David Sarafinas: “Make your career your passion”

People need the confidence to get on a flight these days. The only real way to gain this type of confidence is by providing testing across the board, and with the availability of on-site testing offered by Collinson, this is possible. Airport employees, as well as flight crew should be tested regularly. For passengers, this […]

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People need the confidence to get on a flight these days. The only real way to gain this type of confidence is by providing testing across the board, and with the availability of on-site testing offered by Collinson, this is possible. Airport employees, as well as flight crew should be tested regularly. For passengers, this means having access to outbound testing four days before a flight, PCR testing when you land.


As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Sarafinas, Vice President, Medical and Security Assistance, Collinson.

David Sarafinas is the vice president of medical and security assistance for Collinson where he leads travel risk management (TRM) for the Americas. David brings 19 years of experience in duty of care and travel risk management as a thought leader creating new concepts and programs for international organizations in order to fulfill their duty of care responsibilities. He was instrumental in the creation of HX Global (Healix-US) where he recruited and managed the sales and account management teams as the company’s Managing Director from 2013 to 2018. Prior to this, David spent 13 years as the senior director of business development for International SOS from 2001 to 2013.

Prior to his role in the industry, David founded National Medical Electronics where he created, staffed, managed, grew and sold one of the largest biomedical engineering companies in the United States. Sarafinas also spent 10 years serving in the U.S. Navy, where he was assigned to a combat helicopter squadron and provided support for the Navy special operations units.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Having spent 10 years in the military, I have always appreciated organizations that performed with precision under pressure during a crisis. The Collinson Medical Assistance division saves lives every day in some of the most hostile and remote places in the world. Our team of physicians, nurses and operations specialists handle more than 40,000 crisis cases a year. It’s the teamwork, comradery and mission that led me to this career, and it is what keeps me passionate about what we do.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It was the night before Thanksgiving in 2008 when I got a call from the SVP of HR at a Fortune 100 company. She called to tell me she had an employee in the Taj hotel in Mumbai, which I already knew was under attack by an extremist Islamist terrorist organization based in Pakistan. I gave her to the operations center where they told her they had contacts on the ground already and were able to infiltrate the area. A lot of the details are confidential, but I can tell you that the employee was taken out of the hotel safely, and medical assistance was provided after the evacuation.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Make your career your passion, and devise ways to motivate yourself to do your job because you want to help others. Bonuses, commissions and compensation should be a byproduct. But if you make your number one goal to help your clients and build a trusting relationship, you will fulfill your goals and stay motivated. The example about assisting the employee out of a dangerous situation in Mumbai, as well as helping clients overcome dangerous travel situations all over the world, are what motivate me. It’s particularly relevant at this point in time as we face the first global pandemic in more than 100 years. I’ve helped clients navigate travel with Ebola, Zika, H1N1 and SARS, but those have been more regionally isolated. This situation is far more complex and far reaching. I am encouraged every day that my organization is helping clients navigate the pandemic during these difficult times.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My boss, Scott Sunderman, Global Head of Assistance for Collinson, and I have been working together for nearly 18 years. If I were to create a model of what a leader looks like, it would be him. There seems be two distinct types of managers, and Scott is the latter:

Those who are only concerned about their own career path and their organization’s financial success.

Those few who understand that if the teams are happy, motivated and feel fulfilled in their role, they strive incredibly hard to make their organization successful.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Collinson is a global leader and provider of travel experiences, including medical and security assistance and travel medical services. Collinson’s traveler experiences include the world’s leading airport lounge and experiences program, Priority Pass, as well as travel insurance, identity assistance, flight delay, international health and travel risk management solutions. Our 20 global locations help ensure the safety, welfare and comfort of 55 million people.

