AT THE OUTBREAK OF WAR with Iraq, Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial issued a statement to all of its employees that “all non-critical international travel be delayed, if possible.” On April 8, Prudential's employees received another urgent statement, this time from K. Andrew Crighton, MD, chief medical officer at the company. It begins, “Based on the World Health Organization's recent warning regarding the rapid spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vietnam, Prudential has decided to prohibit all business travel to and from these countries (including flights routed through these countries). This policy is effective immediately and will continue until further notice….”

Crighton says this is the first time he has ever issued a travel advisory as a result of a health issue. “We are doing this in response to the CDC to help reduce the spread of SARS and because we do not want to put our employee population at risk,” he says. He is monitoring the CDC and the World Health Organization on a daily basis and is also in constant contact with an infectious disease specialist who practices in the New York metropolitan area and the International SOS, a global medical assistance company with clinics in Beijing, Singapore, and Tokyo — and will issue further travel updates as events unfold.

Similarly, The Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., based in Warren, N.J., issued a statement saying that employees should schedule only essential international travel. Chubb is encouraging alternatives like audio conferencing, Web conferencing, and videoconferencing whenever possible, and has provided information to employees on how to execute these alternatives.

Allstate Insurance Co in Northbrook, Ill., enacted a policy stating that all international travel must get approval from senior management. If employees do receive approval, Allstate encourages them to register with the United States Embassy once they arrive in the foreign destination. Similar to Chubb, the company is also encouraging its employees to use videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and e-mail as alternatives to travel.

Domestic Travel on a Case-by-Case Basis

Mark Schussel, a spokesperson from Chubb, says in many instances the travel to-go-or-not-to-go decision for domestic corporate meetings is made on a case-by-case basis. Nineteen employees from the company were scheduled to fly to Newark Liberty International Airport from various points in the United States and abroad for a New Jersey training meeting in mid-March, but war broke out and the meeting was postponed until June.

Also due to the war with Iraq, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. postponed three small meetings for field representatives, each with about 20 attendees from all over the country, scheduled to be held in its home office near Philadelphia in March. Leanne Acton, CMM, Penn Mutual's director of conference planning and travel services, says that while corporate travel is not restricted, it's being looked at on an individual basis. “Management did emphasize that if someone decides not to travel, there will not be any negative repercussions,” she notes.

Another travel trend: Some insurance and financial services meeting attendees are opting to drive versus fly. Chase Automotive Finance, part of JPMorgan Chase, was scheduled to hold a managers meeting in Chase's corporate headquarters on Park Avenue in Manhattan the week the war broke out. For security reasons, the meeting was moved to a small hotel on the North Shore of Long Island. Two managers from Philadelphia and Boston who were originally scheduled to fly to the meeting drove instead.

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