As Restrictions Wane Travel Vigilance Still Counseled

When it comes to navigating the maze of requirements and recommendations around international travel, a single map often can lead to a dead end.

Joe Metallo, global travel services and general risk manager with Argonne Labs, will witness this firsthand on a trip to Italy. Following guidance of the US State Department and his travel management company, he knew that, being fully vaccinated against Covid-19, he was allowed to enter the country. Once there, however, he realized that “fully vaccinated” meant that the most recent dose had been administered within six months. He saw on a train an Italian customer who had received a full dosage but no booster within the past six months escorted off and not permitted to reboard. He later learned that hotels also were turning away guests who were not up to date on their vaccinations.

“I could imagine a foreign national in that situation, where they were stuck and couldn’t get back on the train,” Metallo said during a recent Business Travel Show America panel. “[You can see] what is required, but sometimes it’s disjointed between what’s required to enter and what you can do when you’re there.”

Getting too focused on entry requirements and overlooking return requirements is another common mistake, said Spencer Brace, head of growth strategy for meeting location analysis platform Troop. He saw a traveler at a recent event who had met the requirements to enter a country but didn’t realize they had a quarantine requirement when they returned home.

Of course, there is no shortage of resources providing this information for travelers, said Robert Reynolds, chief technology officer for travel management company Adtrav. Online booking tools provide multiple sources of information, most airlines spell out entry requirements, and third-party data sources also monitor it, aggregating data from governments and other resources around the world. Still, there’s the risk of employees seeing outdated or contradictory information.

“There are plenty of sources that have sprung up, but it’s fluid, and it’s up to the sources to keep up,” Reynolds said. “They’re not going to be perfect.”

As such, a manual effort remains “absolutely necessary” in keeping up with restrictions, Metallo said, particularly for multinational travel programs with travelers who have different citizenships and are traveling from different countries of origin. Sometimes, travelers end up erring on the side of caution, which means they might be taking and paying for tests that are not necessary.

“I’d rather have spent the money on a test than find myself in a situation where I can’t enter a country and have to quarantine,” Metallo said.

The confusion is compounded further in that requirements also can change quickly, as Brace saw on a recent event in South Africa that occurred a few days after the country lifted PCR Covid-19 testing requirements for entry. With the close timing, travelers were unsure whether that news would spread across the travel ecosystem. Even if no test was required, would the staff throughout the journey be aware of the change, or would there be friction? Fortunately, the carrier—Virgin Atlantic—sent a message prior to travel alerting of the change, which eased the mind, Brace said.

Whatever system a company has in place, the key is making sure they are aware of requirements as early in the process as possible, Reynolds said.

“Travelers don’t like to be surprised,” he said. “If there’s something the traveler or is required to do, making sure they see that early in the workflow is critical.”

As Governments Lift Restrictions, Corporates Create Policies

At this point, even with Covid-19 rates still going up in some parts of the globe, the larger trend, at least in Western countries, continues to be loosening, not tightening, restrictions, International SOS senior operations manager Tom Watson said. The aforementioned vaccination requirements in Italy, for example, since have expired. Even so, there remains a gap between guidance and requirements, with health agencies recommending varying levels of caution where travel is allowed. As such, companies are setting their own policies above and beyond the hard requirements for travel.

At Argonne Labs, for example, travelers going to countries with State Department warnings of Level 3 or Level 4—which takes into consideration factors other than Covid-19—must meet with the travel team for additional guidance in order to travel, Metallo said. Other companies might mandate pre-departure testing for travel even if not compulsory if the traveler would be required to test for the return trip, so as to lower chances of getting stranded or quarantined.

To that end, Covid-19 is becoming just a part of the overall risk assessment that can be put in place for any global travel, Watson said.

In the end, however, some of the burden will still have to fall on the individual traveler to make sure they have the most up-to-date information on requirements. But Reynolds said regular communication is essential to keep traveler confidence boosted.

“It’s making sure they have the multiple sources of information and that it’s as thorough as possible,” Reynolds said. “It’s very important that it feels like the organization cares about the process.”

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