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Heightened Security Threats, Civil Unrest and Geopolitical Instability to Be Top Disruptors to the Mobile Workforce In 2020

LONDON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–International SOS, the world’s leading medical and travel security risk services company, shares its 2020 risks forecast and releases the latest edition of the award winning ‘Travel Risk Map’. This is accompanied by the ‘Business Resilience Trend Watch’i survey, of over 1,300 business travel decision-makers run in partnership with Ipsos MORI, which reveals critical Grey Zones of Risk and missed opportunities in harnessing technological innovations to protect the workforce.

Top 10 Health & Security Risks 2020 by the experts

International SOS has brought together a group of representative experts of all health, security, and safety fields relevant to the risks of travelling and work abroad to form the Travel Risk Management (TRM) Councilii. Combining the expertise of the TRM Council and International SOS, the forecast for the Top 10 Health & Security Risks that organisations should be prioritising in 2020 are:

  1. Risks borne from geopolitical shifts will be the most important mobility challenge for businesses
  2. Mental health issues will increase in importance
  3. Physical health: organisations will be more proactive in safeguarding physical health
  4. Cybercrime is likely to grow and be an increasing risk to security
  5. Climate change will exacerbate the occurrence of environmental disruptions
  6. Infectious disease outbreaks from established and newly emerging pathogens will increase due to multiple factors, including climate change, increasing urbanisation, diminishing vaccination coverage and security instability
  7. ‘Bleisure1 travel: the debate about whether an employer is responsible to cover bleisure as part of employee Duty of Care will amplify
  8. Millennials and Generation Z entering the workplace with different preferences, expectations and attitudes to risk, will continue to challenge businesses to evolve their risk strategies.
  9. High profile Duty of Care legal cases will increase
  10. Start-ups and SMEs that are under-resourced and inexperienced will struggle to meet Duty of Care obligations

Business Resilience Trends Watch Survey Findings

Results from the ‘Business Resilience Trends Watch’ reveal the top reasons business travel managers expect to change itineraries in 2020, as 51% believe that health and security risks increased in the past year and 47% anticipate risks will rise in the coming year:

  1. Security threats (68%) – up 23pp on the past year
  2. Civil unrest (52%) – up 14pp on the past year
  3. Geopolitical Unrest (52%) – up 20pp on the past year
  4. Natural disasters (51%) – up 15pp on the past year

Along with these top disruptors, organisations are predicting major increases in the likelihood of having to modify traveller itineraries due to:

  1. Epidemics (31%) – predicted to be up 19pp compared with actual impact in 2018
  2. Infectious diseases (35%) – predicted to be up 17pp compared with actual impact in 2018
  3. Detention and kidnapping (29%) – predicted to be up 17pp compared with actual impact in 2018

David Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Security Services, comments ‘Instability, unpredictability, rapid change and escalation are the key characteristics of many incidents in our modern world. The workforce potentially faces security risks in areas, such as accommodation choices, previously thought of as safe. Established global organisations to unicorns, regulated or otherwise, need to have their eye on this to protect their human capital and build resilience within businesses. The need is only going to increase, as over 40%2 of the workforce head to being mobile in some way.’

Doug Quarry, MD, International SOS, adds “The threats facing organisations and their workforces are impacting established and emerging economies alike. It’s encouraging to see that decision makers are becoming increasingly aware of the threats of epidemics and infectious diseases. With over $1.7trillion expected to be invested by organisations by 20223, without taking into account human capital and productivity impacts of travel disruption, it’s important that organisations get ahead of whatever potential disruption they can. With accurate information, tools and support in place, organisations should, and can, plan for the anticipated risks and safeguard their investment and their people.”

The Grey Zones of Risk

Emerging traveller habits, both domestically and internationally, and diversification of the workforce are creating Grey Zones of Risk. Employers are not aligning travel policies with new potential risk factors, and people are choosing not to act within policy if it restricts the use of their preferred mode of transport or accommodation. Surprisingly, less than a third of organisations include cyber security in their travel policies. This could potentially open organisations up to litigation and reputational damage if they are not adhering to their Duty of Care, as well as negative consequences for employees and business.

  • Just 11% included shared economy services4 in their travel policy
  • Only 26% of organisations include considerations for female travellers in their travel policy
  • 31% cover cyber security
  • One in ten (11%) include considerations for LGBTQ+ travellers
  • Mental health issues are included in mere 15% of travel policies
  • Considerations for travellers with disabilities are covered by only 12%
  • Bleisure travel was covered in 22% of policies.

Opportunity for Safety through Technology

David Johnson continues, “Organisations invest thousands in new tech each year, but very little seems to go on the safety of their people, despite new technology providing excellent solutions to protect employees. From the use of AI in situational intelligence, to e-learning courses and traveller tracking, strides in keeping people safe have been made thanks to new technology.” Year on year, business travel managers continue to struggle with:

  • Educating employees about travel risks (53%)
  • Communicating with employees during a crisis (47%)
  • Confirming with employees that they have read pre-travel information (45%)
  • Tracking employee travel (42%)
  • Managing a crisis (40%)

The Travel Risk Outlook 2020, including Travel Risk Map, the Top 10 Risks from the TRM Council and the Business Resilience Trends Watch study will be presented at face-to-face events and in webinars around the world. To register, click here.

Click to download high res images for Travel Risk Outlook 2020


1 Bleisure travel is the activity of combining business travel with leisure time.

2Global Mobile Workforce Update 2016-2022
3GBTA BTI Outlook
4 Shared economy services; peer-to-peer (P2P) based activity of acquiring, providing, or sharing access to goods and services that is often facilitated by a community-based on-line platform.

i These survey findings represent responses from 1,346 professionals who are responsible for business travel, across 214 countries. Now in its fourth year, the survey is targeted to those who organise, influence, or are responsible for, their organisation’s travel and risk mitigation policies. The survey seeks to understand whether perceptions of travel risk have changed: What health and travel security risks are of most concern to organisations and travellers? Are there significant differences in travel risk mitigation methods and concerns across regions? How are organisations and travellers modifying their behaviour or policies to respond to these new realities? Research was conducted online in September 2019.

ii The Travel Risk Management Council (TRM Council) is made up of representative experts of all health, security, and safety fields relevant to the risks of travelling and work abroad. These expert-fields include but are not limited to: international risk and security, travel health, travel security, travel safety, employee wellbeing, occupational health, geopolitics, sustainability, digitalisation and cyber security, public policy, and labour law. The 35 participants in this year’s TRM Council are from a mix of think tanks, associations, advisory boards, NGOs, and IGOs. Ipsos MORI conducted an in-depth interview with each participant. Interviews were conducted in September 2019.


Ashleigh Brown

Octopus Group


[email protected]

Suzanne Withers

International SOS

+44 (0)20 8762 8494

[email protected]