Using stories to explain risk to travellers

04 July 2018

Risk assessments don't get through to travellers

Tony Willis-240Although it’s all about the safety of travellers, duty of care procedures often do not consider human nature, especially our reactions. Ex-business traveller and self-defence professional Tony Willis of Be Aware Take Care takes a story-led, theoretical approach to travel and day-to-day risk that puts the onus more on the traveller themselves. We spoke to Willis as part of our July DeepDive into moving past the duty of care basics.

BTiQ: What do you feel are the main issues with current duty of care procedures?

TW: For some it has become a tick box exercise for HR with risk assessments etc, but those never get to the traveller. Employees tend to be busy people rushing to get ready for a trip or working so they won’t read a risk assessment; it needs to be delivered in a new way so they take it on board. I believe there should be an official format and then a one-paragraph version that is emailed to the traveller that is easier to digest.

Risk can sit in different departments so it is hard for travellers to know where that information is. It used to be HR but moved more to health and safety and facilities. Information might be put on the intranet but no one looks and senior executives will only ask about information like Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice when there is a travel ban and they can’t go somewhere.

Another big issue is getting relevant information to the people who would like to use it but are too busy. As a traveller I’d fly to New York but then change to Mexico or elsewhere, so if the advice doesn’t adapt to that new destination it won’t get used anyway. Travellers might say that you “can’t keep up or understand my life”.

People aren’t living the process. International travel is one area that people view as a bigger risk so it triggers conversations but there’s also around the office and domestic travel.

BTiQ: Does special attention need to be paid towards LGBT and female travellers?

TW: People assume that the rights and standards we have in the UK exist everywhere but they don’t. More companies are talking about this.

For example, sometimes if something happens it’s not a good idea to go to the police; if a woman is raped she could be arrested for sex outside of marriage. There are on-going consequences which make things worse on top of what is already terrible. So people need to know where to go and about embassies and consulates. In some countries it is illegal to be gay. Travellers do have to follow the country’s rules while they are visiting.

Consider elements such as medication availability too. Tramadol is prescribed in the UK but possession of it is a jailable offence in the UAE.

BTiQ: How can you get travellers interested?

TW: I want people to constantly evaluate risks in their life. It’s not hard to find things that went wrong.

A sensible approach is to give employees the tools to adapt as they go, so they can plan on the spot and be reactive. In my workshop discussions common sense comes up in hindsight and people can work [the risks] out – but that’s in hindsight. It’s a bit like CCTV; it’s after and does nothing to help.

There’s a 3-step process

  1. Break down the trip into sections/chunks –either write down or draw pictures such as leaving home, getting in a taxi etc
  2. Break down the risk factors you know such as where you sit, getting the ticket etc
  3. Look at the transitions between them and moving between each block

It’s a simple way of doing it in your head repeatedly. Some elements have the same risk factors anywhere in the world and people will start to recognise them. For example if a group of people are meeting in an airport it’s better to do it after security where bags have been checked; it is little elements like that which can be repeated. It becomes simpler for the traveller if the plan changes as they can substitute their plans and it makes them more aware of risks. It’s about mitigating so smaller exposure.

Also I don’t want to distinguish the reaction to terrorism from theft, violence or assault – you don’t want the mind-set of “it’s not terrorism so do this” when the affect is the same problem. Instead of concentrating on one area it’s more about how to process thoughts. There needs to be some logic when there’s been an incident, otherwise people do what you told them to and not what maybe they should.

BTiQ: How important is it to use stories?

TW: You can tell people about risk but it really only makes sense when you put scenarios in place. Colleagues do not realise that something happened to someone else but there have always been cases. It drives the conversation and then stories come out.

For example most people will have experienced theft of some level in Barcelona and people relate that way.

Part of my advice is that possessions are worthless; if you chased and got stabbed it makes no sense. Belongings are easy to replace; perhaps staff could get a second passport and get insurance as it acts a mental relaxation. That discussion is a vital part of training.

The higher up the harder it is to get in front of the employee, as they tend to believe it won’t happen to them more. But these street robbers know what they’re doing; they will spot the expensive stuff and they know the designs [of items they want].

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