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Friday, 29 January, 2016, 18 : 00 PM [IST]

Travel Insurance - embracing new paradigms

Nicolas BertscheThe new age traveller wants to make sure his/her trip can be as smooth as possible. As an unwritten norm, travellers with  medical history opted for a travel insurance to cover medical expenses in foreign land. Going beyond the obvious, travellers have been increasingly choosing to be insured against any mishap during their trip; expanding the horizon of travel insurance.

According to Nicolas Bertsché, General Manager India, International SOS, “Over the last 3 years, the number of travellers using medical and travel security pre-trip advisories has increased by nearly 30%.” A recent survey by International SOS’ revealed that 80% of global travellers had concerns about safety abroad but less than half of the respondents researched on security issues pre-travel. International SOS is a medical and travel security risk services’ company and provides assistance services, medical services and security services.

Taleb RifaiThe current scenario
“Travel insurances are a particular typology aimed at securing the experience of tourists and therefore they exist to guarantee that risks are reduced to the minimum. The relevance of travel insurance for UNWTO is reflected in the presence amongst our Affiliate Members Programme of insurance-related businesses,” said Taleb Rifai,  Secretary General, UNWTO.

Apart from medical safeguarding, travel insurance as a sector has expanded to include other important events that may mar, in any manner, the travel programme of the tourist. “According to our internal research, most of the Indian travellers seek travel insurance primarily for long haul destinations. We have witnessed a significant uptake in the number of travel insurance related enquiries from our individual travellers’ clientele in 2015,” said Amit Madhan, COO–IT & E-Business, Thomas Cook India Ltd. This implies that there is a great market for travel insurance which travel agents can explore.

From a luxury item strictly for the elitist travellers to a lifeguard for international travellers with medical history, the concept of travel insurance has proliferated, and how. Itee Sharma gathers information from industry players to understand how the concept of travel insurance has evovled to meet changing demands

“Earlier, less than 20% outbound travellers from India bought travel insurance, but in recent times there has been a shift in people’s attitude towards buying travel insurance,” said Dev Karvat, Founder and CEO, TrawellTag Cover-More India. “Today, the size of the Indian travel insurance market is over USD 70 Million. The market is at an emerging stage in India and even though its contribution is less than 1% to the global travel insurance industry, we foresee a healthy growth of 10-15% annually,” he added.

Amit MadhanThe new-age Indian traveller is now increasingly aware of the importance and value of travel insurance. “In the past year, the Indian travel insurance market has witnessed a significant double digit growth with an increase in incidents both internationally and on the domestic front,” shared Madhan. As per a report by Finaccord, the global market for stand-alone travel insurance and assistance was around USD 13.8 billion in 2013, and this figure is expected to rise to USD 18.1 billion by 2017.

Insurance focus
Many countries — prominently United Kingdom, Austria, Greece, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands — have made travel insurance mandatory for visiting tourists. As per TrawellTag Cover-More India; UK, USA, Schengen countries, Canada and Australia top the list for destinations that tourist get insured for, be it for business, higher education, holidays or VFR (Visiting friends and relatives).

Shreeraj Deshpande, Head - Health insurance, Future Generali, shared, “People who are travelling for short trips to South East countries have now started opting for travel insurance policies. Travellers going to US, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia should ensure that they do not travel without a travel insurance policy.”

Travel insurance is more prominent amongst senior citizens and NRIs. Madhan said, “Our senior citizens clientele have shown increased preference for travel insurance as they have become more informed about the plans and the benefits related to it. A strong demand has been noticed amongst NRI customers buying insurance for their parents/relatives.” A large number of tourists are opting for annual multi-trip policies. “We have also observed an uptake on the number of students who travel abroad for studies are opting for insurance,” added Madhan.

Dev KarvatTailor-made Coverage
As with travel itineraries, travellers also want tailor-made options for insurance. A holistic protection plan with an innovative mix of travel ancillary services, apart from traditional travel insurance is necessary to secure various aspects of a trip. “Customisation is the name of the game,” declared Karvat. Similarly, we have exclusively designed travel insurance products for our customers who prefer solo trips and annual multi-trips with a benefit of both medical and non-medical assistance. 

Amit Bhandari,  Head - Health & Agricultural Insurance Underwriting & Claims, ICICI Lombard shared, “For outbound tourists, we offer plans on the basis of their country of travel, age, insurance cover and duration. Our Platinum Plan comprises of medical cover; and non-medical covers including trip cancellation & interruption, trip delay, missed flight connections and premium covers like home insurance, bounced booking of airlines & hotel, emergency hotel extension, loss of baggage & personal effects, etc.” Its Senior Citizen plan is designed for consumers more than 70 years of age whilst Multi Trip plan caters to frequent travellers with different options pertaining to the maximum duration of the trip. “We have also started offering travel insurance for domestic travel in bundled mode only currently,” Bhandari informed.  

