Imagine being two-weeks out from an event taking place overseas. Down to the finest detail, everything has been meticulously planned and your 300+ person group is all set to go. In fact, a third of the group has already travelled to the destinations in Europe for pre program extensions.

Then the unexpected happens. A peaceful, civil protest takes a turn for the worse, creating an unstable environment fraught with tear gas, water cannons and rigorous policing.

While not all emergency circumstances can be predicted, the above scenario illustrates the importance of having a risk register and an emergency response plan. It’s also one of the times I was proudest of my team. With a plan already in place, they did not hesitate to act, focusing first and foremost on making contact with the individuals already in Europe and arranging to bring them home rather than proceeding to a now cancelled program destination.

From extreme weather to threats of terrorism and medical emergencies (such as a disease outbreak), there is any number of disasters that could strike and heavily impact your clients anywhere in the world. In the incentive travel industry having a crisis response team in your company trained to proactively respond to all possible risks should be mandatory. And, preparing a risk register for all client programs is no longer something you should do, it is something you must do.

While there are a variety of formats a risk register can take, they all follow one common purpose: identifying all possible risks, their impact and likelihood of occurring. A quick Google search for a risk matrix template displays a number of ways to organize a register.

As a first step, complete a pre-assessment, as detailed as possible, covering everything from tourism infrastructure and weather advisories to the current political landscape, potential labour disputes and anything relevant to your specific destination. What are the health risks at the destination and where are the nearest medical facilities?  What are their ratings? How accessible are they to both your accommodations and your venues? This is just a small example of all the information you need to research and assess.

  1. For each potential risk complete an in-depth description of how it can impact your event.
  2. Next, score each of them in order of severity and likelihood of happening to categorize low, medium and high-risk threats.
  3. From there, review each of these against all the persons who could be impacted including the client, the attendees, your staff members, local residents, suppliers and anyone else you would be in contact with. Take all details into consideration, including possible disabilities, pregnancy or extenuating circumstances.

Once you have created a risk register you should present it to your client and have a dialogue to determine how comfortable they are with the risk levels. This should be followed by designing an emergency response plan for each potential occurrence that not only includes the courses of action, but who is responsible for what – and when.

While it is not possible to identify every potential risk and outcome, identifying as many risk factors as possible is the best approach to prepare you and your client, for a worst-case scenario. Above all else, ensure your staff members are trained to respond immediately if and when the unpredictable happens.


Ellie MacPherson is Senior Vice-President, S•M+i (Strategic Meetings + Incentives), a part of Vision Travel Solutions, Toronto, Canada.  She is a long-time SITE member and serves on the SITE Canada board as Vice-President, Finance. Ellie frequently speaks at industry events on the topic of Safety & Security. In 2015, she was inducted into the Meeting + Incentive Travel Magazine’s Hall of Fame.