Meeting business travel's new Duty of Care needs

Duty of Care, employers’ moral and legal responsibilities to protect employees and contractors’ physical and mental wellbeing, is a legal requirement for many countries around the world, such as the US and UK where employers have this responsibility codified since 2014.

For employers, Duty of Care breaches carry unlimited fines, possible imprisonment, reputational damages, loss of business and issues with staff recruitment and retention. Consequently, the onus is increasingly on accommodation providers to ensure business travellers feel truly safe when working away from home.

Wellbeing is the most important element of Duty of Care. 87% of business travellers have experienced stress, anxiety, or exhaustion when staying away, with 77% saying their work suffered as a result. However, wellbeing is not the sole focus, because Duty of Care also covers sustainability, diversity, equality, and inclusion.

In this blog, we will look at the post-pandemic needs of business travellers, travel managers and Travel Management Companies (TMCs), making you better equipped to meet those needs.

What it means

In the US, a Duty of Care programme is a legal requirement for every company, regardless of size, resulting in a dramatic rise in negligence lawsuits. Elsewhere, companies must follow workplace health and safety laws in their respective countries generally in relation to accidents and injuries, emotional wellbeing, health, and safety.

The roots of current UK Duty of Care legislation lie in the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007, which made companies and organisations legally responsible for serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

The penalties for breaches range from a substantial fine to possible imprisonment. The potential consequences include reputational damage, loss of business and issues around staff retention and recruitment. Breaches aren’t good for the share price either.

Traveller care goes beyond legal Duty of Care obligations and is usually articulated in travel policies, demonstrating that travel-related risks have been fully assessed and, wherever possible, mitigated.

Traveller experience

A positive traveller experience can have a massive positive impact on wellbeing, productivity for the employee – and repeat business for the accommodation provider.

For those travelling internationally, facing potential flight disruption or cancellations and different health certification requirements, companies must risk assess the trip and to educate employees on safety procedures to follow. The risk management process is the means by which the company will uphold its Duty of Care.

Changing times

Employee wellbeing still tops the Duty of Care agenda. Travel Managers’ top ten priorities post-pandemic rank third behind Duty of Care. Budget is ranked sixth. Employers are increasingly focusing on traveller, rather than travel management and tailoring their communications to employee demographics instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

In recent years, customers, investors, and employees have pushed companies to address a growing list of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues including their carbon impact (especially travel-related impacts), workforce diversity and employee welfare.

Two-thirds of European travel managers currently have no special consideration for LGBTQ+ travellers within their programmes, making this community the least well provided for in travel policies, compared with solo female travellers, people with accessibility requirements and those from other marginalised communities, who are more likely to have special needs.

Pre-Covid, Duty of Care and sustainability were already on most travel managers’ list of priorities. Covid-19 brought new momentum, and C-suite scrutiny. 83% of C-suite leaders and investment professionals believe ESG programmes will significantly enhance shareholder value.

Bleisure

During recent years, interrupted only by the pandemic, the number of bleisure trips – business trips preceded, combined with, or followed by leisure activity including partners or families – has increased steadily, forcing employers to bring rules around bleisure trips under their Duty of Care obligations.

In a mobile workforce, bleisure trip volumes are set to increase even further. More than half of business travelers will combine business travel with leisure this year, opening up opportunities for short term rental properties in cities and more rural locations new business opportunities.

Supplier management

Whilst short term rental providers (and any other accommodation operator) have no direct legal responsibility for a guests’ wellbeing, they do have an obligation to take all necessary steps to ensure the guest is adequately protected physically and mentally.

Although operators may not incur a direct fine, the consequences of not taking all reasonable precautions are the same for the supplier as the purchasing entity  – loss of business, reputational damage, and further sanction if Licensing laws are also breached.

So, it’s in the interest of every accommodation provider to do what’s necessary to avoid any such penalties, and instead to enhance the guest experience through pro-active communication, effective staff training and cross-communication.

Steve Banks is Chief Commercial Officer at Agiito, ranked 10th largest TMC in Europe (seventh in the UK) with combined European sales in 2019 – 2021 of €1.11 billion.

