Expert Insights: Dr. Deb Mills – Travel Medicine Alliance
• Health and travel recovery time are unique to the individual, so allow additional nights for rest and body clock adjustment
• Consider a formal travel health assessment prior to departure
• Educating travellers on the importance of tracking, geo location and approved suppliers will ensure they see the value of travel programmes.
Travelling may be more complex in 2022, but it will likely be cleaner and safer than ever. The pandemic has changed the needs and necessities of how people travel, and the ability to incorporate key stakeholders such as human resources, risk management, legal, procurement and Travel Arrangers in travel policy evolution will be key to enabling a safe, confident and effective return to travel.
Corporate Travel Management (CTM) spoke with Dr. Deb Mills, the Medical Director of the Travel Medicine Alliance – a network of expert travel medicine doctors – to unearth the key traveller well-being considerations for both travellers and their employers in the year ahead.
Well-being and jetlag
“An individuals’ internal time clock (circadian rhythm), medical history, travel activities and how alert or creative they need to be during their travels is unique, so health routines and travel recovery times are equally unique to the individual” said Dr. Mills.
The body can adjust naturally to 1 to 1.5 changes in time zones per day, but symptoms can arise when travelling long-haul (6+ hours), crossing five or more time zones in one day. “The more time zones an individual crosses in a short period, the higher the likelihood of severe jet lag symptoms. Business travellers may need to account for a couple of extra nights’ sleep at the destination, and upon return, to allow for sufficient body clock adjustment to support well-being and ensure they are performing to their best potential,” Dr. Mills explains.
Last minute bookings
According to Dr. Mills, booking travel at the last minute is a common and often avoidable booking behaviour which can have significant implications on traveller well-being. A recent CTM booking trends analysis showed that the pandemic had influenced a 3-4% increase in last minute bookings (within 24 hours of departure) for domestic and international bookings during 2020 compared to pre-COVID travel activity in 2019. In the January to June 2021 period, advanced booking behaviours had begun returning towards pre-pandemic trends, a move which Dr. Mills says will support improved traveller health and well-being as business travellers increase their travel activity.
“Don’t book last minute if it can be avoided. Travellers need time to mentally prepare for travel and coordinate their personal lives, especially in a more complex travel environment. Last minute bookings can present adverse health risks, and in some cases will be more costly due to limited availability”, said Dr. Mills.
“The biggest concern I see as a medical professional would be people leaving at short notice and saying they don’t have sufficient time to prepare for their travel health. Most travel health preparations can be undertaken in advance, so that rapid deployment is safe when operationally required.”
On occasion businesses may have a requirement to relocate staff overseas or interstate for projects or contract-based work. CTM asked Dr. Mills what health considerations and preparations are required prior to departure and on arrival.
“Depending on the destination and duration of their trip, I recommend business travellers should have a formal travel health clearance assessment prior to departure so the company and the travel agent can document that their duty of care has been fulfilled. For relocations, this should include a complete medical examination as well as a vaccine and medication review. For short postings, a vaccine and medication review are usually sufficient”, explained Dr. Mills.
At the time of writing, wearing masks within airports and aircrafts in some countries is federally mandated to reduce the risk of infection. According to Dr. Mills “The use of ‘fashion masks’ – those that you might wear at home or in places where you can sufficiently social distance -are not best practice for travelling. The use of surgical masks for flying and in transit where social distancing is limited allows the traveller to more closely seal the mask to their face.
“Some authorities recommend people change their mask every 4 hours – this isn’t always practical but should be changed daily at a minimum. More frequently is advisable during long-haul flights and could be timed to coincide with meals and refreshments. My personal tip to everyone is to always tear the loops when you dispose of masks to reduce the risk of harm to wildlife in situations where they may become tangled.”
When considering preferred suppliers for travel programmes, focusing solely on the bottom line is no longer an adequate approach to procurement. In fact, CTM’s 2022 Business Travel Survey showed that the top priorities for travel programmes in 2022 were traveller risk, safety and well-being followed by cost savings and service.
Dr. Mills added “Travellers need to feel safe, sleep well, eat nutritious food, have space and opportunity to exercise, and a good desk to work at with natural light. Escaping air-conditioning and opting for fresh air ventilation is now of importance, with many travellers seeking accommodation that provides windows that open or balconies. Contactless express check-outs or anything that limits touching surfaces are also other service solutions to consider for your travellers.”
Traveller well-being extends past the implications of COVID-19 to areas such as travel policy compliance and risk management. When business travellers and Travel Arrangers step outside the approved realms of their travel policy, it can have risk implications for both the traveller and the business. Involving travellers and Travel Arrangers in the process of risk management planning and procurement, and educating them on the importance of tracking, geolocation and compliance to approved suppliers will ensure they see value in the travel programme and its broader role in traveller well-being.
This blog post is the third in a six-part series of excerpts from CTM’s eBook, ‘A Fresh View to Business Travel 2022’. You can download the full eBook here.