Ask the travel manager: 2Back to Forum
Anonymous15 Oct 2014
Each month, we put questions to the travel manager. This month’s topic…
How do you justify traveller tracking? Surely it’s more about control than ensuring my safety?
I get asked this question occasionally, and it always baffles me. Why are travellers willing to tell the world via Facebook and Twitter where they are in the world, but then seem reluctant to share their whereabouts with the company that’s sent them there?
Instead of questioning our motives for tracking them, I’m tempted to question their motives for wanting anonymity. What are you really doing while on the road that you want to keep hidden? Of course, I bite my tongue. So here’s a more reasoned response.
Traveller tracking does sound worrying, yes, particularly with the increasing concerns over data privacy and eavesdropping by governments. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be necessary. We would simply book the flights and hotel, give the traveller a spending allowance, and send them off. But as all travellers know, it’s not an ideal world, and so greater controls have been brought in.
When an employee is in the workplace, there are a raft of regulations that require the employer to ensure it is safe. When the employee is sent out on the road, although the requirements change, that responsibility remains, and in many ways grows stronger. For that reason, all the hotels in a travel programme will have been thoroughly checked and airlines will have had to satisfy the requirements, as will any approved ground transport, whether car hire or taxis. Tracking what travellers do is part of that, because there isn’t much point in putting all those measures in place if they are ignored by the traveller.
What tracking does is try to add a level of security into the trip, and that has been proved to be important by recent events – both terrorist attacks, and natural disasters such as the Icelandic volcano. It’s when things go wrong that travellers start clamouring for help, and it’s far easier to help them if you know where they are. It might not be so simple for them to pick up a phone to tell you, especially if there are hundreds of travellers from the organisation in a similar predicament – as happened with the volcano – or if a phone call isn’t practical, which might be the case if stuck in a country where the situation has suddenly got worse.
It’s a huge head start if the travel manager knows where all those in the organisation who are abroad are – and there may be many hundreds of them – and has arrangements in place, planned beforehand, for helping them, whether that’s in terms of evacuating, or simply finding them and providing assistance on the ground. You also have to bear in mind that if their loved ones can’t get hold of them, the request will come into the company, and it’s always good to have an answer for them.
At the same time, it’s also important to recognise that there is an element of control in this process. Employees are supposed to book travel according to certain rules. As explained in a previous column, you wouldn’t expect to be able to go and buy your own health insurance and benefits based on a few web searches, and it’s the same for travel. Arrangements are in place that if you book through the company programme then the costs can be accounted for and assigned. It gives budgetary control to each department, allows the cost of travel to be predicted (up to a point) for next year, and means the company is fulfilling its requirements under the relevant national legislation.
There is clearly a balance between respecting an employee’s privacy and ensuring they book within policy and provide the necessary amount of information for the travel manager – and, ultimately, themselves. Something I’m not an advocate of is software that detects when employees visit websites that are not “approved” and flash up a warning if they try to book – although if it stops people booking outside the programme, you can see the attraction for some travel managers.
Instead, I’d say we should communicate to travellers better. They should see tracking as underpinning the duty-of-care programme. Bear in mind that many travel management companies work with emergency service organisations such as International SOS and Control Risks. The first requirement such bodies would have of the corporate client is that they knew where the employee was.
Lastly, I should add that the next wave of traveller tracking will be invisible, as it will all happen through your smartphone (especially those provided by the company) and corporate credit card. If you don’t like it, you can always quit and go backpacking, and doubtless you’ll then log on to Facebook and share with all your friends and ex-colleagues where you are.15 Oct 2014
The whole issue of tracking I find disturbing. I am happy for my company to know who I am booking with, when and where I am staying and who I am flying with. I am happy for them to see my diary, monitor my credit card expenses in real time but if they want to track me via my phone as if I am a lost child then I will be reaching for the off button!
If duty of care continues they will monitor your smartphone to ensure you are back in your hotel early and getting enough sleep!! It is of course important for our long term health after all. In fact whilst we are at it why not rig us up to a health monitor to make sure we are functioning as we should!15 Oct 2014
Yes, and a quick Google brings up information such as this from well-known travel management company Carlson Wagonlit
What data do we collect?
When servicing a given corporate Client, an electronic ‘Traveler Profile’ is created in CWT’s proprietary tool, CWT Portrait, for each traveler. The personal data is entered through feeds from the corporate clients or by the traveler (or the authorized travel arranger).
The personal data that we collect for each traveler may include:
name, gender, date of birth, address, phone numbers, email addresses, credit card references/numbers, travel destinations, travel schedules, travel preferences (seat, meal, smoking, etc.), passport and visa details, as well as next of kin information.
Presumably if they know you have requested a smoking room, they know you lied about not smoking on your company health form !16 Oct 2014
You’re assuming the organisation’s procurement/purchasing controls are watertight?
