Companies rely on the latest technology to track group and transient travelers, keeping
them safe on the road
On September 11, 2001, Kathy Hall-Zientek’s stress level was through the roof. The manager of travel services for East Aurora, N.Y.–based Moog Inc. had 87 travelers out of the office, yet she didn’t know who was traveling, whether anyone was scheduled to be in New York that day, or how to immediately reach everyone to find out if they were safe. It took hours of searching through company files and making phone calls before she was eventually able to confirm that none of her corporate travelers were in the Manhattan area.
“We had to pull hard-copy itineraries out of the files and sit on the floor to put them into geographic piles,” she recalls. “By the time we combed through all of the paper files to identify who was out of town, most of the airlines and rental car companies were booked, so we had a heck of a time trying to secure alternative travel arrangements to get people back to their home base.”
The incident had a lasting effect on her. “That was really what made me decide to look into getting the software to enable us to track our travelers. I felt this responsibility to the travelers to keep them safe and informed.” The recent eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, stranding thousands of travelers, is a reminder that you never know when disaster will strike.
Hall-Zientek’s situation is not uncommon. In the nearly nine years since the September 11 attacks, interest in traveler-tracking technology solutions has surged, says Tim Daniels, group executive vice president for International SOS, a Philadelphia-based risk-management company specializing in providing medical and security assistance to travelers. “Companies are into how they can provide a deeper level of information and refine the messages travelers see before going on a trip,” says Daniels.
Some are going beyond just tracking travelers and are partnering with risk-management companies to provide more robust safety solutions. Soon after 9/11, Hall-Zientek, who also handles the sourcing and contracting for roughly 12 meetings a month, implemented International SOS’s Travel Locator Service, a Web-based travel-tracking system. She also relies on International SOS to provide 24-hour emergency and medical assistance to employees traveling abroad and to send travelers pre-trip alerts about the destinations they are flying to.
“I wanted to make sure that regardless of the time of day, our travelers have someone to talk to should they run into an [issue].”
Offering her 1,200 corporate travelers additional security services was “a no-brainer,” she says. And she has relied on the company in some pretty critical moments. Recently a traveler in Amman, Jordan, hit a camel while driving his rental car and ended up in a local hospital where the doctors did not speak English. “They didn’t have an X-ray machine or an MRI machine, and had no way of determining the condition of the patient,” she recalls.
Working with her safety and security department, she decided to have the employee evacuated to a location where he could receive proper treatment, and she relied on International SOS to manage the logistics. “They took care of every single step,” she says, from flying the patient’s wife and son to be with him in Amman, to arranging for the group to be put on a flight and transferred to a hospital in Geneva where he could receive better care. “I could never have done that by myself,” she says.
How Travel Tracking Works
There are various systems available to monitor and track travelers, all with varying level of sophistication and functionality. Most travel-management companies offer their own tracking tools by tapping into global distribution systems, the reservation networks that power airline, hotel, and car-rental bookings. When corporate travelers book through their designated travel-management companies, those companies can access itineraries electronically and run reports to identify travelers in affected areas.
Some large travel-management providers—Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Expedia Corporate Travel, WorldTravel, and others—have partnered with risk-management companies to provide enhanced safety and security to customers. Corporate meeting planners also can work directly with a risk-management company, which gathers travel data from a travel-management provider or directly from the GDS, and also offers more sophisticated services in addition to daily reporting, such as 24-hour medical and emergency assistance, mechanisms to track travelers that book outside a company’s booking tool, and pre-trip e-mails alerting travelers to potential threats or other important information in a particular destination. International SOS, one such company, is also developing a service that would allow real-time GPS (global positioning system) tracking through travelers’ mobile devices. Another risk-management company, IJet Intelligent Risk Systems, offers pre-trip travel briefs, decision support and advice, emergency 24-hour contact centers, and centralized reporting of past, current, and future trips.
What About Meetings?
Having the corporate booking tool integrate seamlessly with meetings-management software can make a big difference in capturing group travel bookings, says David Cheese, marketing manager for Sabre Systems’ Traveler Security and Data Suite in Southlake, Texas. Sabre’s booking tool, GetThere, integrates with several meetings-management solutions, such as StarCite and Worktopia, so meeting managers automatically drive attendee info directly from the registration Web site to the corporate booking tool.
For Gary Pearson, director of corporate meetings and events for Aon Service Corp., Chicago, ensuring that both transient and group travel are booked through the company’s travel-management provider, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, is not only critical from a financial standpoint, it’s an issue of safety and security too. Meetings are centralized at Aon, and under the meetings policy, any event that has 10 or more room nights, 10 or more attendees, or a budget of $10,000 or more must be registered through the meetings department. The company uses StarCite for meetings management.
“We strongly urge everyone to book their travel through our TMC so we can have a clear view of where each traveler is at any given time,” says Pearson. “If a situation occurs, we can go right to our travel agent and say, ‘OK, what travelers may be affected?’ and begin rebooking affected people immediately.
In some companies, providing this care to employees is the driving factor behind their decisions to develop a strategic meetings-management program. “For a lot of companies, an SMMP is savings-driven or compliance-driven, but for some companies it’s about making sure their attendees are safe and secure,” says Tony Wagner, vice president of meetings and events for CWT North America. “It’s one of the critical factors of how SMMPs are sold internally to procurement and executive management within the corporation.”
Even though employee buy-in continues to be one of the biggest challenges for some companies’ meetings- and travel-management programs, employees are starting to understand that their safety and security depend on working within the system.
“They need to understand what would happen if we didn’t know where they were and couldn’t notify them in an emergency,” says Hall-Zientek. “They get a little nervous when they realize they may not have the ability to book a flight to come home within a reasonable amount of time if something should happen.”
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