As business travel booms, companies are focused on their obligations to provide cost-effective health and safety support for their organizational travelers. Accidents, illnesses, and safety concerns can happen, and creative turnkey solutions are helping firms of all sizes cover an ever-increasing number of trips for work, pleasure, and those that combine the two.
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Among the hottest topics in corporate travel these days is the concept of duty of care. While the general idea — that companies have an obligation to protect their employees when requiring them to travel — has been around for years, discussion of what duty of care means is heating up lately. That’s thanks in part to sheer numbers: More than 93 million Americans traveled abroad in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. And more than $1.3 trillion was spent on business travel in 2017, according to the Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA). “On average we expect global business travel to expand by 5.2 percent [through 2022],” according to the organization’s latest Business Travel Outlook forecast. That’s “significantly higher than the 4.2 percent average annual growth rate” seen from 2012 to 2016, GBTA wrote.
While there’s no impending duty of care legislation in the U.S. (like you’ll find in the European Union) with one in 30 trips abroad ending in a medical emergency and security a growing concern, focus on the topic does seem to be heightened. And those in the insurance and risk management sectors of the travel industry are thinking about what comes next.
“Our definition of duty of care is a company’s moral and legal obligation to provide a safe environment and crisis solutions for its employees when they are traveling for business reasons,” said Bill Miller, a spokesman for Medjet, the air medical transport and travel security membership program. A Medjet membership, he said, “is not travel insurance, and it’s not business travel accident coverage — it fills the gap in coverage most of those policies leave.”
With traditional medical insurance coverage, employees may be covered for the actual medical procedures they receive. If a medical evacuation is required, coverage may get the employee to the “nearest acceptable facility,” but that’s not necessarily all the way home — and “acceptable” is determined by the insurance carrier, not the employee. “That’s where duty of care can get sticky,” Miller said, “and getting an employee home outside of coverage can cost between $30,000 and $180,000.” Medjet coverage, by contrast, offers air medical transportation to a member’s home-country hospital of choice, regardless of medical necessity.
“We don’t replace your coverage, we elevate it. If travel insurance is the cake, we’re the icing,” Miller said. “And, well, a lot of people expect the icing.”
The company offers two organizational solutions. Corporate Funded programs involve the company paying for the memberships of enrolled employees. Organizational Opt-In programs, by contrast, allow companies, affinity groups like AARP, or wealth management firms (via client-perks programs) to extend preferential group rates to employees or members for voluntary self-enrollment. Either can be added to existing coverage that enterprises extend to their employees with the option to include family members.
“While large conglomerates can sometimes leverage more robust coverage out of their carrier, or have deep enough cash reserves to cover medical transports out-of-pocket, most businesses can’t,” said Mike Hallman, the CEO of Medjet. “We provide an elevated duty of care solution that any size enterprise can afford. This is why we consistently see double-digit growth in our business-to-business channels, including corporate, organizational, and travel consortia accounts, as well as our direct-to-consumer channels.”
The Power of Medjet Coverage in Practice
Here’s one example of how companies are covering their employees: “My law firm has long made Medjet’s services available to its employees and their families,” said one New York City–based lawyer, in an interview with SkiftX. (Because of his law firm’s policy, he was unable to speak for attribution.) “My wife and I have been Medjet members for over 10 years. We travel a lot, for both business and personal reasons, and I cannot imagine traveling without it. Thankfully we never actually needed it — until last month when my wife was injured while traveling in Europe.”
The attorney, who was not traveling with his wife and thus was unable to immediately assist her, said that Medjet representatives “sprang into action,” despite the fact that the injury occurred over a weekend. “By Monday morning,” he added, “my wife was being wheeled out of a foreign hospital onto a Learjet air ambulance, and we were on our way to our hospital at home for successful treatment.” The whole interaction was 100 percent covered by the membership and, as is customary with Medjet, didn’t require any claims forms or other paperwork. It was, simply, handled.
That simplicity has made Medjet appealing for consumer travel advisors in addition to corporate travel managers. Among the travel agency consortia that endorse Medjet are Virtuoso and Signature Travel Network. Both organizations have thousands of advisors, many of whom are increasingly concerned about their own responsibilities toward protecting their clients.
“We define duty of care as a company’s responsibility for the wellbeing of its employees while they are traveling, both from a moral and legal perspective,” said Steve Wooster, Virtuoso’s managing director, services and air operations. “We take a more layered approach that’s comprehensive, consistent, and proactive, protecting anyone associated with the network including our employees, contractors, clients, and families — as well as our own organization.” To that end, Virtuoso advisors often recommend Medjet coverage, Wooster said, because “having the peace of mind that it brings is meaningful.”
For front-line travel advisors affiliated with Signature, like Julia Pirrung, president of Jetset World Travel in Chicago, Medjet has become an indispensable add-on, particularly for clients going further afield. “I love Medjet because it’s an annual membership, unlike traditional travel insurance that covers a particular trip,” Pirrung said. She even uses it for her own travels: “Thankfully I have never had to use Medjet’s services, but I sleep better at night knowing I have protection in place.”
Negotiating the Rise of Bleisure in an Uncertain World
Along with proper crisis response protections for business travel, combining business and leisure travel is another major industry trend that is similarly driving the wider adoption of plans outside the traditional scope of travel insurance. Today about half of all business trips, according to one 2018 study, are now a mix of business and leisure. In fact, “nearly half [of respondents] said visiting a distant destination made it more likely for them to turn a business trip into a bleisure trip,” according to the same study.
This can leave travel advisors, corporate travel managers, and businesses stuck in a duty of care gray area, wondering where a work trip (and business travel coverage) ends and a personal vacation begins. “We’ve seen it all in both business and leisure travels: broken legs, backs, necks, strokes, heart attacks, aneurysms, food poisoning, intentional poisonings,” said John Gobbels, Medjet’s vice president and chief operating officer.
“With Medjet, one membership covers both work and leisure travel,” Gobbels said. “You’re just covered.”
That turnkey solution to risk management has also spurred interest in Medjet’s newer security memberships. “Our medical transport membership, MedjetAssist, is our most popular product, but our fastest growing membership is MedjetHorizon, which combines the air medical transport benefits with 24/7 crisis response for a wide range of security issues,” said Hallman, Medjet’s CEO.
Like the company’s medical evacuation service, this membership comes with on-demand access to a 24/7 crisis monitoring center that offers advice and coordinated response to situations including violent crime, natural disasters, terrorism, and other threats.
For TheBridgeCo, an advertising and branding firm, having a Medjet membership was the make or break difference during a recent on-location film production featuring “thousands of all-volunteer musicians” as well as a concert featuring some major recording artists in Seoul, South Korea, said founder Michael Jurkovac. During the project, the company relied on MedjetHorizon’s security benefits to ensure their set and key personnel were secure, despite tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“On the first day of our shoot, the ‘little rocket man’ launched a missile,” Jurkovac said, referring to an August 2017 missile launch from North Korea over Japan, one of many missile tests underway in the region that year. The escalation made a number of his crew nervous, Jurkovac said. “So I called Medjet and said, does membership cover the circumstances we’re in right now? And if something were to happen, can you get us out?” he recalled. It did — and Medjet could. “That gave me and my crew a sense of faith and trust in the situation that was pretty nerve-racking for us the whole time we were there,” Jurkovac added.
“I felt good not only as the director and part of the crew but as the business owner that Medjet had our backs,” he said. “And fortunately for everyone, the concert went on, the show went on, and Gwen Stefani nailed it.”
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Photo credit: Certain risk-management policies can cover travelers no matter the purpose of their trips. Getty Images/AzmanL / Medjet