Duty of Care: Shared Responsibility
Government and industry attendees were on hand to meet, learn, and collaborate on common travel issues during the 2020 NDTA-DTMO GovTravels Symposium. One Travel Academy course that explored a truly universal subject was Duty of Care: Shared Responsibility. The class provided practical advice for protecting the safety and security of individuals on business travel.
The course moderator was Bryan Scott, Assistant Vice President of Federal Government Business, Enterprise Holdings. Panelists included Melody Haislip, Vice President of National Sales, Island Hospitality; Lori Leffler, Chief, Travel Programs Branch Travel Programs and Service Division, Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO); Beth Schoeller, National Account Manager, Government, Avis Budget Group; and Hilary Sullivan, Senior Government Sales Manager, Hilton Alexandria Mark Center.
Mr. Scott set the tone by sharing two separate stories in which he and another co-worker had faced emergencies while on travel. He also addressed the increased risk faced by women on travel, stating that “71 percent of women feel they face greater risk than their male counterparts when they travel, “ and that “80 percent of women say that in the past year safety concerns have impacted their productivity while on business travel.”
Selecting a Hotel
Hotel safety truly begins when you are selecting where to stay. The website www.neighborhoodscout.com/ is one tool that provides information such as crime statistics that travelers can use to see if the area around their hotel is safe.
Ms. Leffler explained that for Department of Defense (DOD) travelers, your travel program has already done this work for you. Hotels approved for DOD travelers are Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved. In addition, a list of these hotels is shared with the Anti-Terrorism Task Force and with Force Protection, which goes out to local law enforcement whose knowledge of the local area allows them to provide feedback on potential security concerns.
Hotels should preferably have security cameras in all parking lots. If you arrive and feel uncomfortable parking in the hotel’s parking garage, consider using valet. If you do self-park, don’t be afraid to ask security to walk you to your car—it’s a common request and they will be happy to oblige.
Ms. Haislip recommended making sure that hotels have keyed entrances in front and back that lock at night. Also, check to see if a key is required to access the hotel gym. Find out if keys expire for the exterior doors and gym when someone checks out. Controlling access can be difficult, but it is a critical component for hotels to keep travelers safe.
Access control also applies to your room. At any time, if there is a knock at your door, call the front desk. Use your peephole and the double lock. Some travelers travel with door stops as an added layer of protection.
When checking in, avoid ground floor rooms. Some hotels, such as Hilton, have a digital key that allows travelers to select their room and bypass the front desk altogether. If your hotel doesn’t offer such a service, avoiding late-night check-ins is good practice both for general safety and so you will still have room choices available. If a late arrival can’t be avoided, call your hotel to let them know you are coming and ask them to protect a room for you.
When you go to the front desk if your room number is said out loud, you may want to get a different room. Ask for two keys and talk using “we” pronouns, so people will not know you are traveling alone. While you are there, grab a hotel business card so you can keep the hotel address and phone number with you as you travel.
Go to a different floor or go back to the lobby if someone makes you feel uncomfortable in the elevator. Just like in the parking garage, ask for someone to walk you to your room if it will help you feel more secure. From the hoteliers’ perspective, Ms. Sullivan emphasized that they want to do these things to help you feel safe. Upon arrival in your room, if there is anything there that makes you feel uneasy, contact the front desk to see if you can change rooms.
Ordering room service is a convenient way to get your meals while traveling. When you order your food, ask the name of the person who will be delivering it to your room. Before you open the door, check to see that the name matches and don’t let them in if it does not.
Many travelers can relate to instances in which a restaurant flyer was left under the door of their hotel room. Ms. Leffler recommended exercising extreme caution with these menus. They are often not approved by the hotel and there have been many instances of their nefarious use—to commit credit card fraud when you give them your payment over the phone or forced entry when you open your door for your “order.” If you do want to use the flyer, ask the hotel first. Also, avoid having delivery people come to your room, meeting them in the lobby is a safer alternative.
CAR RENTAL & RIDESHARING
Getting Your Car
Becoming a member of rental car companies’ counter-bypass programs does more than simply allow you to skip the rental counter. As Ms. Schoeller revealed, these cars are often situated closest to where you walk out. This area tends to have good lighting, as well as car rental staff and other foot traffic around, making it a safer place to get yourself situated.
