A significant new survey by the National Business Travel
Association shows American businesses are already adjusting their
travel policies in preparation for a potential war with Iraq.
While a survey of some 150 corporate travel managers indicated
that 60 percent of the respondents had no immediate plans to reduce
travel, 62 percent of them were evaluating trips on a case-by-case
basis and a full 49 percent are restricting travel to high-risk
The Houston-based corporate security and intelligence firm, Air
Security International, identifies the high-risk countries as
Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates,
Bahrain, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt and
Indonesia. But the potential for encountering problems is literally
global. “There are potential conflicts, at a street level, in other
regions of the world,” said Charlie LeBlanc, ASI’s managing
director. So strong is the opposition to war, that your client
could be walking down a street in Manila, or even Munich, and be
confronted by anti-American crowds.
“Each corporation is different in terms of when they want to
move people out; when they want to ban travel to countries,” said
LeBlanc. “Depending on the corporate culture, some will do it very
early in the process. I have clients who have been banning travel
to the Middle East and certain other regions, for the past two
months.” Or, they have been “encumbering” that travel mandating
that any employee going to risky regions get an approval from
executives higher in the corporation.
While the marching (or retreat) orders are increasingly coming
from high within corporate hierarchies, travel agents have a real
role to play in the ensuing weeks. “In times of crisis, or times of
uncertainty, that’s when travel agents really shine,” said Richard
Copland, president of the American Society of Travel Agents.
They shine by keeping the lines of communication open. Copland
and LeBlanc believe that agents should work actively with
corporations to strengthen communications protocols the NBTA
indicates that 38 percent of companies responding to its survey are
already doing just that.
“After Sept. 11,” Copland said, “the world was in chaos. Travel
stopped. All over the world, people couldn’t get home. Talking to
airlines was useless forget about it. Ultimately, it was travel
agents who got all these people home safely.”
It would be a mistake, however, to rely on those tried-and-true
methods of getting in touch with clients, or for getting them home.
It’s important to develop multiple channels of communication with
your client, directly, using: cell phones, pagers or e-mail.
LeBlanc said that it’s equally critical for corporate agents to
have a contact within their client’s company someone they can work
with, in times of crises.
Should a serious situation occur, “airlines will move around
flights,” said Copland. “They’ll have to cancel flights.” He said
that it’s incumbent for agents to keep clients in the loop. “I
recommend to all my clients that before they go, even if it’s a
leisure trip, that they leave information as to how they can be
Once you reach them, better have some alternate routes to offer.
LeBlanc said that a corporate client’s preferred airline may have
yanked service from the region.
It’s important that up-to-date itineraries be waiting on the
shelf: alternate airlines and alternate airports. And don’t get
hung up with air. Explore ground exit options as well.
“Now is the time we can really show the value of using a travel
agent,” said Copland.
“The message to the traveling public and corporate travel
departments is: ‘This is the time you need travel agents more than
ever. Without a travel agent, you’re on your own.’ “
Ironically, the exceedingly public preparations for war make it
easier for travel agents and corporations to get ready for
exigencies. From that perspective, things differ significantly from
“The key here is that we have a looming crisis,” said LeBlanc.
“We actually get the benefit of knowing the potential is
LeBlanc admits that all of this worst-case preparation banning
travel, developing back channels for crisis communication can run
counter to a travel agent’s inclination. After all, agents are in
business to promote travel.
“Short-term, this could result in a potential revenue loss,” he
“In the long term, though, I think it helps cement the
relationship between a corporate travel agent and that corporation.
It shows they’re not just interested in selling tickets. They’re
interested in taking care of their travelers.”
Information on NBTA’s recommendations on preparing for a
potential war, log onto www.nbta.org/hsr/homeland_security.htm.
ASI’s Web site: www.airsecurity.com.