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Leaders focusing on wrong expat risks

Businesses may be ignoring common risks while giving too much weight to terrorism and Zika threats

Business leaders are potentially focusing on the wrong risks when sending staff abroad, according to research from International SOS.

The Travel Risk Map report found that terrorism was a concern for the the majority of leaders, with seven in 10 (71%) concerned about terrorism when sending staff abroad. Inadequate healthcare and road accidents were a cause for concern for just 15%, despite these being more common.

The Zika virus caused the second highest level of concern at 49%, followed by civil unrest at 46%.

Irene Lai, medical director of information and analysis for International SOS, recommended that employers look beyond the headlines before sending a staff member abroad. “It is vital for companies to familiarise themselves and their travellers with the health risks associated with travel and take measures to reduce those risks,” she said. “While the Zika virus has had extensive media coverage this year common medical issues that don’t make the headlines – such as travellers' gastric issues or running out of regular medication – are more likely and can destroy a business trip.

“Road accidents are also a major issue and one of the top five causes of medical evacuation. A number of countries showed significant improvement in deaths from road accidents in the past year, but organisations should be mindful that they remain a common major risk.”

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of those polled perceived an increased risk in overseas travel when compared with last year. Four out of five (80%) had modified travel itineraries in the past year because of health and security concerns.

Rob Walker, head of information and analysis at International SOS and Control Risks explained that recent global news stories have potentially heightened concerns about safety abroad. “The events of 2016 have resulted in a sense of increasing challenges in travel to places once thought secure,” he explained.

“While risks are changing, organisations must ensure their actions to mitigate those changes are proportionate, and based on reality and not perception," he caveated. "Issues like healthcare provision and road safety, which account for more than 70% of the assistance services we have provided in the past year, can often be obscured by more prominent but less likely issues.”

Meanwhile, separate research from CV Library has found that more than half (52.7%) of UK workers are less likely to look for work in a big city like London, Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds because of concerns around terrorism. The survey also found that for more than a quarter (26.3%) of professionals commuting to work via train or underground makes them feel especially nervous.

Gordon Headley, group HR director of OCS Group, told HR magazine that despite the threat of terrorism, investment and career development opportunities in London still attract people. "Providing there is not a significant escalation in the terrorism I think London will remain to be a major attraction," he said.

"If we look some history, despite the devastating IRA bombings in the 1990s, in the City of London business continued and additional measures were taken to mitigate the risks. This is probably why London today has more cameras in public areas than any other city in the world. Not something that everyone likes but it has helped reduce risk."

He explained that London, while possibly higher-risk than other areas of the UK, still provides benefits. "When London is compared with other UK cities it could be considered as a higher risk due to its profiling and significance," he said. "However, compared to other cities in the world it is still one of the safest and most stable politically. It is also well placed geographically for global business being an excellent bridge between the Americas and Asia and with excellent connections to Africa."