What is Travel Risk Management

International businesses send millions of travelers around the world to represent their interests, close billion-dollar deals, expand their global footprint and establish nonprofit and humanitarian agencies. Locations that were once obscure are being explored as markets emerge, new opportunities are discovered, and crisis’ develop. Many of these locations are labeled as “high-risk” environments. The type of risk that makes these locations “high-risk” varies from place to place, but the most common are medical injuries or illness, traffic accidents, and criminal incidents. 

Most employers in  more economically developed countries (MEDC) are required to provide for the safety, security, and health care of employees (typically in the country they are based in). The same standard of care is increasingly being called for globally by lawmakers, labor unions and employees to include volunteers, job candidates, and guests. The way forward for responsible businesses is to identify the high probability and catastrophic risks to travelers and implement mitigating factors, just as they would in their governing country as well as with their finances and customer liability exposure. 

Travel Risk Identification 

Commercial organizations, non-profits, humanitarians and governments are all facing new challenges when it comes to identifying the risks associated with international travel. Never has the world been so connected and open.

 Only a few hundred years ago the world was flat and ended just beyond the shores of Europe. Now travelers can physically be almost anywhere in the world within twenty-four hours and virtually at the click of a button. There are no limits for global organizations and there are few boundaries keeping them from going and growing. The one thing that does keep companies from discovering and developing new opportunities is a lack of accurate information and bad analysis. If only businesses had some way to measure how much revenue and opportunity, they were missing out on due to inaccurate risk measurements and over-reactive security personnel.  
On the opposite side of that coin, there are many travelers that have stumbled blindly into a completely avoidable crisis situations due to a lack of information and organization oversight.


Travelers are at risk every day and an estimated ninety percent of non-medical related crisis (while traveling) could be avoided through the implementation of a balanced TRM Program.  
In order to identify travel risk, business managers must be willing to not only look at threats to their operations and people, but their employee's vulnerability as well. It is interesting to note how much is being spent on reactionary security services, insurance, and safety technology and how little is spent to educate employees before allowing them to travel in a foreign culture and location. The cost of security is staggering enough. To implement a training program would be much less costly, proactive and easier to control.  

Although travel risk identification is always evolving, there are enough TRM companies and travel groups collecting traveler data to develop a general idea of what common travel risks are and how to mitigate them.  The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and the American Society for Industrial Security ( ASIS) are just two examples of organization collecting data and recommending solutions. 

Medical Risk

The leading cause of travel disruption and crisis abroad is a traveler’s health. Preexisting conditions, access to health care and economic factors can all be contributors to the successful or unsuccessful resolution of a traveler’s health crisis and could also be the difference between life and death. Health care standards vary around the world and the lack of access to suitable health care while traveling can have serious consequences. 

According to the CDC, out of every 100,000 travelers: 


  • 50,000 will experience a health problem while on a trip

  • 8,000 will need to see a physician

  • 5,000 will be confined to a bed

  • 300 will be admitted to a hospital 

  • 50 will require air evacuation

  • 1 will die. 

Medical incidents in the corporate world are expected and typically planned for. Managers must look at what safety and response measures they currently have in place for employees where they work, to include those that travel abroad.

Managers should also consider that their road warriors will be exposed to health risks more often, as they are living and working wherever the organization sends them. Is the organization providing adequate health care at the location the employee is traveling in or relocating to?
This standard also applies for the time the employee is not “on the clock”. Do the health care standards of that employee's home country apply to the location they are currently in? These questions need to be addressed to ensure the organization is in compliance with government regulations at home and abroad. 

Transportation Risk

The second leading cause of accidental death for travelers is vehicle accidents, both in and outside of a vehicle. Traffic regulations and patterns, in foreign locations, vary greatly and can be quite a shock and distraction to a traveler. Even in  MEDC’s, traffic laws are often ignored and unenforced, creating a chaotic atmosphere for individuals not used to the “normal order”. 
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one million, two hundred thousand people die each year from road traffic incidents and fifty million sustain non-fatal injuries globally. Most of those incidents involve pedestrians and could very easily be avoided.

Managers are typically very concerned about traffic safety compliance within their organization, especially when it comes to their own fleet and drivers. That concern does not necessarily extend to the employee’s daily commute between work and home, although many businesses are coming around to the fact that any loss of employee time affects the organization's efficiency. Companies operating abroad must consider that traveling employees are typically on the clock when traveling from their temporary residence to the work site.

 Many organization already have travel policies that address this idea. Therefore, if the employee is on the clock, should they be involved in an accident, the organization will likely pay a price, financially or with their reputation. 

On top of the threat of a traffic accident, the aftermath of that accident could stretch on for months to years, depending on the severity of the accident. In many cultures, should a death of a local national occur, the perpetrator would be responsible for compensating the family or paying reparations. There could also be jail time involved. 

