Because they want to avoid exposing their employees to the H1N1 swine flu virus through sneezes and handshakes, 37 percent of companies worldwide are either canceling meetings or restricting travelers from attending them, according to an initial survey of corporate travel managers by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE).
Meetings aside, companies say they are prepared for the possibility of a pandemic and are not canceling business travel plans, except to Mexico.
"This initial survey of global business travel managers indicates that levels of corporate preparedness are quite high going into this crisis, with a majority of companies showing confidence in their contagion and pandemic plans," ACTE Executive Director Susan Gurley said in a statement. "Actually, preparedness levels are much higher than they were at the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome—SARS—in 2003. At that time, companies had to gear up for a potential pandemic. They have now had six years to build upon their contagion and pandemic plans and to perfect their implementation. This is a contributing factor to the lack of panic now."
According to the ACTE survey, 62 percent of companies currently have a pandemic emergency plan that "covers the evacuation or hospitalization of infected travelers in a foreign country facing an outbreak of contagion." Meanwhile, 73 percent of companies have a plan that allows "the majority of employees to work from home or a remote location in the event of a pandemic."
"There was concern these might be the same contingency plans developed six years ago," Gurley said, "but the survey clearly indicates that this is not the case."
In fact, 58 percent of ACTE survey respondents said their companies have been upgrading their pandemic plans on a regular basis since SARS, while 68 percent have been advising employees and travelers of plan upgrades every three months. Furthermore, 24 percent of companies said they remind travelers of their contagion program prior to every trip they take.
Because they feel adequately prepared for a pandemic, few companies are canceling business travel plans apart from meetings, according to ACTE, which said 47 percent of companies have restricted travel—but only to Mexico. Only 3 percent of companies said they are restricting travel to the United States and Mexico, and only 1 percent to the United States exclusively.
"This is an evolving crisis that will be determined by government efforts to contain, cure and control the H1N1 swine influenza," Gurley said, "as well as the ongoing impact on the business travel industry and the global economy."