You’ve been President and CEO of WorldTrips for over 14 years, and Chief Product Officer at Tokio Marine HCC for almost five. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry in that time?
The travel insurance industry has evolved a great deal in the last few decades with technological advancements and a more streamlined regulatory process. Providers now embrace a much more flexible mindset regarding product development and digitising claims processing.
Whether it’s updating policy language to better service global travellers in the event of global health emergencies or offering more customisation, the industry has made significant progress to better address the current and future needs of travellers.
What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis and which aspects do you enjoy the most?
Strengthening the company’s strategic goals and objectives, driving growth and innovation, and managing risk and regulatory considerations are a big part of the job. But what I enjoy most is collaborating with our leadership team and the US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA) board to solve complex business challenges and navigate through uncertainty. One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is witnessing how our company’s product or service positively impacts a traveller during a time of great need.
What have been your biggest challenges and successes since you started your career?
The pandemic had a significant impact on the travel industry, from lockdowns and rigorous health and safety protocols to mandated travel insurance and ongoing airline disruptions. While the pandemic led to many changes in travel behaviour, the industry was able to pivot and adjust coverage accordingly. The travel climate is unpredictable, and we have a greater understanding of how to handle those risks.
The travel insurance marketplace is also more complex and competitive. Providers are more focused on diversifying distribution to reach a wider audience while utilising technology solutions to streamline those efforts and improve overall efficiency.
The Covid-19 pandemic opened travellers’ eyes to the need for adequate evacuation benefits
How are payers seeing the value of air ambulance repatriations change?
The Covid-19 pandemic opened travellers’ eyes to the need for adequate evacuation benefits. Countless travellers found themselves stuck in foreign countries, unable to return home as planned due to rapid border closings, flight suspensions, and other lockdown measures. In addition to the fear of contracting the virus, travellers were faced with challenges associated with accessing adequate healthcare while travelling away from home. Depending upon the traveller’s location, this sometimes meant finding themselves in an area where medical care is strained, limited or not readily available. As a result of this unprecedented crisis, the public’s attention has been drawn to the health and safety hazards associated with travel, regardless of whether the travel takes place within the country or overseas. Globally, consumers have become more aware of these risks and uncertainties, which has increased the importance of investing in suitable evacuation coverage.
Are you seeing a significant rise in air ambulance costs as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels?
After the pandemic, there has been a noticeable increase in expenses associated with air ambulance transports. Since 2019, there has been an average increase of 50 per cent in costs, with certain markets experiencing an uptick of up to 70 per cent. The surge in costs can be attributed, in part, to significant increases in pilot salary, fuel expenses, and the overall state of the global economy.
Are you seeing problems with getting an air ambulance when you need it?
The air ambulance sector encountered numerous challenges throughout the pandemic. It experienced a sudden decline in demand, workforce reductions, and uncertainty regarding the future of travel, resulting in limited availability of aircraft and crew for missions. More unexpectedly, supply chain delays had a significant impact on flight availability. Despite positive changes in these areas in recent months, availability remains a top consideration for evacuations.
Supply chain delays had a significant impact on flight availability
WorldTrips offers travel medical insurance to customers in over 130 countries. What challenges does this offer the business, working in such diverse regions?
At WorldTrips, we serve travellers from all over the world. We are a full-service organisation offering a comprehensive portfolio of travel medical and trip protection insurance products designed to address the insurance needs of travellers worldwide.
Our multilingual customer service representatives are the backbone of our global operation. They are instrumental in providing international travellers with ongoing support – that support could be anything from assistance with a travel insurance purchase, filing a claim, or handling a stressful travel emergency abroad.
We also continue to integrate new technological enhancements to modernise the customer experience. Recently, WorldTrips launched an online portal to provide members across the globe with easy ‘self-serve’ access to their policies.
From a product standpoint, we regularly evaluate our product portfolio to ensure coverage satisfies any government-mandated health insurance or visa requirements. As we saw during Covid-19, these requirements can change and it’s important we stay on top of them.
With the help of data and our medical experts, we also understand the potential health risks in diverse regions and can offer global travellers insight and proactive guidance regarding vaccinations, health precautions, and other resources to minimise the occurrence of medical emergencies.
All businesses are struggling to retain staff in the current climate. How is WorldTrips responding to such a challenge?
Retaining staff is crucial for the long-term success of any organisation. At WorldTrips, I’m pleased with our track record. Effective recruitment practices enable our business to build and maintain a skilled and diverse workforce and attract quality employees with an unwavering commitment to customer service.
Our recent recognition as a ‘Top Place to Work’ by the IndyStar [newspaper] can be attributed to our ability to uphold a thriving work culture with a low employee turnover rate. Our employees enjoy a flexible work-life balance – and our US-based headquarters is in Carmel, Indiana, often called one of the best places to live in America.
Fostering a supportive workplace culture is an ongoing effort, no matter the current climate. We strive to stay competitive by expanding our talent development and benefit programmes.
What are the main challenges to the travel insurance market at the moment?
The travel insurance industry is dynamic and new challenges continue to emerge
The travel insurance industry is dynamic and new challenges continue to emerge. At the moment, the market is learning how to quickly adapt to ever-evolving customer expectations and digital buying trends. We learned many lessons during the Covid-19 pandemic and providers are now in a better position to be more responsive to meet the needs of global travellers.
As an industry, we also continue to work hard on educating travellers on the value of travel protection and the intricacies of various policies. That’s an ongoing challenge, but we are making some progress there. There does seem to be an increase in general awareness of the importance of protecting trip investments and the dangers of travel without proper medical coverage.
In my last interview with ITIJ, I mentioned the challenge of the changing regulatory landscape. US-based regulators are encouraging providers to adopt a consumer-first approach to product development. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) Travel Insurance Model Act developed a comprehensive legal framework to help providers better navigate complex regulatory considerations and ensure transparency and accountability. While this is a good start, more work needs to be done.
In your opinion, what do you think the future of travel medical insurance looks like?
The future of travel medical insurance will continue to evolve. It’s likely we will see a growing need for emergency medical and emergency medical evacuation coverage as older travellers continue to go abroad. By 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double. This demographic is by far the most vulnerable from a medical standpoint, and must be educated on the risks of travel without travel medical insurance.
By 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double
Customisable and flexible policies will also likely become more mainstream. And expect technology and the evolution of AI [artificial intelligence] to shape the future of how travellers purchase policies and submit claims. My hope is that all of this will benefit travellers as technology becomes faster and more convenient.
I also feel very optimistic about the future of Tokio Marine HCC as we are committed to the ongoing expansion of our global footprint.