“For our customers, short term rentals can be a valuable tool in the TMC armoury because we can be more confident that we are obligating our Duty of Care provision to our customers and in turn their travellers. This provides reassurance, a quantitively proactive solution, enhanced wellbeing and from a business travel perspective, supports the reason for travel by complimenting their user experience for ‘seamless travel’ and to optimise and compliment their ability to do their job through a safe and effective user experience.”

Accreditation

The heightened focus on Duty of Care has increased the importance of supplier accreditation to corporates and the value of accreditation to suppliers. Most corporate RFPs ask for quality assurance information from accommodation providers. Larger corporates have specific lists of exactly what they require in terms of health and safety.

Published in September 2021, travel risk management standard ISO 31030 provides comprehensive guidance for domestic and international business travel, covering security (including information security), safety, health, and wellbeing for travellers. ISO31030 may become a template for organisations to improve security, safety, health, and wellbeing of travellers.

There are a lot of new accreditations coming onto the market post-Covid, which not only leaves operators trying to distinguish the wheat from chaff but raises issues around the actual quality of some accreditations, some of which are self-assessments. The latter is akin to marking your own homework.

“There is no doubt that customers are savvier as a result of the pandemic”, says Deborah Heather, CEO of accreditation provider QIA Services, “but employers have to take their responsibilities to a whole different level. Third party, independent accreditation is a sure fire way of mitigating risk, but only when delivered by the right company with the right credentials and processes in place.”

10 ways STR can satisfy business travel’s Duty of Care requirements

Merilee Karr, Chair of the Short Term Accommodation Association (STAA) and CEO of UnderTheDoormat Group, says: “as our industry increasingly focuses on duty of care, it is opening up new commercial opportunities for our members.” 

“We created the industry platform, TrustedStays to help TMC’s and companies access our industry through a single connection and through their own systems with the landmark GDS connection we have built.  Skift estimates the opportunity is a $8billion market for our sector and we want to work with members to be prepared and access it at scale.”

To ensure your business can cater to this growing need, we’ve compiled some of the most important considerations when meeting your guests’ (and their employers) Duty of Care needs.

  1. Standards of cleanliness – health threats like norovirus and monkeypox demonstrate the need to retain enhanced, professional cleaning regimes introduced during Covid.
  2. Procedures for dealing with guests who fall ill – document and communicate to guests, including transport to designated healthcare facilities or hospitals.
  3. Real-time safety data – partner with safety measurement platforms to provide corporate clients and business guests the tools to select a safe and secure location.
  4. Make room amenities more low-touch – items like pens, notepads, and magazines aren’t always needed, and don’t have to be replaced.
  5. Provide amenities on demand – offer guests slippers, towels, and hand-sanitizers prior to check in, so that they can be delivered to the room fresh.
  6. Food & beverage – re-think buffet style meals, including breakfast and increase room service options, including mini-bars or, in the case of short term rentals, provide access to kitchen facilities so guests can meet both dietary requirements as well as reducing contact points.
  7. ESG strategy – provide detailed information to the TMC, or direct to the business traveller detailing your sustainability, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.
  8. Don’t take for granted that all staff will have the expected behaviour towards LGBT guests. Take steps to minimize the scope for a discriminating incident.
  9. Become accredited through a reputable third-party scheme with independent verification such as the STAA, Quality in Tourism Accreditation programme (add link to STAA website).
  10. Access business travel by signing up to the industry platform TrustedStays, whose GDS connectivity will put your business in front of TMC’s when you meet their duty of care requirements.

Summary

Covid-19 changed the world, so it’s more important than ever for the hospitality industry in general and the rising number of short term rental operators to get up to speed with the risks and need to up-grade their Duty of Care procedures towards to attract business travellers.

Focus on travellers’ mental and physical health has sharpened. Corporates are tracking how long travellers spend on planes, or days away from home in order to identify those most at risk of fatigue or stress. Not only is this the responsible thing for employers to do, but it is also an investment because poor wellbeing correlates with poor productivity.

By offering space to work safely, the ideal accommodation product for bleisure trips, the flexibility to tailor-make guest wellbeing, and by effectively communicating how each is delivered, short term rental operators can meet business travellers’ most pressing need and those that do, will attract business travel customers to their product as a result.

Become a member

The STAA offers membership for short-term rental hosts, short-term rental businesses, and companies supplying or assisting the short-term rental industry.

Members include:

See the full list here
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