Study Shows ROI On Travel Illness Prevention Programs

By | July 24, 2015

When moral or legal obligations aren’t enough, proving the ROI of risk management isn’t easy. A new study offers travel pros some data to make the case for a “return on prevention.” The research finds that measures like pre-travel medical checks and malaria prevention pay back.

Belgium-based research and consulting firm Prevent in January released the study, sponsored by the International SOS Foundation. The foundation is a “fully independent, non-profit” charity founded by International SOS. Examining a large oil and gas company’s programs, Prevent found that every dollar invested in pre-travel medical checks returned at least $1.60. A dollar invested in malaria prevention returned $1.32.

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These savings represent cost avoidance for medical treatment and evacuations, as well as salary, administrative and productivity costs associated with lost opportunities.

“The conversation around travel risk tends to be headline-driven,” said International SOS executive vice president Tim Daniel. “Planes getting shot out of the sky are newsworthy but not easy to prevent. There should be a shift to things that are perhaps more mundane but may have a better ROI. When you look at how many people really do get killed by terrorists, it’s a lot fewer than car accidents and malaria.”

A recent BCD Travel report on risk management echoed these sentiments.

“Despite better awareness, travel risk management is still seen as something more relevant for programs characterized by frequent trips to high-security-risk destinations rather than an approach that should be applied to all types of trips,” according to BCD. “They also understand the need for good health and safety in the permanent workplace. However, they don’t always connect the dots to appreciate the much greater health and safety risks for employees on the move.”

Depending on where and when they’re traveling, employees risk exposure to “infectious diseases, extreme climates, unsafe or poor quality food and water and sexually transmitted infections/diseases,” the Prevent research noted. “A number of these environment-specific risks can exacerbate low-grade medical problems, which would otherwise not be a problem in developed areas.”

Circumstances sometimes warrant costly evacuations.

“Besides the cost of medical care, cost of repatriation, and cost of relocation, the evacuation means the failure of the assignment for the worker and the loss of the investments engaged in it by the company,” according to Prevent. “As the cost-benefit analysis is based on a business case, only tangible costs for the company are taken into account. Costs for the individual and the society in general such as pain and suffering, loss of production in case of premature death and cost to the social security system are not considered. However, it must be kept in mind that the suffering and death of an employee also has intangible costs for a business in terms of internal and public image.”

The studied energy corporation employed about 120,000 people working in roughly 85 countries. Fifteen thousand of the firm’s employees were either expats or frequent travelers. The company’s highest-risk destination “is Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by North Africa, Russia and Caspian area, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and parts of South America (Amazon basin). But it should be noted that in a very developed country such as the United States or Australia, very remote operations are conducted far away from any type of medical infrastructure.”

After the company more than a decade ago suffered a series of malaria-related fatalities, it employed fitness-to-work and malaria prevention programs. Employees receive education, medication, a curative kit, mosquito nets, insecticide sprays and repellents. Researchers estimated that this reduced malaria-related deaths by 70 percent.

“These are not cheap programs to implement,” said Daniel. “There’s management time but also the time of the employee doing the screening process and third parties that may need to be paid.

“On their own, it’s difficult for travel managers to move these conversations forward,” he added. “So if you want to tackle something like a fit traveler screening program, you probably need to work with other departments. The study provides the business underpinning that lets a manager go to colleagues to show there’s an ROI and this isn’t something the industry is making up.”

Because travel patterns and volumes vary, Daniel said he’s encouraging corporate professionals to apply the study’s methodology to their own organizations.

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