Medical services firm eyes BRI boost

International SOS set to cash in on outbound moves of Chinese firms

China’s continuous opening-up and the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative are leading more Chinese enterprises to invest overseas, which brings new opportunities for medical and travel security services players, a top executive of International SOS said.

“Our mission here in China has completely changed, moving from supporting inbound foreign companies when we started serving the China outbound agenda,” said Arnaud Vaissie, co-founder, chairman and CEO of International SOS.

As a global medical and travel security services provider, International SOS entered the China market in 1989 by providing international standard medical care and travel security services to members working and living in the Chinese mainland.

Along with the internalization of Chinese companies in recent years, new business opportunities have emerged for meeting the demand for the health and security needs of the employees of Chinese enterprises while they are traveling abroad.

“Many Chinese companies are going international. With such a large number of travelers, Chinese companies have a higher ratio of international travelers than other countries. Therefore, their need is huge here,” said Vaissie.

This was echoed by Kevin Tan, vice-president and general manager of CITS American Express Global Business Travel, who suggested that although global economies look comparatively different today than a decade ago, China-based companies are showing great adaptability as they continue to expand their international operations.

Tan said that despite ongoing global uncertainty, more than half (55 percent) of China-based companies polled believe the Belt and Road Initiative will increase global and domestic business travel, said the CITS American Express Global Business Travel’s 2019 China Business Travel Barometer.

In addition, about 60 percent of companies believe pursuing new geographical opportunities and expanding their operations will be a top priority, the report added.

As a result, almost a quarter of surveyed respondents said they expect travel budgets to increase in 2020, while 71 percent anticipate operating with the same level of investment, suggesting China-based companies remain relatively optimistic about the business travel environment.

“International SOS has grown to meet all the business needs in terms of health and security of Chinese companies in their global expansion,” said Vaissie.

He said the company is seeing business expansion by becoming the key adviser to corporations for their medical and security international strategies.

It is an emerging factor for Chinese multinationals and Chinese companies to put into place duty-of-care plans for their staff.

Although still uneven, the large State-owned companies now have programs in place, while many medium-sized companies have not yet developed their plans. It is expected that the practice set by large companies will be followed by the rest of the industry.

The London and Singapore-headquartered company is aiming to attract medium-and small-sized enterprises. It has launched online and off-line integrated solutions a few years ago for customers to be able to access their services more effectively.

For now, a WeChat assistance platform that offers a service for International SOS members to chat with their doctors and security professionals was launched in June. It is tailored for the tech-savvy Chinese market, said Joel Gosset, managing director of International SOS China.

He said more than half of the company’s Chinese clients called on the bilingual assistance platform that serves Chinese members outside of China as well as foreign members in China.

While assisting the growth of Chinese companies online and offline regardless of their size, International SOS is likewise serving multinational corporations in China.

“We do of course continue to support China’s opening-up policies, supporting the inbound and investing environment as foreign businesses continue to be attracted to the many opportunities in China,” said Vaissie.

Currently, China contributes slightly under 10 percent of International SOS’s global business, and the company is expecting China to become one of its largest markets in the coming decade.

“I think it (China) has the potential to become the number one market over the next 10 years … We are strongly committed to the Chinese market … It is already one of the fastest growing markets for International SOS in the world,” Vaissie said.