With tech-hungry millennials now coming of age and travelling independently, app offerings from travel insurance and assistance providers have become essential rather than just ‘nice to have’. ITIJ found out what’s on the market and how far these apps go to meet the requirements of today's customers
ITIJ 202, November 2017
Travel insurers have been making good use of claims automation technology and paperless claims systems to streamline the claims process for customers (ITIJ 196, Man vs Machine), and this embracing of technology to give customers what they want, how they want it, and when they want it is now being used in exciting ways to develop apps that further meet these needs, while helping insurers to retain customers and cut costs.
As the president of Aon’s Affinity Travel Practice, Beth Godlin, told ITIJ: “As the way consumers research and buy travel evolves, travel insurance is evolving, too. Whether it’s how consumers book a flight or how they submit a travel insurance claim, technology is presenting unique challenges and opportunities for customer service. The idea of evolving with customer needs from a service standpoint isn’t really a phenomenon with a start and end date; it’s a constant flow of change and transition.”
Getting rid of paper forms and providing digital claims solutions was just the beginning; claims functions are now moving onto app-based platforms too. Allianz Global Assistance USA, for example, recently launched its TravelSmart App so that customers can file and track their claims online, with the option of selecting a direct deposit payment to their bank account once the claim is paid. Joe Mason, chief marketing officer at Allianz Worldwide Partners USA, said that the improvements to the system ‘are just the beginning of the exciting innovations’ planned by the company.
So, where will technology take the world of apps? The incredible popularity of Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and the iPhone’s Siri means that a new generation of customers is used to instantly receiving the answers it wants, and insurers need to tap into this kind of technology, or at least deliver instant answers in digital formats. Meanwhile, geolocation is proving a popular function in many travel insurance and assistance-related apps, as users can be provided with assistance and/or travel, health or security advice based on their exact location.
Staying connected to travellers in their moment of need is vital for insurance and assistance providers – it gives the companies an opportunity to direct their client to an appropriate nearby, or networked, hospital in the event of an illness or non-serious accident. App providers can also keep users appraised of developments specific to their travel plans. UK company Collinson Group’s latest innovation, Stranded Traveller, combines both its insurance and airline lounge propositions so that, in the event of a flight delay, the customer is able to make use of one of 850 lounges worldwide. Access to the lounge is granted via a QR code sent in an unprompted email and SMS to the customer once the system is informed of the flight delay by the airline. “This means the traveller gets real-time resolution, rather than having to wait for a limited financial recompense,” said Collinson’s Greg Lawson.
Other companies offering travel assistance apps include Ingle International, AIG, Zurich, RSA and International SOS. In August, RBC Insurance in Canada launched PATH, a new travel mobile app that provides users with the ability to view local clinics and hospitals based on their current location, search for facilities in other locations and/or call experts directly for emergency medical assistance. Other features include up-to-date travel information, travel advisories and advice.
Ingle International in Canada has developed its Travel Navigator app to provide a hub of information to travellers before, during and after their trip. Whether it’s a safety concern, locating a nearby healthcare provider or getting in touch with their assistance company, the app offers users what they need and want. It has been improved over the years to overcome difficulties as they have appeared, such as a lack of internet connectivity on a trip – in response to this issue, an advanced caching and content delivery system was created to push data to the user’s device.
Business vs leisure travellers
Who are the users of these apps, then, and are they as popular with leisure travellers as they are with business travellers? According to one industry expert ITIJ spoke to for this article, ‘travel insurers and assistance service providers have not yet found a compelling solution that would allow a leisure traveller to see an important value in having a mobile app on the phone while travelling’.
A lack of utilisation of readily available apps can be put down to a much lower awareness of travel risks – downloading an app to keep themselves safe in an emergency simply doesn’t enter into leisure travellers’ thinking. Of course, in a new era of heightened awareness of terrorism and the risk this holds for travellers, it could be that leisure travellers might be cottoning on sooner than the industry thinks.
The case is different, however, when it comes to business travellers, another industry expert told ITIJ: “Because corporations have the obligation of ensuring the safety and security of their employees when they are required to travel for business (duty of care), they have instant and often proactive access to travel alerts and impeding risks in the areas of their planned journeys.”
Emily Roberts, head of business development for security specialists Solace Global, based in the UK, also emphasised employers’ duty of care obligations, saying that an app is now essential for locating employees who are in an area where a terrorist attack has taken place: “To fulfil duty of care obligations, employers need to demonstrate that they prepare their personnel appropriately for travel, provide risk mitigation tools, monitoring and support while personnel are deployed and respond quickly and appropriately in the event of an incident. Having a single web and app-based tool that allows authorised company personnel to see, at the push of a button, who is where and who is scheduled to be where, and to reach out to employees en masse to confirm they are safe, is a critical part of crisis management. It is also key to limiting the impact of an incident.”
