In November 2019, twenty-five C-suite executives of a large company from different parts of the world had planned to come to Delhi for a Board meeting. But they cancelled it a week before. The reason wasn't economy or war but air pollution that is impacting business travel. While it is a significant economic loss, companies are looking at alternatives of avoiding Delhi-NCR because it poses a health risk to their key personnel.
Neeraj Balani, India's Managing Director International SOS, a travel assistance company that provides security and medical solutions to firms, says that several executives have deferred their travel plans to Delhi by a few months till the pollution level in the capital city subsides.
He adds that there is also a rise in requests from companies on additional measures when their top executives visit the country, such as having a doctor and an ambulance on a stand-by throughout their stay in case of an emergency. "Getting exposed to high levels of pollution can have immediate short-term effects. We have seen cases where people coming from outside take time to adapt and just 25-30 minutes of being outdoors can lead to breathlessness, nausea, headache or vomiting."
He says that recently a company asked them to arrange 400 masks for its employees who travel in public transport. They also did a workshop for their employees on the importance and the proper usage of masks.
Expats based in India are also concerned about the long-term impact on their health. Balani adds that there is an increase in queries especially from expatriates who have moved to India with their families and have young children. "They are asking us about the procedure to send them back to their home country."
Every month, International SOS helps 10-20 travellers in a month in India with emergency situations related to health, or personal emergency issues.
Japanese low-cost retailer Miniso says the 20-30 employees from China have stopped going out for outdoor activities. "Due to heavy haze we wear mask even if we are outside for 5-10 minutes. Some colleagues wear it in the office too," says Charmaine Chan, Miniso's Franchise consultant based in Delhi. Miniso installed 30 air purifiers in its office and also got it for personal use of its expatriate employees in Delhi when they complained of cough and dizziness. But, it is business-as-usual for the firm. "We didn't cancel any plans or meetings. However, we are taking precautions," adds Chan. Miniso is also considering to offer a health allowance to its employees from China who are based in its Gurugram headquarters.