What would the sending organization be responsible for? Was the employee driving a company or rental car, or using a driver’s service? Were they licensed to drive abroad? Does their insurance cover them in a foreign country? All these questions should be considered when offering travelers options for ground transportation in a foreign location and identifying and mitigating traffic risk. 

Crime Risk

Although criminal incidents are far less likely than medical or traffic incidents for travelers, the long-term effect of a criminal incident to an employee can affect the entire organizations ability to maintain continuity. There is also a higher probability of media attention and government scrutiny, which can become prohibitive to efficient operations for an organization. 

Providing travelers with the information necessary to avoid criminal threats is the best way to reduce the traveler’s vulnerability and overall risk.  If an organization is not adequately preparing employees before they depart, that organization may be held responsible for something that is entirely avoidable.


Violent crime includes assault, battery, and murder which varies in severity and frequency from city to city.  Although violent crime happens less frequently than petty crime, these events are volatile and what starts out as a petty crime can quickly escalate and turn violent, depending on the circumstances and reaction of the victim.

Petty crime is a serious issue all over the world. Pickpocketing, purse snatching and slashing, financial fraud, theft from hotels and vehicles, and cyber crime are increasingly becoming common events for international business travelers to deal with. 

Criminal victimization of travelers happens every day all over the world. Should an employee be the victim of a crime, which could vary from petty theft to violent assault, the organization may end up paying for that crime for many years. Justice may be served through the courts, but rarely do criminals pay for hospital bills or ongoing mental health treatment.  

Terrorism Risk

Although the possibility of being caught up in a terror attack is slight, the impact on individuals and an organization could be catastrophic. 

Regardless of the frequency and probability, there is a perception that terror is a valid threat to travelers all over the world. Historically, terrorist incidents were more likely in unstable regions around the world.  However, attacks are now happening in MEDC’s that were previously considered safe. The world has seen drastic increases in terror attacks over the past twenty years. In the year 2000, there was a total of 4043 terror incidents globally. Activity since then peaked at 44,490 in 2014 and has continued to maintain at approximately 40,000 incidents a year, currently (Our World Data). 

The risk of physical harm from terror attacks, when considering the volume of business travel globally, is minute.  However, terrorism’s impact is often more psychological than physical, potentially altering a traveler’s perception of their own vulnerability and safety. 
The psychological effect of terrorism is a serious concern and can cause companies to lose out on opportunities, as travelers begin to feel unsafe about traveling. The dynamic nature of terrorism attracts the attention of government organizations, news outlets and ordinary citizens alike, and as such will continue to be on the travel industry’s radar for the foreseeable future. The perception of terror risk is more dangerous to an organization’s growth than actual terror events. 
Business managers should focus attention on creating a realistic picture of the threat through educating employees and helping to shape the traveler’s perception of risk.

 Many managers are hesitant to be completely honest with their people because they are worried about perpetuating fear among travelers. Unfortunately, people are already afraid, over informed and have the same access to the same information as managers. Travelers need accurate information and coherent guidance to increase their situational awareness as well as alleviate unfounded fears. 

Risk of Government Detention and Denial of Entry

When an organization moves into a new market or country, their entrance is not always welcomed by local governments and citizens, despite that organization's enthusiasm. Unfortunately, many local citizens in new foreign markets view the entry of a company into their marketplace as a threat to their way of life, culture, or livelihood. Instead of seeing the same growth opportunities that the organization has identified, locals may see a corporate  bully, intent on stealing jobs and exploiting cheap labor. 

Because perception is reality for most, it is important to understand the host nation’s view of an organization and determine if the governing authorities are friendly toward foreigners. Researching perception at the strategic level is not enough, as cultural and political issues are complex, and government organizations are often decentralized.

Even in the U.S., it is difficult for state and federal authorities to agree on what is best for a territory. In some countries, there is little to no communication between local and federal authorities. How government agencies view an organization at different echelons is very important, as one group may be an ally while another may consider the organization to be an enemy of the state. 

Visa requirements are also critically important. If travelers are not tracking the purpose of a visit and what is documented in a visa application, they may inadvertently give authorities conflicting reasons for their visit. This could lead to denied entry or raise suspicion with local authorities. Often travelers will secure a tourist visa because it is easier, especially when tasked with a short notice trip. When asked, they will tell customs officials that they are entering the country for business purposes. Worse yet, travelers may lie to customs officials upon entry and face detention and prosecution over something that is completely avoidable through proper visa acquisition.

Travelers are extremely vulnerable regarding interaction with governments abroad. Most people have a comprehensive understanding of their home country’s laws and how government agencies operate, but foreign government operations can be extremely difficult to understand and maneuver for a foreign traveler. Travelers should at least have a basic understanding of local laws and knowledge of common mistakes made by foreign visitors. 

Government detention and denial of entry are becoming increasingly common with the rise of terrorist activity and regimes around the world. It is important for travelers to understand the viewpoint of the local and federal governments when it comes to that government entities priorities. Travelers who display an empathetic understanding of political pressure and priorities in their interactions with host nation government workers, typically have a better experience when under scrutiny.