The Deep Waters of Global Business Travel

global-travelToday global travel in general and global business travel in particular is not really a problem. It still comes at a cost, yet it is a great asset for multinational companies, because they can get the people they need to the locations they want for the duration that is required. There are multiple travel modes, frequent departure schedules, comfortable itineraries, multiple available destinations, convenient options for purchasing tickets online, Wi-Fi connections and business lounges. It is easy to imagine a manager holding a morning meeting in the MNC’s headquarters, then heading to the airport while answering recent e-mails using a smart phone, then having a short skype conversation in the airport business lounge, and upon arrival making it to the evening meeting in the subsidiary office. This logistical accessibility is something that has given rise to populations of frequent business travellers, termed flexpatriates and international commuters.

In support of global business travel advantages for MNCs, a relevant International Business Times article highlights the acceleration of U.S. business travel. Referring to the Oxford Economics report (2013), the article indicates that ‘every dollar invested in business travel generated $9.50 in increased revenue and $2.90 in new profits’ (data based on the statistical modeling over 18 years). A similar trend of booming corporate travel is expected for European multinationals.

Yet, although quite appealing, the waters of global business travel may be deeper and riskier than it seems.

First of all, many sources relate frequent business travel to risks of travel burnout and interrupted work-life balance. The academic literature has suggested that short business travel may cause stress and have negative health effects on the employee, as well as put a strain on the traveller’s family, which again has a reciprocal effect on the traveller’s well being. As such, most researchers view business travel as a source of stress (DeFrank, Konopaske, & Ivancevich, 2000). This notion is probably quite easy to relate to. Just think about the last time you took a business travel, or even simply a vacation trip. Didn’t you experience the last minute rush of finalizing all the current work matters before departure? Or got upset and stressed with some transfers and road delays? Or felt annoyed with queues and waiting at the baggage claim, cabs, and hotel registration? And finally felt overwhelmed with all the things to do and catch-up upon return?

Moreover, during the short trips you could have experienced time zone changes, distortion of daily sleep routines, as well as inconsistent or improper eating routines. Now, all these factors seem to account for stress, and given that global travel is usually frequent and tiring (as one travels from and to work), the notion of travel burnout and health risks becomes evident.

Secondly, global business travel also raises issues of employee safety and security. According to the white paper of International SOS, a global medical and travel security services company, business travel with its growing trend of targeting new and emerging markets poses risks and threats to the employees, which range from hostile political environments, natural disasters, exposure to disease, travel accidents, and other common travel problems. To illustrate the point, International SOS brings up several vignettes of typical situations encountered by the company. The following are a couple of examples: 

‘Two international assignees of an MNC working on a project in Eastern India traveled on National Highway 60 and were caught in a torrential downpour. This caused a flash flood on the road. After climbing onto the roof of their car to escape, the stranded employees frantically called their manager in New Delhi for help.’

‘An American businesswoman landed in London after an eleven-hour overnight flight from San Francisco. She drove her rental car from the airport to her mid-morning business meeting in Wimbledon. Tired from overnight travel and unfamiliar with driving on the left side of the road, she was involved in a serious car accident’.

Echoing the second example, a relevant post in the Interglobal expat life health and insurance blog reports on the severity of road travel risks for expats. Specifically, referring to the WHO Global status report on road safety of 2013, the article highlights that road accidents are among the five principal causes for medical evacuations of expats and business travelers.

All in all, there is probably still more ‘good’ than ‘bad’ in global business travel. Indeed, opportunities of business travel are beneficial for the companies involved and quite often welcome by the employees, who enjoy the travel experiences and prefer the diversity in their job routines. Yet, there are certain drawbacks and risks, which global companies need to account for in order to leverage the positives of global business travel.

 

Further reading:

DeFrank, R. S., Konopaske, R., & Ivancevich, J. M. (2000). Executive travel stress: Perils of the roadwarrior. Academy of Management Executive, 14, 2, 58-71.

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