Travel is exciting, even when it is for the purpose of business. There is hardly anybody who does not like to roam the world, but in reality, the experience is not always seamless. International and domestic travel come with a number of stringent rules and regulations, resulting in the need for travellers to carry appropriate documents with them. Though rules related to domestic travel are simple, the ones for international travel are complex and dynamic. This can be tricky for travel managers and travellers, as it requires them to validate and recheck document requirements every time, especially when the trip is planned in haste. Sometimes, mistakes can happen to even the most frequent travellers.
One such example comes to mind, cited by a colleague. He was travelling from India to Namibia for business via Dubai and Johannesburg. His travel agent booked tickets without realizing that for transiting Johannesburg, a transit visa was needed for an Indian passport holder. Airline personnel too missed checking for transit visa as he was checking-in from Delhi. However, in Dubai, he was stopped before boarding the flight to Johannesburg. The airline tried to re-route him via other points but couldn’t because he was not vaccinated for yellow fever as mandated for travel in certain African countries. Finally, the trip had to be abandoned. He returned to India after a gruelling eight hour wait at the Dubai airport. You may have had or heard about similar experiences and would agree that the loss of time and money as a result of not being aware of documentation/visa requirements is entirely avoidable.
In a recent survey conducted by Catalyca, it was found that a whopping 84% of business travelers out of 600 plus respondents wanted to have clear visibility into the sufficiency of their travel documents before embarking on a trip.
The list of important documents and artifacts typically required during travel goes like this.
- National IDs
- Travel Insurance Documents
- Flight/ Rail Tickets
- Hotel Reservation
- Credit/ Travel/ Forex Cards
- Vaccination & Other Medical Details
- Driving Licenses
An IATA analysis of 2016 says that 60,000 travelers are turned back at destinations or transfer points by immigration authorities each year. This cost the world’s airlines a substantial amount of money in fines and associated expenses. At an average of $3,500 per passenger, these fines are colossal. Airlines have to fly the traveller back to their country of origin at their own expense, occupying the seat on a fight that they could have otherwise sold to a revenue generating passenger.
It’s not just the airlines, travellers too end up paying a large price for such mistakes. These breaches, when they occur, could end up being costly for future travels of the traveller. Visa denials to the same destination in future is such a possibility. Hence, it is in the best interest of travellers to verify their documents before commencing a trip.
How can businesses ensure effective document verification for its busy employees?
The traditional method has been to trust the expertise of the travel agent. But as we have seen in the quoted story, this is not always effective.
One way to save the day is to have a smart booking tool fortified with features for identifying travel document requirements of the traveller. The tool can throw up a checklist for the travel and examine available travel documents to flag any risks related to the proposed travel. The challenge with this approach is the required knowledge of applicable rules and regulations. This information is so scattered across multiple sources such as various government repositories that creating a consolidated view is extremely difficult.
Are there any such consolidated sources? The answer is yes. IATA’s TIMATIC database allows travelers to check the document requirements for different global destinations. TravelDoc is another such tool. These tools are used by airlines and travel agents across the world. Considering today’s connected environment and the personal stakes of the traveller in case of a breach, it is time to provide these services direct to the traveller.
A smart corporate travel booking tool should have the provision to validate the existence of all mandatory documents for business travel, flag associated risks, issue applicable reminders and alerts so as to ensure that the traveller and the travel manager are aware of the compliance at all times. Today the cost of integration with such tools can be quite high, making it a challenging proposition for smaller organizations without necessary resources. Models of collective bargaining needs to evolve to make such integrations a reality.
The primary goal of a corporate booking tool is to simplify the travel booking process end to end. When this simplification encompasses even pre-trip checklists such as travel documents, it creates a smooth and seamless path for travelers, making travel happier, assured and all the more exciting.