Concern about the H1N1 flu will not cause corporate travel managers to change their business travel plans or those of their employees for the remainder of 2009 and throughout 2010, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
ACTE, the Alexandria, Va.–based organization whose members are senior travel industry executives from 82 countries, released the results of the survey during the association’s Global Education Conference, October 25–27 in Prague.
Fully 9 out of ten respondents (from 105 international companies) said they are not holding off on meetings or conferences until after the flu season. And 94 percent reported no requests from their business travelers to curtail travel during the flu season.
However, the study was conducted in early October. Since then, cases of H1N1 flu have become widespread in 46 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also reports that doctor visits for "influenza-like illness," or ILI, in the United States increased steeply between the second and third weeks of October and, "overall, are much higher than what is expected for this time of the year." In fact, the CDC states, "ILI activity now is higher than what is seen during the peak of many regular flu seasons."
Follow CDC’s weekly updates of key flu indicators at its Web site, where you can also find travel guidelines and helpful links such as the flu-shot locator, a state-by-state guide to figuring out where to get a seasonal and H1N1 flu shots.
The ACTE survey did find that "a majority of corporations have 'serious concerns' about the potential threat of the H1N1 influenza," said Executive Director Susan Gurley. But "these concerns are not yet carrying over into the travel-planning process for the remainder of 2009 and 2010, nor have they warranted any special consideration outside of their overall disaster-contingency planning."
She continued, "On one hand, it is commendable that companies are not giving in to panic. Yet on the other hand, this is a situation that can develop very quickly, and it is very important that the appropriate arrangements be put in place."
One of Gurley's recommendations, from an ACTE press release in September is the suspension of the handshake at business meetings for the duration of the flu season. "We have been told that the best way to impede the spread of the H1N1 flu virus is to repeatedly wash our hands, especially after touching our faces, or coming into contact with someone else's face or hand," she said. "A random polling of ACTE members has revealed it would be easier to drop the traditional handshake, for the duration of the health crisis—should one develop—as opposed to sneezing or coughing into a sleeve."
You can download the CDC's Guidance for Businesses and Employees to Plan and Respond to the 2009–2010 Influenza Season, which offers comprehensive advice on planning for increased absenteeism, exploring alternative work arrangements, potentially screening employees who report to work, and dealing with the effects of school or daycare closures. And click here for buttons and widgets you can add to your corporate Web site or social-media pages that include links and slogans to increase flu awareness and preparedness.
One final note regarding meeting site selection: As of late October, the only U.S. territory with no reported cases of swine flu is the U.S. Virgin Islands.