The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the world of corporate travel, and as organizations adapt, threat actors will seek to exploit the confusion surrounding travel arrangements. In this episode, Kroll experts Nick Doyle, Simon Ashenden and Richard Phelps discuss why carrying out a risk assessment is crucial when it comes to business travel. They highlight the importance of understanding the new threat landscape and analyzing risk factors from COVID-19 to new government regulations.

 

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Nick Doyle, Managing Director, and Simon Ashenden, Associate Managing Director, are both regional leaders for EMEA and APAC, respectively, in Kroll’s Security Risk Management practice. They possess a wealth of experience from long and successful careers in law enforcement and military and advise clients on a range of security issues from enterprise risk management for multisector organizations, crisis management, business continuity and evacuation planning and executive protection to surveillance support for investigations.

Richard Phelps, Associate Managing Director in Kroll’s Business Intelligence and Investigations practice, is based in London. He advises clients on complex intelligence-related matters throughout the transaction lifecycle during contentious processes and related to capital markets and competition-related scenarios.

Passages from the Episode

Understanding the Travel Threat Landscape

“The COVID pandemic has lasted longer than anyone really has anticipated. And this is really affecting businesses across the EMEA region. Ultimately, businesses need to travel. And the change in the impact of COVID status of whether countries are in worse predicaments than others is challenging for businesses. There's no stability yet. And it's not likely to happen for a good few months I believe. So, it's important that businesses understand what the risks are for every location they're traveling to and understand the impacts for travelers. And therefore, businesses need to really approach traveling in a risk-managed way to ensure that employees are safe, secure. And if there are issues or problems, that they can support those employees whilst they're traveling.”– Nick Doyle

“I totally agree with what you're saying. And I think if I was to position this from an Asia Pacific perspective, we're a little bit behind the curve, only 3% of pre-COVID international travel is taking pace compared to 50% for the rest of the world. So, there's definitely a view that things are going to open up here. But there's no real consensus across countries at the moment as to the processes and protocols and standardizing to make it easy for travelers and easy for companies to understand how their travelers should get around. And in a lot of cases, a lot of countries have just adopted their own regulations and rules with regard to travel, which just results in a sort of complex patchwork of rules that are very difficult for companies to understand but learn to adhere to. And that leaves a lot of confusion. Could potentially lead to risks for travelers being stranded.”

“And apart from the personal challenge of being stuck in a location you don't want to be in, there's obviously the cost to the clients and the company who are actually funding their travelers out there if they have to spend an additional month in a location. Which raises lots of questions and challenges around insurance and liability, and are companies really prepared for that? So, I think what we're seeing is a real mix of lots of different threats with regards to traveling. But probably the major one is just understanding what the different challenges are in each different location. And how do you plan for that? How does the traveler and the company plan for that with staff and travelers going to many, many different locations?” – Simon Ashenden

“Richard, you look at this from a different lens, I assume. More of business risk and how people are increasing their risk by not being able to travel, whether it be to do due diligence on companies or buying whatever that may be. Is there anything from that particular view that you see as additional risk in this particular market?” – Jeff Kernohan

“So, you might have all sorts of sites and facilities that have not been visited for the last year and a half, for example. Upon arrival, things may not be quite how employees have been led to believe they are or how managers have been told that they are. So, on a commercial basis, this could be progress that's been...that's supposed to have happened at particular sites may not have been advancing at the level, or it may not be advancing at all or at the level as communicated.”

“It could be the stock or equipment or other assets that have been left at a site that should have been protected, have not been protected. So really, the opening up of international travel really opens up businesses to kind of a discovery that things are either not how they have been left or have not been progressing as they should have been. So, this could be everything from construction or development of particular sites, not advancing at the rate or not advancing at all that businesses had thought that they would have been. Or even on a more financial basis that the financial management of businesses not being done, how they've been communicated.” – Richard Phelps

Addressing the New World Travel Risk

“Often clients will think, ‘Well, we have a lot of that in place, and we've done all this before.’ But I think the key thing that we're hearing right now is that everything's changed. We hear this term, the new normal of how things are going to be, whether it's the way we work remotely or in the office at the moment, and it's the same when it comes to travel. So, I think a lot of the work the clients will have done in the past in relation to the locations they traveled to. The risk assessments that go along with that. The travel management plans that go along with that are probably a little null and void now because the groundwork and the framework has changed so much.”