If they’re not, there is nothing stopping someone paying for travel and accommodation expenses on their personal credit cards and claiming a reimbursement afterwards.16 Oct 2014
My employer uses a travel management compnay (TMC) and a travel tracking company. There are a number of nominated travel bookers and a travel security co-ordinator within the company. The TMC has access to the tracking facility, but the travel bookers can also input information, as the TMC is sometimes a bit slow in doing this.
A TMC will hold traveller profiles, but if a company is invoiced for their travel then there is no need for personal credit card details to be held. We do provide smart phones/other contact devices, depending on the country being visited. These have proved useful recently when a speedy evacuation was needed.
At the Business Travel Show in February, I attended a discussion on Duty of Care and how a company can address its responsibilities. The main drawbacks seemed to be poor communication to employees, budgetary constraints, resistance to change, personal attitudes. The scenario was an employee of Company A who had just got off a longhaul flight in economy class. He had fallen asleep at the wheel on his journey home. Had Company A failed in their duty of care to advise him against this? The answer was no. Company A had provided a comprehensive travel policy and through an e-learning system, were able to trace that the employee had read the advice but chose to ignore it.
From current experience, this is a subject that can be debated from both sides of the fence. How far can a company go in fulfilling its Duty of Care obligations and is it encroaching on an individual’s right to “do their own thing” where company travel is concerned?16 Oct 2014
I think the finer details of intrusion into privacy, and whether you’re out clubbing when you should be getting sleep etc etc… rather go out the window in some destinations. Trips to certain destinations in Africa, the Middle East and South America mean agreeing to certain security protocols – the company’s over-arching responsibility is our safety – and similarly we are expected to co-operate and take responsibility for our own welfare.
However I don’t agree the company needs to know exactly what time I left the bar in Zurich…16 Oct 2014
TheRealBabushka – 16/10/2014 05:40 GMT
You’re assuming the organisation’s procurement/purchasing controls are watertight?
If they’re not, there is nothing stopping someone paying for travel and accommodation expenses on their personal credit cards and claiming a reimbursement afterwards.
You’re right, but that sort of behaviour is forbidden by most travel policies, and I doubt it would be a defence to say “I did it because I resent the fact that you know where I am when I use the company credit card”.
(In fact, that might go back to the OP’s point about “What sort of activity are you up to.”)
In my experience people use their personal credit cards to gain extra points for loyalty programmes or for cashback – and then find excuses as to why they did so (I forgot the corporate card, they wouldn’t accept it because it was AMEX – that sort of thing).
That’s one reason travel managers dislike loyalty programmes – because they are so effective at altering traveller behaviour in favour of them, and causing leakage from the programme.17 Oct 2014
The control aspect can also be to deal with external issues/rules. For example, my company is working to extract its travel monitoring information in order to help determine whether someone is at risk of personal taxation in a country they visit frequently, or whether they may inadvertently onshore their employing company for tax purposes. This is a real risk in some countries.21 Oct 2014
Probably the answer lies somewhere in the intersection of the employee’s attitude toward his/her employment, and the purpose of the company’s actual purpose in monitoring. Employees who understand that they are the representative of their company to the world at all times while traveling are more tolerant of monitoring, while those who view their employment as “just a job” are less so. (I.e., job satisfaction will drive a response to this issue.) Also, if the company effectively and honestly communicates the reasons for the tracking and the kinds of data collected in advance, what is done will be accepted more readily.
But again, those of us in the U.S. are far more tolerant of others invading our personal data than other countries, so there also may be a cultural dimension here. We assume that little of our lives is really private, and data protection is an opt out or no option (rather than opt in) process here.22 Oct 2014
I’m all for adherence to company travel policy, but there are many factors that contribute both positively and negatively to me adhering to a policy that allows my company to track, or most likely back track my movements whilst I travel.
I need to book my travel through the corporate site, I need to use my AMEX, and the booking portal won’t allow me to book using anything else.
Once I’m on my travels how I choose to pay my way is up to me…..as long as I keep my receipts….
Would I submit a receipt that showed me purchasing food and drink from the hotel bar at midnight……Yes…And with my AMEX
Would I submit a receipt that showed me purchasing food and drink from Spearmint Rhino or RazzleDazzle’s at 9.00pm…….No …..And I’d pay cash
One of the points made in the original post referred to tracking of movement as a method of showing duty of care. There is a particular part of my organization that travels to “high risk” areas, and my colleagues who are sent are highly trained professionals who are advised and trained to deal with the variable factors that make the area high risk. Importantly, from a duty of care point of view, the company sets boundaries and restrictions. ..And yet, those same people in order to compete with other companies will occasionally will put their trust in local experts rather than follow London based litigation experts…..
And I’d also add into the mix of points of view, a tracking tool could potentially increase the risk if located by unscrupulous local bandits. ……But , that to be fair is an extreme.
Less extreme, was my boss a few years ago, who decided to micro manage my receipts as a method of conducting my monthly performance review……Totally barking mad!!!
This was after she had noticed I was now a Gold with BD to her Silver….23 Oct 2014