Travel security risks are highest in the North Caucasus. Organisations doing business in this area should be aware of the high risks associated with an on-going insurgency, counter-terrorism operations, poor infrastructure and lack of security support.

From a medical point of view: prior to travel, ensure your routine vaccinations are up to date and have a polio booster. Depending on your itinerary and activities, other vaccinations such as Hepatitis, typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis, rabies, and tickborne encephalitis might be recommended.

With fast-growing mining and energy opportunities, Brazil is an attractive location for multi-national companies. The upcoming World Cup and Olympics place this South American nation firmly in the spotlight.

The three primary travel security risks in Brazil are connected to crime, traffic safety and social unrest. A lack of familiarity and knowledge of the environment in Brazil makes a traveller or expatriate vulnerable to petty and opportunistic crime. It is important to obtain information about Brazil before arriving to understand the risks and how best to mitigate them. Once in Brazil, it is best to always monitor and remain abreast of the issues in your locality.

Infectious disease risks include malaria and yellow fever. Although vaccination against yellow fever isn’t required to enter Brazil, it may be recommended depending on your itinerary. In addition, after leaving Brazil, some countries require a current yellow fever vaccination certificate in order to gain entry. The standard of medical care varies -- excellent care can be found in the major cities but can be limited elsewhere

In summary, regardless of destination and apart from having robust risk management plan in place, companies have to ensure that they provide comprehensive travel security training and advice to their employees. They also need to have emergency response systems to communicate with travellers and help them if they get into trouble. Business travel is here to stay and companies have a duty of care to implement best practices when it comes to reducing travel risks for their global workforce.

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