“And the layer of challenge on top of that is that once you have an understanding of that new groundwork, it's probably going to change in the few weeks afterwards as we see governments or regulations changing so rapidly. It's about building the right information and providing the right information for the clients so they can make the right decisions. And that does come in the form of really detailed risk assessments, perhaps of a country or locations within countries. Perhaps, down to the hotels or the locations that staff will be staying at. Really planning the travel management and the itineraries with COVID-19 aware staff or drivers and vehicles to pick and move staff around. And then having clear emergency plans or crisis management plans for the traveler, should they get into trouble at a location.” –Simon Ashenden

“There's no real replacement for anticipating what you might face when arriving in a particular location, and really it's about approaching it on an informed basis. I mean, what the pandemic has demonstrated is that both situations are highly dynamic and constantly evolving. But also, the degree of international and regional variation that exists so essentially, there's no shortcut for doing your homework regarding conducting a proper assessment of what the situation is going to be like or could be like before you put the wheels in motion.” –  Richard Phelps

COVID-19 Challenges Imposed on Business Travel

“I think it's definitely on a case-by-case basis because there is a lot of fluctuation in many countries across the world in terms of how good they are dealing with COVID-19 or how bad. So ultimately, everything needs to be on a case-by-case basis. And our client's needs are not just location-specifics, but also in terms of the business case for traveling to these locations.”

“But again, a risk-managed approach is the best advice that I give to clients that are looking to travel or to think about traveling in the future, and especially to potentially frontier markets where the infrastructure is probably not as developed or as mature as many locations in Western Europe. So, one important feature is, again about insurance and clients having the appropriate insurance and checking with the relevant providers that everything is in place, should employees travel there.”  – Nick Doyle

“It really comes down to ensuring that we've done due diligence and the correct amount of planning. As protection of your people and staff really must come to the top of the list. Is it a protocol that the driver has a mask, or should he have a mask? How do you ensure that he has a mask? You have to ensure that you're already using services that provide that kind of capability. Ensuring you've checked the relevant hotels and how often, or how frequently do they sanitize, for example, to clean against the COVID virus?” – Simon Ashenden

“I think there's an added complication as well, as many organizations that want to conduct international travel need to consider the scope of vaccination within regions and countries. And I think the challenge is, that many people in APAC and Africa won't have been vaccinated as yet. And then that will be the ongoing challenge for international travel as well.” – Nick Doyle

“When it comes to international travel, I think often one of the outputs of the risk assessment will be, is there actually a need to travel? Is this necessary? And does this travel need to happen?”

“So, if travel isn't going on there may be a commercial impact, if sites aren't being visited, if inspections aren't being made. So, you'll still continue to see cross-border transactions, cross-border trade. But if there is this prevailing level of caution, and ultimately there's a decision, ‘Well, let's not go there. Let's not send people to this site. Let's not send people to this location.’ That is one way to physically protect your staff. But there's a commercial impact, if visits are not made to international locations within a particular country to particular sites, the reduced visibility that comes with that can also have ramifications.” – Richard Phelps

Regulatory Impact on Business Travel

“I think the current security climate is less predictable now, especially when you're looking at the outbreaks of crime, responding to social-economic pressures, and the outbreaks are probably disquiet relating to the restrictions. I mean, we're all probably watching social media and general media a lot more. And I think, and I mentioned from my own experience. I think we're seeing a lot more crime and disorder being portrayed out on these various websites and via the news. So, crime and public disquiet needs to form part of any risk-based assessments for any type of travel that clients may want to take moving forward.” – Nick Doyle

“I think that's accurate out here in Asia Pacific, Nick. And I think the other interesting side of that is that as travel starts to increase, there's going to be less travelers than there were and there certainly are at the moment. And there are always bad actors, and those bad actors and criminals are probably having slim pickings at the moment from the tourist trade and the traveler trade. So, as a traveler right now, probably for a period of time, you're probably going to be a higher target because there's less of you in these scenarios, which increases risk. And as to Nick's point, means the risk assessments and the work done beforehand, it becomes more important. And perhaps plays to things like more security awareness training taking place [inaudible 00:21:21] clients. And I know that's something that we can certainly deliver, and I've spent a lot of time [inaudible 00:21:27] clients as well, but I could see that become more of a focus as well.” – Simon Ashenden

“I think exactly to Simon's point about the reduced level of international travel that there are fewer business travelers in circulation. I mean, overlaid with that is also kind of the prevalence of mindsets of compliant behavior that we're all being far more accustomed to sort of essentially doing what we're told to do and aware that we are living in disruptive times. Disrupted times where, as an international traveler, things can change very quickly. Even in very mature jurisdictions, you have kind of overnight changes in quarantines and things like that.”

“So, we've become very used to kind of the reality that we're kind of told what to do. And I think that has a certain vulnerability that comes with it, that if you are an international traveler going to another jurisdiction that can be exploited by parties who can kind of take advantage of that and kind of build on these sorts, of being told what to do and these kinds of compliant behavior. And because there's a greater level of receptivity to the idea of, ‘Well, we are living in unusual times, and this isn't... our expectations of what would normally happen are that much more fluid.’ And I think that can be exploited and taken advantage of.” – Richard Phelps

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