Michael Trott, Vice President of Global Safety and Security at Discovery Land Company, shares his perspective on the return to executive travel in the era of COVID and questions to consider as you plan your next trip.
I field the question, “Is it safe for executives to return to “normal” business travel?” frequently within my own organization, as well as from other executives. Unfortunately, there is not one answer that fits all.
Over the past year, employee and executive travel has been very limited, and mostly based on essential travel requirements. I’m optimistic that we’ll return to pre-COVID levels of international travel soon; however, the current situation presents a more complicated picture. Many countries and particular regions of the world are still struggling with vaccine rollouts, the appearance of multiple mutations of the virus, and associated high infection levels and related deaths.
In addition, getting accurate statistics from many countries is still nearly impossible. If your travels take you to a part of the world where they are reporting a major spike in cases and deaths, it’s generally believed the actual number could be as much as 10 times higher than reported. Hospitals are still reaching maximum occupancy in these countries, and in some places like India, oxygen is in short supply.
These factors would pose a major challenge if a traveler were injured or became ill (with COVID or anything else) and required hospitalization in that country.
As a security and safety executive whose role requires frequent domestic and international travel, factoring in consultations with infectious disease specialists, I will say with a degree of caution and awareness that executive travel is slowly returning.
Five Questions to Consider Pre-Travel
Since COVID-19 is a global pandemic and many executives travel internationally, the decision to travel should include these important five questions before you book your tickets:
- Have you been fully vaccinated?
- Do you have any personal health conditions that could put you at a higher risk if you contracted COVID?
- What are the current COVID conditions at the location you will be traveling to?
- Are there high-risk activities at your destination? Can you modify your schedule and/or appearances and still accomplish your travel objectives?
- Finally, is the travel considered essential/urgent, or can it wait?
Over the past 12 months I have traveled outside the United States four times and made approximately twice as many trips within the continental U.S. Each trip had its own calculated risk and what I considered to be my personal or business ROI based on the purpose of the trip. I also considered the very same questions above and followed all the preventative measures and guidance provided by the CDC and other trusted advisors.
The Role of Medical Consultations in Executive Travel
I was in constant contact with the medical health professionals that our company partnered with at the very beginning of the pandemic to help us create appropriate policies and navigate all the changes and recommendations to protect our people and operations. Our group of doctors also assisted us with our travel-related questions and concerns and would often counsel our individual executive travelers based on current COVID conditions. But, most importantly, we considered the personal health profile of the individual traveler.
Remember: A vaccine is not a guarantee you won’t contract COVID or get sick, but likely will reduce the effects of the illness if you do. This is a good time to review your company’s health insurance coverage and medical evacuation protocols if someone does fall ill overseas and needs to be treated. This also includes medical evacuation to a location with advanced medical care due to COVID or other health complications.
While the U.S. and other countries appear to be turning the corner on the pandemic, it is crucial that we don’t let our guard down yet. We should still practice the preventative measures we’ve been using over the past year: 1) wearing a mask when you feel it’s necessary, and 2) keeping hands clean, sanitized and away from your mouth, eyes and nose. Not only will these practices help prevent contracting COVID, they can help prevent a number of other airborne diseases.
In the end, this is really a personal decision. There is no such thing as a 100% guarantee of safety while traveling (not just from COVID – you can still contract food and water-borne illnesses and diseases from the many bacteria/viruses present when one is in close contact with others). But if you’ve answered the questions above appropriately and are comfortable with the necessity of your travel plans and will take precautions, I would be inclined to say you’re ready to travel.