With specific winter sports policies increasing in popularity, Lauren Haigh spoke to industry experts to trace the evolution of this type of cover, find out what makes it unique, and uncover why it’s more relevant than ever
Skiing, ice skating, sledding. Are these fun winter sports activities or accidents waiting to happen?
The answer is both. Winter sports can be dangerous, and fortunately consumers are increasingly wise to this and don’t want to risk having to pay out potentially thousands due to a broken leg or lost or stolen ski equipment because they didn’t take out relevant insurance. Indeed, according to official UK Government statistics, between 2012 and 2016, there were 118 hospitalisations of British skiers and snowboarders in European resorts, and 58 deaths – and when it comes to theft in ski resorts, recent research from the Ski Club of Great Britain found that theft and loss of snow-sports equipment has affected one in eight winter holidaymakers.
A standard single-trip policy is unlikely to cover consumers for winter sports, which has led to a surge in popularity of policies designed specifically for these holidays. Even with a specialised policy, however, it is important for holidaymakers to check that they are covered for the specific activity they are planning while on their holiday, as the policy may have exclusions whereby an insurer doesn’t provide cover for certain activities – such as, for example, off-piste skiing when not accompanied by a fully qualified ski instructor. ITIJ asked industry experts to share their thoughts on the ins and outs of winter sports coverage and associated assistance provision, including how policy design and cover has evolved, the marketing of such products to consumers, and how winter sports travel insurers can stand out from the crowd.
An interesting incline
Mark Colonnese, Director of Aquarium Software, which provides specialist software solutions for the travel insurance sector, told ITIJ that it is difficult to ascertain what is behind the uptake in the number of people talking out specific winter sports policies. “It’s an interesting trend,” he said. “I believe it speaks to the fact that consumers are becoming more savvy about what they want in terms of travel insurance cover and are seeking out specific products to suit their needs.”
This plays into the idea of personalisation, which is a growing trend when it comes to travel insurance. It goes without saying that travellers and holidaymakers have very different and specific needs and should have policies that suit them and their individual requirements, and this of course applies to winter sports coverage – as
Colonnese pointed out, many standard annual policies only cover 10 days of skiing, and exclusions for other winter sports often apply, or are very restrictive, making specific policies more relevant and attractive.
Despite an overall increase in consumers seeking out specific cover for their winter sports holidays, a large percentage still don’t, and work remains to be done in this area, as Colonnese highlighted: “In brand new YouGov research commissioned by Aquarium Software, of those who had been on a winter sports holiday in the last five years, 53 per cent were still covered by an annual/multi-trip policy; so while things are changing, there remains a large number who are not taking out the specific cover they need – and in relying on a multi-trip policy, may not be as protected as they think.” According to Colonnese, 73 per cent of those surveyed were aware that they might not be covered for specific sports or activities with annual or multi-trip policies, but 27 per cent were not aware – and ‘this is 27 per cent too many’.
consumers are becoming more savvy about what they want in terms of travel insurance cover and are seeking out specific products to suit their needs
Increasing awareness of specific types of cover and the ability to personalise policies comes down to marketing. Steve Howard, Head of Product at UK-based insurance firm tifgroup, said that this is why its consumer awareness campaign Travel Insurance Explained is trying to help consumers understand the policy they are buying and what to look out for to ensure they are buying the right policy to suit their individual requirements. Howard said that more and more resorts are offering unique activities for which holidaymakers may not necessarily be covered: “The worry is, as more and more of the ski resorts are offering activities like ski biking, many of the standard policies which are easily available to the consumer would only offer extra cover for this type of activity if it was purchased in an additional activity pack. Which could leave the customer uninsured if they were to have an accident while taking part in the activity.”
With ski resorts offering diverse activities, better tailored and more specific policies are becoming a necessity. “At ski resorts, much more than skiing is now on offer and winter sports travel insurance providers have been slowly adapting their policies to fulfil the consumer’s requirements. It is no longer sufficient for an insurer to simply charge double the premium to enhance the medical cover,” said Howard.
When it comes to what cover to offer winter sports holidaymakers, Howard believes that there are a number of necessary requirements, depending on the level of specificity of the cover: “Winter sports policies should specifically include loss or damage to ski equipment, both owned and hired, delayed ski equipment, ski pack cover, piste closure and avalanche cover. A more specialist policy would also include off-piste skiing and cover all winter sports activities that might be offered in the resort as standard, with only a few especially risky activities requiring an additional premium.”