Travelers spend a very limited amount of time in the rental car facility. But, the panel recommended spending an extra five minutes to walk around the car to check the tires, adjust your mirrors, and become familiar with how to turn on the car’s lights, turn signals, windshield wipers, and other features designed to keep you safe.
Before leaving the parking lot, sync your phone and plug your destination to your GPS. Preview your route to avoid getting lost. And take a quick picture of your key tag or rental info so you will have that information with you for the duration of your trip. You may need it—some hotels ask for this information upon check-in, or it may be needed in the event of an accident or if the car is towed.
Cars are becoming increasingly more connected. This benefits car rental companies by making it easier to monitor cars for maintenance and provides the ability to track vehicles if necessary.
For the traveler, a connected car allows you to use your phone hands-free to eliminate being distracted by it. Some rental car apps even allow you to lock and unlock your car.
Returning Your Car
When planning for your trip, take into account returning your car. While prefilled gas is more expensive, it can sometimes be a better alternative than having to stop to fill up gas in an unfamiliar area. Mr. Scott and Ms. Schoeller explained the higher price of the prefilled gas is a function of the added airport, storage, and other fees rental car companies incur at airport locations.
Pay attention to the rental facility’s hours. Neighborhood locations may close earlier than those at airports. If you do return your car to a neighborhood location, make sure to park in the designated area for rental car return, which is usually better lit, has employees nearby, and is close to the return counter.
Before you depart the car, take care to delete your phone’s information from the car. While employees who clean cars do this, doing it yourself provides additional peace of mind that your data is not stored or accessible by the next renter.
Ridesharing options like Uber and Lyft provide another means for travelers to get around their destinations. When meeting a ride, check to make sure the car and license plate match the information in your app. Ask the driver who they are there to pick up, without giving your name, as a means of double-checking it is the correct car.
Map your ride to see that your trip remains on course. Make a call during the ride to tell someone where you are heading and make it seem like you are meeting someone at your destination.
Booking & Seat Selection
Book direct flights when possible. When selecting a seat, the safest options are emergency exit rows or in the back of the plane on the aisle. When you sit down, count the number of rows to the emergency exits in front of and behind you. In addition, make sure to keep your phone charged for a flight—even if you know the number of rows to the exits, you may need the phone’s flashlight in the event of an emergency.
In the Airport
As you pass through airport security, your laptop is often the most expensive item with you. Put it through the X-ray last so it will be coming out just as you arrive at the end of the belt.
Avoid becoming over-familiar with people at the airport or on your flight. While most people’s intentions are good, someone who is asking too many personal questions or wants you to watch their belongings while they go to the restroom could have ulterior motives.
Just as you don’t want to give your personal information to someone you just met at the airport, don’t allow your luggage tag to do that either. A luggage tag can contain a lot of personal information. Put it into your tag holder backward, so your information isn’t facing out. Or put identifying markers on your bag and keep your personal information on the inside only. Should your bag become lost, airline personnel will open your bag to verify it is yours and will see the information.
While it’s important to dress for comfort while traveling, it’s just as important to dress for a possible emergency. Avoid shorts, skirts, and dresses, which could prove dangerous should you need to go down an airplane’s emergency exit slide.
GENERAL SAFETY TIPS
Exercising situational awareness is paramount to travelers’ safety. When you travel, stay off your phone and pay attention to who and what’s around you. Walk with a purpose to avoid looking like a target. Most importantly—trust your gut.
If you are traveling overseas, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service for US citizens and nationals who are traveling or living abroad. STEP allows you to enter information about trips abroad so that the Department of State, via US embassies and consulates, can better assist you in an emergency. You can also subscribe to receive email updates with travel advisories and other information for a particular country. Visit https://step.state.gov/step/ to enroll or find more information.
DOD travelers who have security questions or concerns while on travel, should not hesitate to contact their security office. These are the people trained to respond to such issues.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Panel members encouraged travel managers to work with DTMO and their Travel Management Companies to request traveler safety information in order to make it readily available for their travelers. Commerical travel managers should consider creating a travelers’ tip guide for their organizations’ travelers if they do not already have one. Travelers should also take the initiative to ask for this information.
However, even when information is accessible, people do not always read it—and that’s where training can come into play. DOD has regular annual training, OPSEC, which includes a travel component. Personnel traveling outside of the continental United States are also required to take special overseas travel training.
While a traveler is but one person, the panel members made it clear that the effort to keep that one person safe and secure is a responsibility shared by many.