Deshpande said, “We have specific products for people travelling to Schengen countries and Asian countries. We also have annual multi-trip policies and products for students going to study abroad. Our Overseas Travel Insurance product covers medical expenses as a result of sickness/accident, personal accident, baggage loss/delay, loss of passport, trip cancellation, trip delay, missed connection, home burglary insurance, etc.”

With the world becoming a global village, local problems and mishaps have far-fetching effect, with travellers reaching the remotest places in the world. Taking that into consideration, companies also offer protection against natural calamities and terrorist activities. “24X7 world-wide medical assistance, travel inconvenience benefits, family protection back home, and emergency evacuation are some of the services designed to protect our customers from unforeseen emergencies,” Karvat said of his company’s offerings.

“A dedicated emergency crisis team is formed to provide assistance for medical treatment, medical evacuation, repatriation, emergency cash advance or any kind of services to the insured,” said Madhan. Thomas Cook also covers the insured against financial losses incured due to mishaps. Political risk and catastrophe evacuation, compassionate visit, emergency hotel extension, loss of baggage & personal effects, return of minor children and value added services like medical concierge services, automotive assistance, lifestyle services for dependents at home are some of the recent additions to the company’s products.

Shreeraj DeshpandeSharing information on Future Generali, Deshpande iterated, “In case of natural disasters, we offer covers like trip cancellation/trip curtailment. In case of any accidents resulting in hospitalisation /medical treatment due to natural disasters or terror attack (where the insured is a victim of terrorism), we offer medical expenses cover. Our overseas Travel Assistance provider would guide the clients in case of such emergencies.” Thomas Cook (India) Ltd offers various travel insurance products that covers every traveller’s requirements and across age groups.

The market is not restricted to travellers who are involved in their travel itineraries, but to those as well travelling for work purposes. Bertsché of International SOS said, “As result, there is a growing awareness about travel risk management and International SOS partners with organisations to support and protect their mobile employees and fulfil their ‘duty of care.’ By 2020, the number of mobile employees is expected to grow 50%.”

Karvat agreed, “With increasing ‘duty of care’ protocol towards employees travelling on business, corporates are taking adequate steps to mitigate the risks to employees by providing travel insurance, resulting in most business travellers being covered. Also, the group tours are being secured with protection plans which are embedded within the tour package. Whereas, most of the families, FITs, travel uninsured as they look at travel insurance as a superfluous cost when it comes to short distance travel. However, we believe with increased awareness on travel risks and benefits of travel ancillary products, this trend should turnaround.”

Amit BhandariDealing with cancellation
“I trust that travelers have a positive perception about contracting insurances. Another issue is to mistrust certain companies which do not provide an appropriate service or coverage,” claimed Rifai. Addressing the issue, insurance companies also offer to refund insurance money, when the trip is cancelled. “Customer has a choice of cancelling the travel insurance policy any time before beginning his trip. The premium charged is refunded back to the customer after deducting the cancellation charges,” shared Bhandari about ICICI Lombard.  

Deshpande said, “Yes, in case the trip is cancelled and the customer informs before the commencement of policy, the money is refunded. In case of trip cancellation after the commencement date of policy but within 7 days, then Future Generali refunds the money partially and a certain amount is retained with the insurers.

Spreading awareness
Bhandari stated, “We expect that incidences of terrorism like Paris Attack and natural calamity like Chennai Floods will sensitise and encourage more people to opt for travel insurance due to the quick helping hand lend by the insurer in the time of need. With more travel ticketing going online, there is an increase in searches and purchase of travel insurance online.”

ICICI Lombard has made simple travel insurance products available online with simple wordings and easy to understand collaterals / literature. “We also have our posters, kiosks, etc; at major travel agents premises. We believe that simple travel insurance products coupled with quick issuance of policies will help travelers to opt for the right cover.”

Thomas Cook is reaching out to the customers. “We explain the benefits of choosing our travel insurance plans to our customers and offer custom-made solutions best suited basis their age, duration of stay etc. We hand over a kit to our customers which contains the policy wordings and claim procedures; and also provide necessary and additional information on the processes related to lodging, claiming and actions to undertake   in  emergencies. In case of any claims, we request our customers to contact Thomas Cook India, so that we can guide them proactively and offer our best support.”

TrawellTag Cover-More India is working closely with travel agents. “We are providing marketing support to our trade partners, particularly travel agents, so that they can talk to their customers about why travel ancillary services are important. One of our biggest initiatives is our ‘Travel Agent’s Engagement Programme’, which reaches out to travel agents across India to enhance their knowledge of travel insurance and enable them to upsell. We have successfully completed this programme in 12 cities across India and we are looking to roll it out throughout 20 more cities in 2016.”

The reality is that most travellers want to secure their experience since they leave their homes and that they don’t want to have risks when they are travelling. The market, in India, is still at its nascent stage. But considering the growing tourism industry in the country, the travel trade has a tough task ahead. For an industry which so largely depends on goodwill and repeat customers, the safety of its travellers at any cost is something no agent can afford to mess with.
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