Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. Political unrest has swept through parts of North Africa and the Middle East in recent months, shaking political regimes and stoking an already volatile environment that’s increased the risk of travel in that region. Businesses have had to think twice about whether to send employees to those locations and several companies have had to cancel travel plans altogether.
The tensions in the Middle East have served as a reminder of just how risky business travel can be. In a foreign country, far from home, business travelers are vulnerable if there’s a political crisis or a medical emergency.
As the economy grows ever more global and interconnected, however, the risk is increasing as businesses send people into countries that are often remote and politically unstable. More than 6.4 million U.S. business travelers took trips outside North America in 2009, according to a report from the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. Many still go to Western Europe on business, but a large number also are heading to Asia, the Middle East and South America.
Although nearly 2.4 million U.S. business travelers went to Europe in 2009, roughly the same number, 2.4 million, went to Asia, with China emerging as an increasingly popular destination, according to the U.S. travel office report. Business travel to the Middle East, however, jumped 16 percent with about 514,000 people traveling there in 2009. About a half a million business travelers hit South America that year.
With so many people traveling on business, companies that send their employees to foreign nations need a comprehensive business travel plan. Travel assistance and travel accident insurance are two of the critical components of such a plan.
Travel assistance offers critical services
Travel assistance is critical for businesses that send their employees on trips outside the country. By providing timely and detailed information about travel destinations, travel assistance providers can help businesses keep their employees out of potentially dangerous locations.
Travel assistance companies have extensive knowledge about the destinations employees plan to visit. While businesses can turn to the State Department for travel advisories, travel assistance providers can provide information not just about the countries, but specific cities as well as information about the safety of hotels, restaurants and transportation services as well.
All of this information can be crucial in helping a company make an informed decision about whether to send an employee to a location, and if so, where the employee should stay.
In spite of careful planning, however, business travelers still find themselves in the middle of an unexpected political uprising, and employees might be stranded and unable to get out of the country. Commercial flights might be canceled, roads and bridges could be impassable and telecommunications systems may be shut down.
A travel assistance provider can come to the aid of the traveler in such a situation, providing information about the quickest and safest flight out of a troubled country. If commercial flights are not available, they can arrange for a chartered aircraft. If the roads are unsafe and local taxis are too risky, the provider can arrange for an armored car service.
Although the tensions in the Middle East have brought the political risk of business travel to the forefront, medical emergencies are a much more common and a much more costly risk. Business travelers who become injured or seriously ill while out of the country can be extremely vulnerable. Far from their family doctors, unable to speak the language, they may not know where to get medical care and may even become unable to speak or make decisions for themselves.
A travel assistance company can make sure an employee who has been in an accident or who becomes seriously ill gets to the nearest hospital that can provide the most appropriate care for the person. The provider also can provide assistance in case the employee is unable to speak the language or is incapacitated and unable to speak. The travel assistance provider also will take care of fees that a foreign hospital may require before admitting a patient. Once the employee’s condition is stable, the travel assistance provider will arrange for the employee to be transported out of the country and back home again.
Travel accident insurance helps offset losses
Businesses also need travel accident insurance to help defray the cost of a loss, especially the cost of an evacuation for a medical emergency. Political evacuations are relatively inexpensive, with the average claim for a flight out of a troubled country coming in at under $5,000. Medical evacuations, however, are another story. Because a medical evacuation may involve the use of a Medevac aircraft, a nurse, and other specialized equipment, the average claim is about $50,000 and in some cases much more than that. In one incident, a scientist injured while on expedition in Antarctica had to be evacuated by air. The total cost: $200,000.
Travel accident insurance will help to cover the cost of these claims and will pay for out-of-country medical bills that aren’t covered under an employee’s health insurance. Travel accident insurance often will cover other perils such as kidnap and ransom as well.
When choosing an insurer, companies should look for a carrier that has extensive experience working outside of the United States, a strong branch network and a reputation for reliable, quality loss control and claims services.
Business travelers are vulnerable whenever they leave their country. Political unrest or a natural disaster can shut down air travel and strand employees far away from home. In a medical emergency, business travelers may be incapacitated and unable to find good medical assistance on their own. By having a comprehensive travel program that includes travel assistance and travel accident insurance, businesses can help keep their employees safe and can protect themselves from the cost of a significant evacuation claim.
Dominick Zenzola is a vice president, Chubb & Son, and the group benefits manager for Chubb’s Accident & Health business based in the Chicago office. He can be reached at email@example.com.