Improving Travel Restrictions

Different techniques your organisation can implement to improve your approach to implementing travel restrictions.

First published by Grant Rayner on 09 Oct 2023

4 min read

Travel Security

This essay was originally published in Dangerous Travels on 09 Oct 2023 and was updated on 11 Feb 2024

In the previous article, I discussed travel advice as a means of mitigating travel risk. Travel restrictions provide organisations another tool to mitigate risk.

As I’m writing this, many organisations will have already implemented travel restrictions for Israel, after the unexpected attacks by Hamas. Given the situation and the risk of escalation, such restrictions would be warranted.

In many other situations, however, whether travel restrictions are necessary or meaningfully mitigate risk is another question.

Let’s look at a few ways organisations can improve their approach to applying travel restrictions.

Avoid basing restrictions on ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ travel

One approach many organisations take is to define ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ travel, and then apply these definitions to travel restrictions. As you’d expect, such an approach risks being subjective in terms of what’s essential and non-essential.

One inherent challenge with this approach is that essential travel is typically undertaken by the organisation’s most senior and important people. As such, by restricting travel to essential travel only, you’re exposing your most important people to heightened levels of risk. Probably not the best approach from a business continuity perspective.

An improvement on this approach is to define the types of activities that are essential and non-essential, and to manage travel restrictions on that basis.

Still, the primary challenge to this approach is an ethical one, in that the organisation is saying that there are some activities that are worth risking employees being injured or killed and others that aren’t.

Explain the reasons why the restriction is necessary

Whenever you implement travel restrictions, always provide a short statement justifying why travel restrictions are necessary.

For example, if there has been a terrorist attack, don’t just say that travel is restricted because of the protests. Instead, be specific when describing the potential impact to travellers. For example, “As a result of the terrorist attack on the Grande Hotel, there’s likely to be an increase in security operations across the city. These security operations may disrupt traffic and public transport, leading to congestion and delays. We may also see raids across the city as security forces attempt to apprehend the people behind the attack. These raids could involve the use of small arms and explosives. Most importantly, we can’t rule out additional attacks by this or other terrorist groups operating in the country.”

Similarly, in the context of a major natural earthquake, you might say the following: “We expect rescue and recovery operations to continue for at least the next seven days. We also anticipate the local health care system to be pushed to its limits treating people who were injured in the earthquake. Aside from the severe strain on local services, we are also concerned about the risk of aftershocks.”

Without this additional context, you’re leaving it to the traveller to make their own assessment as to the severity of the situation. Travellers probably won’t have access to the same information as the security team and won’t have the same analytical skills. It’s possible that some travellers may think that the company is overreacting by implementing travel restrictions. They may also doubt the veracity of the security team’s recommendations, which could make them less likely to follow similar recommendations in the future.

Provide a timeframe for restrictions

Open-ended travel restrictions can create a significant amount of uncertainty and can disrupt business planning. To reduce these uncertainties, instead of establishing a travel restriction with no end date, provide a reasonable end date. For example, “Travel to Nepal is restricted for the next 72 hours. During that time, we will monitor the situation closely and review the need for travel restrictions on a daily basis. We will lift travel restrictions as soon as we can confirm that the situation is safe for travel.”

Clarify the conditions for resuming travel

Make the conditions when travel can resume explicit. For example, in the context of civil unrest, you could state the following: “Travel will resume once protests in the central business district have stopped and there’s no evidence that the situation will escalate.”

In the context of a major earthquake, you might have more conditions: “Travel will resume once rescue and recovery operations have completed, once it’s clear that the healthcare system is no longer under stress, and once normal air travel resumes.” You could also consider other impacts, for example: “Travel will resume once power is restored to normal levels.”

Provide sufficient warning of future restrictions

If you know that there is an event coming up that will result in an increase in risk to travellers, you can implement travel restrictions in advance. For example, if there’s an election coming up a month from now, and your assessment is that violent protests are likely to accompany the election, you might implement travel restrictions for a few days before the election and a week after the election. You can announce these travel restrictions early, providing sufficient time for travellers to plan around those dates.

You could follow the same approach for a typhoon or any other event that can be forecast.

Consider travellers at different stages of travel

A large organisation will have travellers at different stages of travel. For example, at any one time you might have travellers doing the following:

  • Requesting approval for travel
  • Booking travel
  • Preparing to depart (the date of travel is days away)
  • Either heading to the departure airport or already at the airport
  • On a flight to the location
  • Arriving at the destination airport
  • Currently in the location

Travellers at these different stages of travel will require different information and different recommendations. Travellers requesting approval for travel for a trip a few weeks away may still be able to do so. Similarly, travellers may still be able to book travel provided their travel dates don’t clash with the dates of the travel restrictions.

The challenge will be to catch travellers heading to the departure airport or at the airport. Don’t just send an email to these travellers–you’ll need to call them and ask them not to proceed with their travel.

If you have travellers currently on a flight to the affected location, you’ll need to send them a message and an email about the situation and the travel restrictions. 15 minutes after they are due to land, follow up with a call to explain what has happened and to provide instructions for next steps. The traveller may need to remain at the airport to take a return flight. In locations where there aren’t regular flights, they may need to exit immigration and go to a hotel near the airport (assuming it’s safe to do so). Either way, you’ll need to provide these travellers with a coherent plan.

Consider people already in the country

Following from the point above, it’s key that you differentiate between travellers currently in the country and travellers intending to travel to the country. Your travel restrictions will hopefully stop more people going to the country, which will help contain your organisation’s risk exposure. Your next priority will be to decide what to do with any travellers currently in the country.

Typically, you’ll have two options. You can either ask them to leave or you can allow them to stay for the time being provided they apply appropriate risk mitigation measures. You’ll need to be very specific regarding what mitigation measures they should follow.

A key decision is whether the travellers are safe in their current hotels. It’s possible that your first task may be to move travellers from hotels in higher-risk parts of town to hotels in lower-risk areas.

Don’t forget local employees

If the situation warrants travel restrictions, it should also warrant corresponding risk mitigation measures for local employees. For example, local employees could be asked to work from home for a short period. They could also be advised to avoid certain areas.

Wrap up

Travel restrictions are a useful tool for organisations to mitigate risk.

It’s useful to explain the reasons why the restriction is necessary. In addition, provide an indicative timeframe for restrictions and clarify the conditions for resuming travel. It’s also important to consider people at different stages of travel. Be prepared for the possibility that travellers may be en route to the country or may have just arrived. Finally, consider travellers that may be already in the country, and don’t forget the safety and security of your local employees.

Thanks for reading.

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