Nashville, Tennessee provided the ideal backdrop for the sold-out annual conference of The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) this April. “This year marks THIA’s 25th anniversary, so it seemed appropriate to return to one of our earliest and most popular conference destinations,” noted THIA president Michael Camacho.
Blending education, networking opportunities and entertainment in the heart of Music City, the association proved once again why its annual conference is a must-attend event for many in the travel insurance industry and related sectors.
As always, the event kicked off on Sunday evening with a reception for new association members and first-time attendees atop The Westin Nashville Hotel. “This is an intimate event that allows newcomers the opportunity to meet others who may not know anyone at the conference and to get face-to-face time with THIA’s board members and committee chairs before we open the reception up to all of the conference attendees,” said Camacho. As the rooftop venue filled up, insurance industry professionals from across Canada, the US, Europe, and the Caribbean rubbed shoulders and connected over hors d’oeuvres flanked by panoramic views of the Nashville skyline.
The shifting landscape of AI
On Monday morning, Alex LaPlante, Interim Head of Borealis AI, RBC's research and development lab for artificial intelligence, kicked off the education sessions with her keynote address on the shifting landscape of artificial intelligence (AI). LaPlante riveted audience members with her insights about AI’s evolution – what is it and how does it do it: its potential – who is using it now and how it can be used it in the future?) and its limitations and risks (how do we establish equity and guardrails for what Google CEO Sundar Pichai called 'the most important thing humanity has ever worked on'? LaPlante highlighted AI’s successes – reducing call times, generating leads, improving diagnoses and identifying potential fraud – while cautioning about the biases that have been built into existing AI programs. She went on to identify a number of practical applications for AI across the travel insurance industry right now and in the next generation of programs.
Innovation became a key theme of Monday’s sessions as Sven Roehl, Co-founder of Cookhouse Labs, explored how to embed agility, innovation and design thinking into the insurance industry – touching on such topics as the customer experience, insuretech, and the importance of collaboration. Customer and Employee Experience consultant Elizabeth Walford and Carl Carter Chief Commercial Officer of Blink Parametric, finished the half-day programme with their respective perspectives on enhancing the customer experience.
After the morning’s sessions, conference attendees enjoyed a complimentary guided bourbon tasting led by Silverbelly Whiskey’s CEO, Robbie Goldsmith and Whiskey Ambassador AJ Soldo.
From legislation to an ageing population
Day two included THIA conference regular lawyer Jill McCutcheon from Torys LLP, whose presentation of legal case studies is always a crowd favourite. McCutcheon walked the attendees through the intricacies of provincial regulations and proposed legislative changes and provided cautionary examples and practical advice for insurers. The afternoon’s speakers also included Skip Schwartz, President of Serafin Health, who shared what he has learned from providing health services in Asia, and Laura Tamblyn Watts of CanAge, who gave attendees insights into Canada’s ageing population. As the number of seniors is forecast to increase by 68 per cent in the next 20 years – and with it, the number of active older travellers – Tamblyn Watts shared her expertise on effectively serving an ageing population. The day ended with a presentation from Monette Pasher, President of the Canadian Airports Council, who provided an eye-opening view into Canada’s aviation industry and its efforts to both recover from the pandemic and continue modernising to meet passenger needs.
Learning from the pandemic
Guy Charpentier, Senior Managing Consultant at Mastercard Canada, opened the final day of THIA’s conference by sharing what his sector learned from the pandemic in relation to travel spending and cancellation response, and how to apply those lessons to other disputes and challenges. Lawyer Christian Petit-Frère of the Canadian Bankers Association explained the impact of Canada’s Bank Act on the insurance industry, while Longview Loyalty founder Matthew Seagrim explored how insurers can build loyalty among customers.
Day three also featured two keynote speakers. Security expert, President and CEO of Global Guardian, and popular THIA speaker Dale Buckner, returned to THIA’s conference stage with his insights into geopolitical conflicts and their impact on travel in 2023. Tony Chapman, branding expert and noted host of the Chatter that Matters podcast, closed the education sessions with an engaging call to action for attendees to emotionally connect with their consumers by harnessing stories that resonate with them.
“We like to provide attendees with a variety of speakers who can provide a mix of new insights, practical tips and some inspiration to move our industry forward. Thanks to our sponsors, we are able to bring in high-quality, engaging speakers on topics that bring value to attendees,” says Warren Brown, Conference Co-Chair. “It’s more than just learning though. We purposely schedule daily networking opportunities and limit sessions to half days so that attendees have free time to hold meetings, explore the city and enjoy the amenities available to them. We think we’ve struck the right balance, and based on the post-conference feedback we have received, THIA’s conference continues to be an annual highlight for our guests.”
The event wrapped up as it began – with a rousing rooftop reception for attendees, this time at country singer Blake Shelton’s Ole Red bar. David Ewing, Conference Co-Chair, said: “We have a phenomenal all-volunteer conference committee that curates this experience for attendees. They are already well into planning our 2024 event, and we hope to see everyone from this year there, as well as others who weren’t able to come to Nashville.”
Next year, for the first time ever, THIA will host its annual conference on Canadian soil – in historic Quebec City.