Because of mandatory requirements to protect their employees, corporate travellers have better awareness of the potential risks they face when they travel for business. Most assistance companies have built their own specialist security teams in-house, or have agreements with security risk organisations who have added mobile apps into their services, and because they are told to download an app by their company, most business travellers will have done so before they leave for their trip. “Our corporate duty of care solution has 100-per-cent employer usage with 15,000 corporations providing access to 2.5 million users,” Robin Ingle of Ingle International told ITIJ. “Getting employees to use it was difficult at first, but informational storytelling and video guides have since changed that. Users understand that they can access web and mobile features daily, not just in an emergency. We have higher take-up rates within the education industry.”
Pre-travel information and traveller tracking, then, are key to keeping travellers safe. “Travel tracking and intelligence apps can put technology in the palm of a travelling employee’s hand, providing proactive rather than simply reactive risk avoidance,” said Emily Roberts of Solace Global. “Apps should enable access to essential pre-travel information about a destination, increasing understanding of a country’s local risks, cultural sensitivities, geography and key facts. They also need to include real-time intelligence alerting tools to notify travellers of significant events in their vicinity. And should an incident occur overseas, they should enable travellers to inform others of their location and reach out for medical and security help quickly, via a single contact point.”
Earlier this year, Assist America consolidated its app, making it available in different languages including English, French, Spanish, Thai, Bahasa, Mandarin and Arabic. Next, a Travel Status Indicator was added, informing members about their distance from home and whether they are eligible for Assist America’s assistance services. A digital membership ID card is another important feature. “Since its launch in 2013, our app has been a key element of our marketing and operations strategy,” explained Glenn Brunelli, Assist America’s market and product development director. “While it provides our members with unique travel tools, it also allows them to quickly contact us and access details about our programme anytime, anywhere.”
The company’s assistance services are exclusively available through insurance and group benefit plans, so the app is also a valuable branding tool for clients and partners. Assist America’s clients now have the option to co-brand the application. “Co-branding the app makes the user experience less confusing and reminds members that our programme is a value-added benefit they receive through their insurance or benefit plans,” added Brunelli.
CEGA in the UK has developed its app for business travellers in co-operation with Solace Global, as part of CEGA’s medical and security service Intrinsic. Chris Knight, head of corporate services at CEGA, detailed some of the functions of the app: “The mobile Itinerary Travel Tracking app, which has check-in, SOS and tracking functions, gives business managers information about a travelling employee’s real-time and itinerary-based location in relation to recent security and health threats. Its instant alerts can communicate current threats to both managers and employees and it can advise employees to delay travel until risks are minimised, via individual or mass messaging.” He added: “Designed to link seamlessly with clients’ travel management programmes, the app enables businesses to proactively reduce risk by sourcing integrated medical and security intelligence, response and assistance services via a single point of contact.”
Knight pointed out that while travel tracking has been commonplace for some time for employees who are sent to destinations perceived as high-risk, when global threats have become less predictable, even employees being sent to traditionally ‘safe’ destinations need better security preparation. “Employers,” he said, “have become acutely aware of how important it is to know exactly where their people are in relation to localised threats – and to be able to access ‘one-stop’ medical and security assistance quickly, or delay travel as real-time threats change. The recent terrorist attacks here in the UK will no doubt reinforce this attitude.”
The times they are a-changing
Industry specialists, employers, travel agencies, and travel aggregators need to communicate the changing reality of travel-related risks to both corporate and leisure travellers. It’s no longer sufficient to have a good travel medical plan including medical evacuation or repatriation. ITIJ’s source commented: “For travel insurers and travel plan distributors, it is vital that they work together in developing travel insurance programmes that include coverage for security assistance and evacuation as well as access to mobile apps embedded into their mobile devices. Industry specialists have the obligation to create awareness and to provide the right advice to their customers regarding emerging travel-related risks.”
We know that millennials invest in travel insurance at a greater rate than older generations. A recent travel insurance study from Aon Affinity found that 48 per cent of travel protection purchasers are under 35, compared to 39 per cent who are 35- to 54-year-olds and 14 per cent who are aged 55 and over. Technology, therefore, has to keep up with demand from this younger group of travellers.
We also know that there is no such thing as customer loyalty in this business, which is notoriously price-led. But if companies can leverage technology to constantly improve the customer experience, then they have a better chance of sustaining a longer-lasting relationship – although Godlin of Aon did say that there is a point at which technology requires human support: “Automation backed by highly trained customer care representatives for all of those situations where customers benefit from speaking to a live person [is necessary].”
While it is impossible to prevent all incidents, Roberts of Solace Global concluded, the right technology can prepare and inform travellers, enabling them to make smarter choices and reduce the likelihood of an emergency. “As technology advances,” she said, “it can help more people around the world account not just for colleagues, but also for friends and family members during disasters, and to stay away from danger wherever possible.” ■