Alison Taylor, Travel and Personal Accident Account Manager at UK sports and leisure insurance specialist SportsCover Direct, has seen first-hand the uptick in demand for specialist cover. “More and more customers are now taking out our Activity TopUp cover when they discover a new sport when they are already away that they want to try out during their trip such as heli-skiing or tandem paragliding and want cover at short notice for a day(s),” she said. “This policy was created to fill that gap, as most insurers will not agree cover after a trip has already started, or would charge the rate for the higher risk sport for the full duration of the trip rather than just a day.”
When it comes to improving awareness among consumers of such products, Taylor highlighted the importance of the digital world, as well as more ‘traditional’ methods for marketing sports cover to travellers: “As a company, we focus much of our marketing efforts on digital. Social media, brand remarketing, search engine optimisation and online advertising play a large part in showcasing our products. We also believe that there is nothing better than word of mouth, so we let our customers do the talking for us though review platforms and refer-a-friend schemes.”
Through social media, it has become increasingly easy for insurers to better target consumers according to their online surfing habits, as Colonnese explained: “It’s now pretty easy to profile someone who is into looking at cool snowboarders on Instagram. You can propose specific cover for their potential forthcoming holiday, reinforcing that ad when they browse the online ski-store and possibly provide a promotion following a sale in that store.”
The uptake in specific winter sports cover is to be welcomed and I think this is just another facet in the overall trend towards greater personalisation in insurance across the board
Despite this, he said, Aquarium Software found that 63 per cent of people feel insurers ‘try to rip them off’ by excluding many of the things they would expect to be covered. “The industry has a big marketing and PR job to do to turn some of these consumer perceptions around, and online will be a key battleground,” he said.
Taylor reiterated the fact that it is dangerous for consumers to rely on generic policies that may not meet their requirements. “There are many generic travel insurance companies who include cover for winter sports as standard or at an increased premium,” she said. “However, customers are not always aware of small print, which in some cases excludes certain benefits such as permanent injury cover, or liability cover for those kinds of sports. Standard policies also often have low amounts of cover for baggage and customers can get caught out when their high-value ski equipment gets damaged or stolen.”
She also pointed out that, in tandem with an increase in people taking out specific winter sports cover, there is also a growing expectation for medical repatriation: “Expectations of medical treatment are perhaps also on the rise, with a growing trend for medical repatriation by air ambulance back to the UK for ongoing treatment, rather than being treated in the country where the accident occurred.”
Taylor said that events such as the Winter Olympics are improving awareness among consumers about the variety of winter sports available, and that, alongside this, consumers are becoming more aware of the need for specific cover, sometimes due to unpleasant events. “Often, they have a wakeup call when a friend or family member gets injured and finds themself with a large bill for medical treatment and/or repatriation, or they have read a story in the press,” she said. “Many [UK] customers think that the EHIC will suffice and are not aware that it does not cover the costs of repatriation or private medical treatment. We have also seen an increase in the numbers of people with their own ski or snowboarding equipment, often of high value, which they require cover for against damage or theft.”
Personalised piste products
Colonnese believes that technology is playing an important role in providing consumers with personalised products to meet their individual needs. “Technology makes it increasingly easy to spin-up new products, deploy them online at relatively low cost, test them in the market and then back the ones that get the most traction,” he said. “Exclusions for things like off-piste and ski racing used to catch people out with multi-trip, and by having specific, tailored cover, you mitigate that risk. The advent of geolocation services makes this cocktail of consumer personalisation even more compelling.”
Colonnese also believes there is huge potential to take advantage of technology in the assistance industry, particularly in the form of so-called progressive web apps: “The installable app is dead, as far as we’re concerned. What we can do now with progressive web apps is tremendously exciting. These apps look, smell and feel like installable apps but are virtually frictionless to use, versus downloading and installing; their potential is growing all the time, and these can be used for services like virtual GP consultations or guided assistance based on geolocation; the latter could be very useful with a badly twisted knee that needs immediate specialist attention, for example.”
Growing numbers of holidaymakers taking out tailored coverage for their winter sports holidays is overwhelmingly positive, and Colonnese suggests that it is part of consumers’ evolving needs and wants for more tailored insurance solutions: “The uptake in specific winter sports cover is to be welcomed and I think this is just another facet in the overall trend towards greater personalisation in insurance across the board.”
Looking ahead, the hope is that more and more consumers will realise the benefits – and necessity – of tailored products for their winter sports holidays and invest in order to have peace of mind and ensure that, should the worst happen, they are covered for any eventuality.