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The Most Critical Element of a Modern Travel Risk Management Program in Higher Education

With Travel on the Rise, Risk Management is More Important Than Ever

The Truth

Student, faculty, and staff travel – both domestically and internationally – are on the rise. Whether it’s enrolling in a study abroad program, working on a research project, or attending a conference (in fact, I’m flying to Newark, NJ for this purpose right now), some of these constituents find their way to modern areas with excellent infrastructure, while others travel to emerging societies where infrastructure and access to emergency services are inadequate.

While the aforementioned travel purposes are a necessity within an institution’s mission, the administration has its hands full when it comes to protecting the traveler from health and security risk, dealing with duty of care expectations, understanding cross-border regulations, and managing reputational concerns.

Data is Most Critical

Like with many other actions we perform in our personal and professional lives, proper preparation is key, and it is no different with travel risk management. As the old adage goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know,” so how would an institution know how to prepare themselves and, most importantly, the traveler, if a trip went unnoticed or unreported?

Having visibility to this data (or lack thereof) in higher education is further exacerbated due to common “non-mandated” practices that are prevalent on campus. Until mandated (insert ‘gasp’ here) practices are adopted, institutions must remain diligent on keeping a record of the multiple systems and procedures [that track travel plans] that will flourish as a result of the non-mandate culture.

So, what are those systems and procedures that are commonly used? Let’s take a look:

Pre-Trip Registration

An online system that allows a constituent to submit the details of his/her upcoming travel plans. Sophisticated forms will incorporate approval workflows, particularly when the destination is considered to be high risk. Travel plans are stored in a database for future analysis, if needed. Some colleges have been successful in driving adoption to a centralized registration system by instituting policies such as making travel insurance available only if trips are registered prior to departure. Other colleges have instituted a registration system by department or college. Colleges have either built these systems themselves or have acquired commercially available applications, many of which are cloud-based.

Booking Through a Managed Travel Program

Many colleges work with travel agencies to fulfill and manage bookings for their constituents. Many colleges often have more than one – one agency for “typical” travel, another for specialty travel, e.g., athletics.

Self-Managed Bookings

Quite often seen in higher education is the act of travelers making and managing their own travel plans. The travel industry terms this as “leakage” in a managed travel program. There are numerous reasons why travelers prefer this approach but, nevertheless, this is an area that is of great concern to risk management departments, particularly if a solid pre-trip registration process is not in place.

Web Based Location “Check Ins”

By simply using a variety of mobile apps available in the marketplace, individuals can mark their locations. Apps use latitude/longitude coordinates of the device to plot the “Here I am” location.

Professional in a business suit traveling in an airport with luggage
University-Issued Credit Card Data

The travel security industry is experiencing a transformation wave to identify data sources that provide a more accurate, real-time location of individuals – without going so far as to asking the traveler to carry a tracking device (insert ‘gasp’ number 2). Many organizations have been using managed card program data to identify where their constituents may have been, albeit the data may be a few days old, depending on when a card transaction becomes visible to the administrator. Of course, the next evolution would be to capture swipe data in real time to get a very accurate picture of traveler locations.

Ride Share Data

Well known ride-share providers have mechanisms in place to provide ride data to an organization. Similar to the credit card data, ride data could provide more real time location data, effectively filling in the “cracks” between the typical air/car/hotel reservation information that have traditionally been used in travel safety programs.


Incidents occur in every corner of the world, possibly in or around one of your campuses or satellite locations. Because of laws such as the Clery Act, schools are taking a proactive approach to keeping people safe and reaching out to them, if necessary, when incidents occur in their neighborhoods. Having access to clean HR and SIS will allow the school to identify who is potentially in an impacted area (e.g., office or home address).


  • Establish a travel security committee. Typical members you see in this committee are travel managers, risk management department, provost of international affairs, study abroad director, human resource officers, communications directors, information technology. Though it is difficult to name someone a manager of this group, it is best to identify someone who will oversee the group and ensure open dialogue between these disparate teams.
  • Take an inventory of systems and procedures. How many of the above systems and procedures pertain to you? Who are the managers? How can you extract good information quickly so that you can respond to an incident? Remember, when an incident occurs, time is of the essence. The most critical time period after an incident is called the “golden hour.” This is the period where the impacted individuals need answers and guidance, and the institution needs to respond quickly, efficiently, and with utmost care for the individual.
  • Consolidate. Whether it is consolidating systems or finding ways to merge data across multiple systems into a single “pane of glass,” institutions need to have access to clean and accurate data, in an efficient manner, to act as the foundation of a comprehensive, competent, and caring duty of care program.

The notion of travel invokes different emotions – curiosity, excitement, wonder, to name a few.

Proper data and procedures in place will result in the traveler (and their friends and relatives) having the confidence they need to deter the other possible emotion – fear.

About the Author

Steve Lee is a Principal Solutions Consultant in the Higher Education practice at SAP Concur and is a client-facing subject matter expert in the area of employee safety and communications. Steve has a strong understanding of travel technologies and IT service management practices, which has served him well in providing expertise to the public and private sectors.


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