Why companies need to do more to keep women safe on business travel trips

A global survey of business travelers revealed that over seven in 10 women say they feel less safe when traveling for work than men.

Conducted in early 2023, the survey commissioned by World Travel Protection found that women travelers are more likely to take measures to protect their safety during a business trip than men. 

More than one in 10 female business travelers (12%) in the survey said they have experienced a negative incident, ranging from minor theft to assault, when traveling.

The large and growing presence of female travelers – comprising over 40% of all business travelers, some estimates say – is just one indication that a shift in priorities, policies, and protocols across the travel and tourism industry is becoming mandatory, not optional.

An internet search for “female business travelers” brings up article after article on safety of women employees while traveling – ranging from expression of women-centric concerns to tips for the female traveler. 

But research published in 2018 by Global Business Travel Association, in cooperation with WWStay, showed only 18% of corporate travel policies then specifically addressed the safety needs of female business travelers, even when it came to simple matters such as booking rooms in properties with dead bolts or 24-hour security, or using registered chauffeured ground transportation, particularly in foreign markets. 

Indications are that many corporate travel policies still don’t adequately cover the safety and security of female business travelers. The 2023 survey by World Travel Protection found 19% of female business travelers feel it’s the responsibility of their organization to act with women’s safety in mind when they are traveling alone and should take specific steps, like ensuring flights do not arrive late at night. 

Despite the large number of women business travelers, their individual needs are not fully recognized by the industries that serve them. Many employers need to provide more guidance and resources to help women minimize their risks.

The number one thing companies can do is to provide accurate, up-to-date intel so that women can make the decisions that are right for them. This includes data around neighborhoods where crime or sexual assault are high, advice regarding the safety of transportation options, details on local customs so that it’s easier to blend in, and other safety intel from trusted sources.

Three precautions all female travelers should take

There are many things women traveling for business can do to better protect themselves. Here are three precautions all female travelers should take.

1) Be street smart

If you need to use your mobile phone in public, stand still with your back to a wall or window, since walking and talking will limit your awareness and make you an easier target. Keep your head up while walking, never look lost, and don’t walk alone or visit an ATM at night.

2) Take precautions with cyber and social safety

Travel with clean digital devices that have limited banking information and that don’t have sensitive data, personal photographs or compromising information. Always be aware of potential avenues for cyber attacks, such as using the free Wi-Fi in public locations. Also avoid posting information about upcoming travel dates, and don’t publish your whereabouts in real-time online. 

3) Stay a step ahead

When choosing accommodations, staying in a well-known and reputable hotel is generally safer than using unknown hotels. Some hotels offer women-only floors, so don’t hesitate to ask before you book if that’s a personal preference. Also consider booking your flight arrivals for daylight hours so you avoid arriving after dark, especially for international arrivals.

Five ways companies need to refine travel policy and procedures for bleisure

An additional factor that comes into play when making business travel safe for women is the trend of mixing a personal vacation with a business trip, known as ‘bleisure’.

The global bleisure travel industry, estimated at $315.3 billion in 2022, is projected to hit over $731 billion by 2032. Blending work travel with leisure can be a nice option for working women. Bleisure helps employees not only save on vacation costs but creates better work-life balance for them. For employers, bleisure can result in a more engaged, productive, and loyal workforce. 

Establishing well-defined travel policies is the foundation for ensuring employee safety during bleisure trips. Travel policy and procedures for bleisure should include the following five considerations.

1) Eligibility and restrictions

Define the criteria for employees to be eligible for bleisure travel. Define any restrictions, such as limitations on the duration of leisure activities, the types of activities allowed, or specific destinations where bleisure is not permitted due to safety concerns.

2) Pre-travel risk assessment process

It is vital for companies to conduct thorough research prior to travel, particularly when evaluating the suitability of a location for bleisure travel. Sharing information with employees regarding factors such as political stability, healthcare infrastructure, and crime rates empowers them to make informed decisions about their safety and well-being.

3) Safety and security guidelines

Develop safety and security guidelines specific to bleisure travel. This should include information on assessing the safety of leisure activities and guidelines for avoiding risky situations. Encourage employees to prioritize their safety and provide emergency contact and incident response procedures.

4) Partnerships and vendors

Companies should build partnerships with vendors to optimize costs while enhancing the overall travel experience for employees. These can include hotels or serviced apartment providers that offer competitive rates for extended stays.

5) Expense and allocation policies

Develop transparent limits, guidelines, and policies regarding how expenses will be allocated between the employee and the employer. For example, specify which portion of the transportation and accommodation cost will be borne by the employee. Clearly communicate the guidelines to avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings.

Women face more travel safety risks compared to their male counterparts. Companies therefore need to place top priority on ensuring their corporate travel policies address their female travelers’ concerns and mitigate risks. 

Anuja Agrawal is the co-author of Check-Up, Check-In: Why BusinessTravel Strategies Should Prioritize Employee Health And Wellness. Agrawal is also the founder/CEO of Health Flights Solutions, which has developed the leading technology platform for medical travel.

Agrawal has held senior executive positions with Fortune 500 companies leading divisions, defining strategic direction, managing acquisitions, and enabling strategic growth. She is an innovator, entrepreneur, and recognized leader in the IT, business travel, and medical and wellness travel industries and an expert on the administration of medical and wellness travel for governments, regions, self-insured employers, insurance companies, and more.

Mary Miller Sallah is co-author of Check-Up, Check-In: Why Business Travel Strategies Should Prioritize Employee Health And Wellness. Miller Sallah is an advocate, serial entrepreneur and operational leader in health system transformation in developing markets. She has spent the past 15 years building boots-on-the-ground healthcare management and travel experience in multiple countries.

Miller Sallah is an expert on market navigation and outsourced staffing solutions for the health and tourism sectors across the Caribbean region. She provides thought leadership about health services trade across developing markets and regions globally.