3 AUGUST 2015
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Mark has been Chief Executive of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) since September 2005. He is responsible for the strategy and direction of the Association. Before joining ABTA Mark held senior strategy and corporate finance positions in a number of industry sectors, and was Group Strategy Director of Centrica Plc, the parent company of British Gas and the Automobile Association.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has just released its Helping British Nationals Abroad report highlighting the important work overseas consular staff do in assisting British nationals. The figures are impressive, 470,000 enquiries handled, 17,000 British nationals who needed serious assistance and 38,000 emergency documents issued.
Amongst the serious cases were 3,670 deaths, 3,250 hospitalisations, 252 reported rape and sexual assault cases and 499 British nationals with mental health needs. Each one of these cases would have required and received sensitive and professional handling.
It is very important that business travel organisers know where to direct business travellers if they need consular assistance. Details of the nearest embassy or consulate will be given in the relevant travel advice on the FCO website, including telephone numbers. The most common need for this assistance is likely to be a lost or stolen passport. Helping to arrange an appointment with the relevant consular officials and if need be re-arranging flights, make business travel organisers an integral part of the process, getting your clients back to the UK with the minimum of delay.
ABTA and our Members also help the FCO in its work by emphasising the importance of taking out travel insurance, taking good care of your passport and checking FCO travel advice so that customers are aware of local laws and customs. Failure to do so can often result in very serious consequences. For example business travellers to the UAE should be made aware that it is illegal to drink, or be clearly under the influence of, alcohol in public. More surprisingly, swearing or making rude gestures can result in jail or deportation.
The other key role that TMCs can play in helping the FCO is by making customers aware of what the FCO cannot or will not do. For example a common misconception, is that the Foreign Office will help get UK citizens out of a foreign jail or pay their medical bills. This is not the case and it’s important that clients understand this and do everything they can to avoid getting into difficult situations in the first place.
Also the Foreign Office cannot provide financial assistance but will contact the UK on behalf of a business traveller or holidaymaker if necessary. So travel companies can provide an invaluable source of assistance in arranging for emergency funds to be wired over if required.
This summer ABTA will continue to highlight all of these points as well as the considerable risks of travelling uninsured through our work with the national media and the Government and will have resources for ABTA Members to share with their clients. Our aim in all of this will be to continue to build confidence in travel, which is more important than ever given the current uncertainty in many parts of the world. www.gov.uk/government/news/17000-british-nationals-abroad-supported-by-foreign-office-last-year
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