Skift Take

Relocation options are running out for businesses as Ukraine’s borders become overwhelmed by growing numbers of refugees. The impact of the war is now set to spread even further across Europe.

The corporate travel industry has now shifted its focus to Ukraine’s borders and neighboring countries. The humanitarian crisis has worsened, with an estimated 3.5 million refugees from Ukraine, and business travel and relocation experts have warned of new challenges as they continue to evacuate employees.

Corporate housing is experiencing a “crunch” with countries like Poland and Romania buckling under pressure but one immigration expert said Russians too, were also “desperate” to leave their country ahead of further sanctions.

“I’ve worked in travel management for 10 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Ben Sookia of Newland Chase. However Sookia, who is the company’s advisory manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the European Union had never been as flexible, with a simple process in place to help Ukrainains start a new life in member states, thanks to a temporary protection directive.

But speaking at the Global Business Travel Association’s “Travel Management in a Time of Crisis” webinar on Tuesday, he also warned companies needed to ensure their employees did not apply for refugee status, which can be time consuming and document heavy. And those leaving Ukraine should ensure they take key documents, including a passport, or work permit if a third national, and other forms of ID, including marriage certificate or driving licence.

Another relocation specialist is also continuing to help with evacuation efforts, and said there was now mounting pressure on Poland to accommodate people.

“They’re experiencing a big crunch on housing and corporate housing,” said Daniel Danko, director, global supplier partnerships, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Altair Global. The financial aspect was also a concern, he added, with some banks in neighboring countries unable to exchange Ukrainian currency. But more are now changing their policies, including removing ATM fees or scaling back the requirements for opening an account.

Danko, who was also speaking at the webinar, said Altair had already been operating in a “volatile environment” due to Covid, but the pandemic was the “number two issue” today for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

LauraJane Igoe of corporate housing provider Synergy added she was fielding three or four times more requests as a result of the conflict. “Poland has been the most challenging destination,” she said. “Immediate moves are challenging, but can be found. Our suppliers aren’t always able to hold options; be extremely quick.”

Prague, Berlin and Tel Aviv were also receiving more enquiries.

American Express Global Business Travel’s Holger Luikenga noted his colleagues in Ukraine were continuing to help clients. “There is the emotional aspect,” said the agency’s vice president, Traveler Care for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Don’t underestimate the emotional toll it takes, for you, and those who are supporting you. Support your teams. The longer it takes, the harder it will be.”

Altair Global’s Danko also urged businesses to ensure they had contacts at a local level in the destinations they operated. “Many clients got caught off guard. When you do continuity plans, you don’t plan for them to be stuck in a war,” he said. “Be familiar with local resources, see what’s out there. Focus on information.”

Further ahead, one speaker voiced his fears that Russian citizens could spark a new crisis.

“To be honest, I’m more concerned about Russia,” said Sookia, when asked what future challenges lay ahead.

“I imagine more countries will announce more visa restrictions, whether it’s high net worth investors, or work visas. We could get to the point where the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control adds Russia to its list, so U.S.-based companies would not be able to provide services or trade with a Russian business. That is something that is possible, but that could be hugely problematic for our industry. It’s something to be mindful of.”

A number of countries including Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Iceland and Lithuania have already suspended issuing short-stay and work visas to Russian citizens, based on his experience. Spain, which has stopped issuing investor-type permits to Russians, could be next, he added.

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Tags: american express global business travel, business travel, corporate housing, corporate travel, corporate travel management, european union, gbta, poland, prague, romania, russia, tel aviv, ukraine

Photo credit: An anti-war protest in Washington D.C. Gayatri Malhotra / Unsplash