Creating the proactive traveller

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ITIJ 224, September 2019

Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance, analyses how the travel insurance industry can better educate its customers about the risks posed by hurricanes

Hurricane season 2019 is underway in the US, with tropical storms Andrea and Barry already causing travellers to file claims, and with NOAA predicting up to 15 named storms this year, we still have a long way to go before we reach the end of November. Furthermore, as Generali’s 19th Annual Holiday Barometer showed, travel budgets are now averaging over US$2,000, meaning travel insurance policies are only getting larger to cover unforeseeable events. 
Based on the increase in calls to our centres with policy-related questions that we receive every hurricane season, we’ve come to recognise that there’s a good deal of confusion amongst policyholders on what is covered during severe weather events. While Generali Global Assistance and other members of the travel insurance industry attempt to clarify the many misconceptions in the marketplace, based on the calls we receive, I believe we can do more to educate the average consumer. 
 
What’s in a name?
A common issue pertaining to trip interruption and cancellation claims during hurricane season is when a claim is filed on a policy purchased after the storm is named. It seems to be the most common piece of advice that industry experts give each year, yet the number of claims denied due to the fact that coverage was purchased after the hurricane in question was named remains surprisingly high. 
In some cases, for travel insurance, the cutoff happens once a tropical storm has been named, while vacation rental coverage may have a different cutoff if a tropical storm develops into a hurricane. While subtle, this is an important distinction, as questions regarding when coverage can no longer be purchased, as well as what events are actually covered, are among the most common. 
Providers should consider giving regular updates on when a tropical storm becomes named for customers looking to travel to the hurricane-prone areas during hurricane season. Most importantly, we should encourage potential customers to think proactively about hurricanes, rather than reactively.
 
Location matters
It’s important to keep in mind that vacation home rentals in popular costal locations are also impacted by severe weather events. While the level of coverage doesn’t change based on location, it’s important that we make customers aware that many vacation rentals have lease terms that will not reimburse requests when cancellations or interruptions are triggered by these events. 
For instance, in North Carolina, the Vacation Rental Act states that the tenant shall not be entitled to a refund if, prior to the tenant taking possession of the property, the tenant refused vacation rental insurance offered by the landlord or real estate broker that would have compensated the tenant for losses or damages resulting from loss of use of the property due to a mandatory evacuation order. This is the reason many vacation rentals in the North Carolina region offer to bundle vacation rental insurance with your reservation. 
With many locations prone to severe weather events enacting separate regulations around travel insurance for vacation rentals, it’s important that customers are educated to make sure they have the appropriate coverage – education we should look to give as insurance providers. 
 
A kit to help
As providers of insurance products, in order to provide a consistently high level of assurance to our customers throughout the process, we must provide them with the knowledge necessary to best help protect their travel investment. My thinking is that education can come in the form of a kit sent to travellers, vacation home renters and owners with plans to travel or rent during hurricane season. Ideally, this kit would provide travellers with all the necessary information and resources to keep in mind when travelling in hurricane-prone regions, because when it comes to hurricane season, a little knowledge and foresight can go a long way. 
Chris Carnicelli

Chris Carnicelli is CEO of Generali Global Assistance North America. In this role, he is responsible for all business lines of the Europ Assistance Group in North America, including GMMI. He is a member of the Generali Top Leadership Group and the Executive Committee of the Europ Assistance Group.