Kevin Maguire, president and CEO of the National Business Travel Association has 35 years' experience in the airline, travel agency and travel management business. He manages travel for 19 athletic teams at the University of Texas-Austin. Maguire also has personal experience with emergencies: He and three colleagues were in Costa Rica on business in the early 1990s during an earthquake. He ordered everyone home immediately.
Q: When a travel warning is issued and the government discourages non-essential travel to a hot spot, what should employers do?
A: For a lot of companies, the next step is the travel manager contacts upper management, and they bring in the risk management and legal teams. A joint decision has to come from those sources. Then you immediately disseminate the policy to your employees and your travel planners.
Q: How should employers define essential vs. non-essential travel?
A: Essential travel means an important issue has to be addressed, like closing a sale, or there's an emergency situation of some kind. Only 30% or 40% of business travel is essential. The rest is non-essential in situations like this.
Q: If a company must send employees to a hot spot, what precautions should be taken?
A: The travel manager must educate himself or herself, upper management and the traveler about exactly what the situation is there. There may be medical steps.
You also need someone on the ground (at the destination) who can get timely information to the employee. The employee needs to know that if they find the situation is worse than expected, get out. I think the employee has to have the right to decline to go.
Q: What should you do with employees coming from infected areas? What if co-workers don't want to work near them?
A: We're seeing companies telling employees coming back from Mexico to take 48 to 72 hours off to see if they develop any symptoms of swine flu. If symptoms develop, they can get medical attention.
This also takes away the fear of other employees. It's a disruptive force if employees are afraid to sit at the next desk or in a meeting with a person who has just returned.
Q: What sources offer guidance?
A: The websites of the World Health Organization and the Centers For Disease Control (and Prevention). Our own organization has information posted at www.nbta.org/swineflu.
By Marilyn Adams