In particular, our recent innovation is on-site COVID testing services for entertainment, airline, airport, government and other corporate entities. Because our travel medical and security assistance business unit has more than 30 years of experience in the delivery of international medical assistance and emergency care, handling pandemics, such as Ebola and Zika, we have a wide network of global laboratories equipped to handle this testing. Last year alone, Collinson responded to more than 95,000 emergency calls, managed more than 40,000 medical cases and conducted 3,000 aero-medical evacuations in 170 countries we serve.

There are many labs offering companies regular testing, but Collinson’s offers a turn-key solution. Our processes are backed by the experience and expertise of medical professionals, such as global medical director, Dr. Simon Worrell, an immunology and communicable diseases expert with prior in-depth experience from Ebola, Zika and now COVID-19 pandemics. We also have hundreds of doctors, nurses and operational specialists. Our experience with pandemics (SARs, H1N1, Avian Flu, Ebola and Zika), allowed us to pivot very quickly to activate our innovative pandemic support programs. These include:

On-site RT-PCR testing — the “gold standard” of testing

“Rapid” Antigen Testing

A COVID-19 hotline answering questions from our clients’ employees related to COVID-19

A COVID-19 website development for up-to-date content to help customize a corporate website for international travel controls, government response stringency index and testing policies

A return-to-work consultancy to help advise employees with COVID-19 on the correct protocols for heading back to work

A mental health hotline and assistance for employees struggling with the mental health effects of the pandemic

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

There are a lot of companies and smaller labs trying to offer on-site testing. However, none of them have a reliable solution which can offer scalability, convenience and fast turnaround times. There are a lot of little satellite labs handling one patient at a time. Some labs can do many tests per day, but they can’t offer rapid testing bespoke to an airport, airline, corporation or production studio. Collinson can provide an end-to-end, totally turnkey solution for rapid on-site COVID testing.

We will set up testing facilities on site, provide the staffing to collect samples, courier the samples to a lab in our global network or even place a dedicated lab on-site. We are able to obtain test results within three to five hours, post these results to a special portal Collinson creates for each client and sends results to the individuals via email and SMS text. A few differentiators for our testing program:

RT-PCR testing — the most sensitive test available and the most effective for asymptomatic cases.

Supported GDPR/HIPAA complaint software for delivery of results and tracking of data on a full dashboard.

More PCR machines in a network of labs to allow high-volume testing as demand increases

Services and guidance for employees who test positive

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

The entire world needs to get back to traveling. Our fast, convenient on-site testing is an important component that will help bring the economy back to normal. Governments are struggling to determine which is more important — the economy or the infection rate. We bring a reasonable solution by giving governments and the general public the confidence to travel again, knowing people are being tested on a regular basis. Whether it is an international traveler flying into Heathrow who has to quarantine for 14 days without a negative test certificate or a film production company needing to create new content that requires actors standing less than two feet apart from each other, to truly get back to business, people need to know individuals have tested negative and pose no threat to their fellow travelers or colleagues.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to finding new ways that they can affect how consumer confidence in traveling?

I hope the travel industry will work to the larger issue of travel risk management. As COVID-19 infection rates drop, threats and risks overshadowed by this pandemic will still exist. I see the following as changes needed to the travel and hospitality industry:

Travelers need to have access to some sort of pre-travel medical advice before embarking on their trip.

Airlines and airports will need to provide their employees, crew and passengers with some level of proactive health and safety measures. Today, it would be COVID-19 testing.

Corporate and TMC policies around lodging need to take into account the risks associated around location.

Policies will need to integrate emerging technologies designed to mitigate risks.

The travel and hospitality industry will need to partner with companies like Collinson to offer more than rooms and tickets to achieve duty of care compliance for their customers.

What are the areas to focus on that will bring travelers back to the sky?

People need the confidence to get on a flight these days. The only real way to gain this type of confidence is by providing testing across the board, and with the availability of on-site testing offered by Collinson, this is possible. Airport employees, as well as flight crew should be tested regularly. For passengers, this means having access to outbound testing four days before a flight, PCR testing when you land.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-sarafinas/

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