What it takes to manage travel for a humanitarian agency

From an operational base in Guardiagrele, Italy, a team of seven BCD Travel agents support an international humanitarian agency in managing complex journeys to destinations affected by wars, health emergencies, and poverty. Often the agents must act swiftly to move humanitarian workers into precarious situations that hundreds or thousands of others are fleeing.

Pictured above: BCD Travel Italy agents (seated from left to right) Adriana Cristea, Cinzia Bomba, and Olga Kudris. (Standing from left to right) Emiliana Dell’Arciprete, Jessica Carta, Carlo Ciannarella, and Miriam Stefanelli.

The team in Italy originally worked with another global relief organization on the ‘Aviation Project,’ an initiative born in response to commercial flight restrictions during the pandemic. The Aviation Project opened the door to a collaboration with the international humanitarian agency.

“Initially, we only managed travel bookings for the humanitarian client’s European offices,” said team leader Emiliana Dell’Arciprete. “Our demonstrated competence and expertise in those months opened the door to wider collaboration with them. The agency eventually expanded our purview, entrusting us to manage travel from Italy for over 40 agency offices worldwide. Now BCD is the global reference point for their travel programs.”

Most journeys involve multi-leg routes requiring careful processing before and during travel. The agents have developed acute flexibility and superior problem-solving aptitude. Timeliness is essential to their work locating travelers and organizing last-minute repatriations with the support of BCD’s travel managers and Global Crisis Management. The knowledge the team derived makes them particularly collaborative and cohesive, as they work through factors like:

  • Managing the travel habits of people from different geographic areas
  • Identifying routes and airlines serving different countries
  • Keeping abreast of entry procedures, including local visa requirements and processing
  • Leveraging airlines, ground transportation providers, and accommodation partners
  • Managing health and safety protocols
  • Shifting travel conditions
  • Planning for alternative travel plans and routes
  • Monitoring security advisories

“Last year, we were involved in the repatriation of several dozen refugees returning to their home countries. The main challenge was organizing group travel for over 40 people with a lack of identity documents,” Dell’Arciprete said. “Travelers only had an emergency certificate, valid only for the days necessary for the repatriation journey. Often, these certificates were incomplete or lacking essential information, as they were issued in emergency situations without the possibility of further verification. It was therefore vital to coordinate with the airline and local authorities to ensure travel approval.

“The first thing we considered when tasked with managing this trip was the emotional situation of the refugees in finally being able to return home after years of exile from their country. It was crucial to communicate the nature and importance of the trip to the airline to overcome some logistical limitations, such as the presence of women in advanced pregnancy or the high number of children on board (in some cases, we had families with 7-8 minor children).

“Furthermore, since refugees did not have regular documents, we had to look for travel solutions with short layovers to avoid long overnight stays at the airport, as they were not allowed to leave the airport area. My team and I felt the responsibility and pressure to work to the best of our abilities to ensure the journeys proceeded smoothly.

“Our work is dynamic but also stressful, as we are always faced with new and different challenges from previous ones. Our initial approach is to show empathy and understanding towards those in an emergency situation who need support. Then, we engage in gathering as much information as possible to identify the best solution for them. Finally, we try to convey calmness and reassure our clients that our professionalism is at their service all while we work to quickly resolve their issues.”


New on bcdtravel.com

Stay in the know,
even on the go

Never want to miss a thing?

We'll get you the latest news, trends, insights and BCD news right in your inbox.