Returning to international travel following the pandemic has proven to be a far from predictable affair. Yet people have remained resolute, over the past few months in particular, even if it has become a much more complex procedure.
Staff shortages have led to widespread delays at airports across the world, with common flight cancellations. There’s also been a stark increase in the level of lost luggage. Moreover, a combination of ongoing restrictions in some countries, along with geopolitical uncertainty, multiple operator strikes and Covid 19-related absences among personnel, has meant that international travel has become a lot more stressful.
Opportunity for providers
With all this in mind, there’s now an opportunity for travel insurance and assistance providers to address these challenges, by providing services aimed at improving the travel experience and making it easier for people to get away, whether on a business trip or family holiday.
But despite all of this, and increasing inflation, the ‘revenge travel’ trend was confirmed during the summer, with financial savings gathered during the pandemic being used to finance much-awaited holidays. Over 80 per cent of people made travel plans in recent months, according to OpinionWay research for Allianz Partners, with that number even higher in southern European countries such as Italy and Spain. The fact that international travel had become more frustratingly complicated since the pandemic was clearly not putting people off the prospect of heading abroad.
I’ve also been lucky enough to return to international business travel and embrace this ‘new normal’. It was heartening to witness some of the more familiar sights that remain as I passed through busy airport terminals: business travellers rushing to departure gates, young families gazing at aeroplanes and ground crews on the tarmac, and shops full of people making last-minute purchases ahead of hopping on their flights. Just like the old days, it seemed.
A need for empathy
Over the course of 11 days recently, I spent over 60 hours in the air across America, Europe and Asia. While my experience was relatively smooth, I did encounter one stressful issue, when two colleagues were denied entry into India due to visa issues. Despite our accumulated travel experience, we still found it difficult to find clear guidance on what exactly was required for entering the various countries we were visiting. The situation sometimes changes by the day, so I can empathise with those who travel less frequently and may find this level of complexity off-putting.
It also highlighted the need for travel insurance and assistance providers to step up and deliver much-needed support to address these challenges. This might mean enhanced benefits like access to airport lounges for travellers experiencing delays; easily accessible advice regarding visa requirements or entry restrictions; or guidance on how to mitigate risk associated with travel, such as the use of luggage tracking devices for check-in baggage that may get lost in transit. Even more important is that travel insurance adapts to these changing times and continues to provide well-needed protection against loss, illness and other unforeseen events.
Positive numbers returning
Statistics show that people are still willing to go the extra mile for the luxury of international travel. For example, in a 2021 customer survey, we found that 48 per cent bought travel insurance for the first time, and that our customers have a strong likelihood of future purchase, with 84 per cent likely, or maybe likely, to do so. People understand that a lot can go wrong with itineraries today, and they’re still willing to head out and explore. As travel providers, we need to go the extra mile to deliver what these new customers need, in these extraordinary times.
Thankfully, the chaotic nature of international travel is finally beginning to calm once again. Due to a higher level of supply from crude oil producers and refineries, the jet fuel cost that skyrocketed during the summer months is coming back to levels seen in early-spring, and it seems that travel providers and distributors are cautiously optimistic for the fourth quarter of 2022. There have even been reports of higher booking volumes compared to the same period in 2019, despite rising inflation.
While some of the logistics around international travel are certainly more complex, it’s clear that many feel these very surmountable challenges can lead to more fulfilling and satisfying experiences than ever. Certainly, more planning and preparation is required now – and that’s something that we, as an industry, can help to address – but the trade-offs are possibly more rewarding than ever. That was the key lesson I took away from my recent experience.
The travel trends from recent months would suggest many others are of a similar opinion.