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Study reveals alarming levels of air pollution in half of the 100 most visited business travel cities


UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS – A new study by leading travel management company BCD Travel shows that half of the most visited business travel destinations worldwide have dangerous levels of air pollution. At a regional level, only North America and Southwest Pacific can be considered relatively safe. All other regions have cities with air pollution levels ranging from moderate (Europe) to hazardous (Asia) or extremely hazardous (Middle East).
BCD Travel initiated the report, part of its Inform series, to warn travel managers about the risks of air pollution to their business travelers. The travel management company advises them to include the issue of air quality in their travel risk management programs.
BCD Travel’s report on air quality matches World Health Organization (WHO) data about air quality with its own data, mapping the 100 most popular business travel destinations worldwide. The results of the study are cause for concern. With only 10% of the world’s population breathing “clean air,” the chance of a business traveler being exposed to air pollution is very high.
Among the top 10 most-visited destinations worldwide – mostly located in North America and Europe – only three cities have clean air: San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia; six cities have moderate air pollution, of which Berlin has the highest. Shanghai, the only Asian city in the top 10, has a hazardous level of air pollution with possible severe health consequences.
Short-term exposure to high air pollution levels can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, according to the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. And these negative health effects have economic consequences as well. Worldwide, the costs amount to almost $6 trillion every year.
Companies have a duty of care for their travelers. With travel managers’ increased focus on traveler wellness and their legal responsibilities, BCD Travel recommends that travel risk management programs include air quality guidelines. By doing so, they can help improve travelers’ health and wellbeing. To support travel managers in tackling the air pollution topic, BCD Travel’s air quality report shares:
  • A global overview of the air quality in the top 100 business travel destinations worldwide*, so travel managers can easily discover if their travelers are at risk
  • An in-depth overview of the air quality situation by region: Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East, Latin America, North America, Southwest Pacific
  • Tips and tricks for travel managers and business travelers to mitigate the risks of air pollution
“We feel strongly about supporting our clients in executing duty of care to their travelers,” says Martin Weisskirchen, Vice President of Technology Project & Global Crisis Management at BCD Travel. “A good traveler security program is not only about addressing crisis situations like a terrorist attack, hurricane or earthquake, it’s also about day-to-day risks like a car accident or exposure to air pollution.”
Weisskirchen adds: “Employers who take action to mitigate the risks of air pollution send an important signal to their employees that they care about their wellbeing. We created this report to make it easy for travel managers to get informed about air pollution, find out if their travelers are at risk and plan how to act on it.”
Key take-aways from the report:
  • Many of the world’s biggest cities exceed WHO’s safe levels for air pollution, in some cases by more than five times. These destinations are often business capitals, frequently visited by business travelers.
  • Short-term exposure to high air pollution levels can cause immediate symptoms like irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, as reported by the UK Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs. According to the WHO, long-term exposure can contribute to significant health problems such as decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis or even heart attacks.
  • Weather conditions have a clear impact on pollution levels, making it feasible to make recommendations on when to travel or not to travel to a specific destination. For example, winter causes hazardous air pollution levels in some big Asian cities, so traveling to these destinations should be limited as much as possible at this time of the year.
  • When traveling to a hazardous destination, travelers should:
    – Consider shortening their trip or using virtual meeting alternatives
    – Frequently monitor the local Air Quality Index (AQI) to assess the situation in real-time
    – Limit outdoor activity and if necessary wear a properly fitting mask
  • To protect their travelers, travel managers can:
    – Share information and supply tools for protection against air pollution.
    – Make sure travelers are familiar with the company’s travel policy on health and emergencies.
    – Send notifications and tips before, during and after the trip.
    – Gather data on how long business travelers are exposed to what degree of air pollution, make recommendations to limit exposure to poor air quality.

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