French terror app: a prod for business travel managers or a paranoid step too far?

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A new French mobile app alerts people to dangers in the vicinity and could be useful for business travellers, writes Andrew Hennigan

France’s Ministry of the Interior has launched a free IoS/Android mobile app that uses geolocation to alert people when there is a terror alert or other immediate threats like flooding, leaks of hazardous material or nuclear accidents in their vicinity. In addition to the location of their own device, users can view up to eight different postcodes so that can also monitor the safety of friends, relatives and colleagues.

Coined SAIP, from Système d’Alert et de Information des Popolations, the app also provides practical guidance for whatever situation is emerging. This kind of app is still extremely rare, though many governments already use existing alert systems such as SMS, or broadcast warnings via radio. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not every finds the idea reassuring and some argue that it can even lead to unnecessary paranoia.

Most likely use case

Having said that, a top priority for business travel managers is keeping travellers safe, so perhaps here they could find a use case.  Especially since in spite of recent terror attacks, business travellers continue to hit the road. A poll of US business travelers conducted by the Global Business Travel Association in December 2015 revealed that nearly three-quarters of US business travel buyers say that their company’s travel to Europe will remain largely unaffected by the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

According to the poll, a majority (57%) reported ‘no change’ and further 16% reported only slight reductions in their travel to Europe and just 10% said they would suspend travel temporarily.

In spite of this, business travel organisations like GBTA welcome the arrival of travel safety apps.

“Over the course of the past year duty of care has become the number one issue for our members,” says Shane Downey, GBTA’s Director of Public Policy. “Technology like this app that can provide this type of information gives business travelers another valuable tool to use on the road to ensure their safety.”

Though business travel is resilient, a head-in-sand approach isn’t wise. According to another study from Carlson Wagonlit Travel, travel managers surveyed by the company say that safety and security is by far the highest priority on their agenda for 2016, with 80% of respondents expecting it to have a high, or very high, impact on their travel programmes.

"Security and safety are, quite rightly, a main concern for travellers and travel managers,” says Kelly Kuhn, CWT President EMEA, who welcomes anything that can enhance traveller safety. And having clear, timely information certainly helps travellers and their travel managers make the right decisions.

Health concerns continue to be a threat for travellers too, with attention now focused on the risk of the Zika virus spreading following widespread travel to Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games. In this case, however, providing informed information to travellers on relevant channels from recognised bodies like the World Health Organization can help.

Embratur, the Brazilian tourist authority, recently did just this. It issued a statement confirming that there is no discussion of the possibility to postpone or cancel the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games based on the WHO statement. However, they are actively providing advice for travellers about how to minimise exposure to infected mosquitoes.

Warning systems always tend to focus on epidemics, terror attacks and disasters, but since the French app was launched most travel disruptions in France have been related to strikes and football violence.

 The SAIP app shows, however, how easily warnings can be integrated into today’s push notification lifestyle. While other nations might not rush to copy the idea it is more likely to inspire corporate travel companies to upgrade their own alert systems, addressing widespread concerns around the need to make business travel safer.

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