Travel agencies

Corporate travel agencies scramble with 11 a.m. evacuations over war in Ukraine

Skift grip

Global travel management companies are facing new travel restrictions that include closed combat zones and airports as they organize emergency evacuations in Ukraine and beyond.

Matthew Parson

Few travel management companies could have foreseen that they would be coordinating emergency repatriations so soon after carrying out countless evacuations at the start of the pandemic. But now several are planning operations to help companies and governments move their staff out of Ukraine and Russia.

The main challenge is the brutality of the invasion. The international security firm Global Guardian, for example, said on February 24, the day the war began, that a full-scale invasion was unlikely.

In his threat assessment, he said there was a “15%” chance Russia would invade all of Ukraine moving west of the Dnieper River. “(That) remains unlikely due to the unified US and EU reaction against the Russian economy,” he said.

On Friday, the security firm, which works with international consulting firms, financial firms, technology companies and construction companies in Ukraine, added that it had evacuated 4,000 people so far. “It’s the majority, but there are still people they’re trying to get out,” a spokesperson said.

No travel guarantee

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, American Express Global Business Travel was preparing a business continuity plan in anticipation of the non-operationality of its Ukrainian partner.

“Unfortunately, our colleagues in the country were forced to close their doors in the aftermath of the first attacks,” a spokesperson said. “Our travel advisors across Europe, along with our partners in Bulgaria and Romania, responded and worked around the clock to repatriate hundreds of travelers, including many of our clients’ employees and their families.”

Amex GBT said the situation on the ground in Ukraine was dire as transportation and accommodation became virtually inaccessible from outside the country within 24 hours of advancing Russian troops. “There are trains, but they are unpredictable and there is no guarantee that you will board. You might be able to get a car, but the heavy traffic means a five-hour journey can take three days while fuel is scarce,” he said.

As part of its business continuity plan, Amex GBT conducts three calls per day to assess developments, anticipate issues and plan scenarios. He also helped people evacuate from Russia.

BCD Travel, meanwhile, said it has spent the past few weeks preparing for larger-scale evacuations.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by Russia’s attack on Ukraine,” a spokesperson said. “For clients with a significant presence in Ukraine and neighboring countries, we have worked closely with them and their specialist security providers over the past few weeks to advise and support individual and larger-scale evacuation discussions.”

As of Friday, its Travel Alert notification systems had issued 50 alerts on developments that affected travel, from embassy closures and flight suspensions to the closure of European Union territories for Russian airlines.

Other agencies, including CWT and Corporate Travel Management, were also focusing their resources on ensuring clients’ employees could move quickly to safety when needed.

“We have helped a small number of corporate clients to transfer staff to other countries in the European Union (and hotels in Poland, Hungary, etc.) and the UK,” said a porter. word of CTM. However, the agency, which works with the UK government, said it was unable to comment on its efforts with individual government departments.

The repatriations come as business travel buyers remain divided over their own dealings over the war, following a series of sanctions now imposed on Russia and Russian businesses.

Of 100 travel buyers surveyed, 14% said they had reviewed the situation and decided not to take action on their business travel program, while 43% said they had not yet considered the situation.

However, 15% of respondents to the survey, conducted by Goldspring Consulting on March 3, said they would cut contracts with Russian suppliers, such as Aeroflot and S7, while 29% said they would deprioritize or would remove options for Russian suppliers from their business. travel booking tool.

“The face and current construction of Europe will be forever changed, regardless of what happens next – the status quo is changing before our eyes,” said Dale Buckner, CEO of Global Guardian. “We remain in a very delicate and uncertain period with Russia and Ukraine.”