Interview: Claudia Carfi, Director, Covac Global
Covac Global are pioneers in pandemic evacuation assistance. Mandy Langfield talks to Claudia Carfi about an ever-changing membership landscape
Having spent years in assistance network management, what inspired you to make the move into working for a membership programme that provides wide-ranging cover and assistance?
I have been in this industry for several years and wanted a place where I could have a hand in growing and developing procedures for an exciting company, while also challenging myself to learn new things. Covac Global has a unique product and I felt flattered by the opportunity to work for such an innovative programme!
How difficult was it to find an underwriter for the specialist repatriation coverage for members?
Setting up the company was the greatest challenge when creating the Covac Global membership programme. We wanted to think differently about what benefits would offer our members the most value, and ended up creating something that did not yet exist in the market. Then we had to pitch this to our underwriters and get them onboard with our new, membership-based approach to travel protection. It took many conversations and a lot of follow-up, but has been a tremendous success.
The membership programme is open to all nationalities, apart from French – why is that?
We will likely expand our programme into the French market soon. There are currently various restrictions on membership programmes that France imposes, that cause more hoops to jump through. The demand signal we’ve received from potential French customers has not yet been strong enough to justify the process of expanding into that market.
Why is travelling on a cruise ship not covered?
Some of the most severe outbreaks at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic occurred on international cruises. Those ships containing more than 10 cabins place passengers at an unnecessary and heightened risk for contracting infectious diseases. However, we are continuing to monitor the changes in both Covid-19 and the cruise line industry, and will likely change our policy in the future to better suit our members wishing to go on cruises. Our Medical Memberships, however, have always covered any medical emergencies that happen to our members on cruises, and if necessary, will provide evacuation to their home hospitals as soon as the cruise ship reaches the next port.
How do you vet your air ambulance partners? Do you rely on accreditation as a mark of quality?
Covac’s response model utilises a number of third-party service providers and air ambulance partners, contracted to deliver specialist assistance, tailored to the needs of their client group. To verify full compliance and maintain a common standard, Covac adopts a unique vetting process to ensure all partners meet a strict operating, licensing and insurance criteria. Covac investigates codes of conduct, as well as licences, permissions, insurances and key accrediting bodies.
Covac scrutinises each partner on capabilities and global presence, ascertaining exact geographical locations and disposition of resources to quickly and efficiently mobilise the most appropriate asset for the task. This improves response time and builds operational resilience into member support plans.
Is there a difference in cost of membership for vaccinated and unvaccinated customers?
Absolutely not. We welcome members with pre-existing medical conditions, as well as those who are unvaccinated.
While initially all our memberships were for Covid-19-related evacuation and repatriation, we support an increasing number of medical and security memberships
Covac Global doesn’t just provide cover for Covid-19; it also provides medical cover, security assistance and remote rescue services. What proportion of the company’s work relates to Covid compared to other services?
While initially all our memberships were for Covid-19-related evacuation and repatriation, we support an increasing number of medical and security memberships. Our fully indemnified medical membership has all the benefits of our Covid membership for other medical issues that may impact leisure and business travellers. What is more, to complement our pioneering medical evacuation memberships, we will include repatriation for monkeypox, regardless of the location of a traveller’s injury or illness. Monkeypox is just another example of how we respond and adapt to each global medical crisis as they occur.
As most travel insurance policies will now cover Covid-19, are you seeing a decrease in the number of travellers needing repatriation for Covid?
Not at all, Covid is still very present – leisure travellers, as well as corporate clients continue to reach out to us. What we see from members is continued interest in our membership, as the gap in coverage from traditional insurance is large, and often only found when the individual is in greatest need.
Organisations with a legal and moral obligation to keep their people safe, have in fact carefully reconsidered duty-of-care obligations to their employees, by taking steps to address the gaps in policies that were exposed when the pandemic hit almost two years ago.
The travel assistance sector has changed a great deal in the last few years. What are the most significant changes you have witnessed?
Technological advancements have certainly been immensely helpful; from making purchases easier, to keeping travellers better informed. But Covid clearly had the most significant impact across the whole of the travel sector. It immediately stopped almost all travel, but also turbocharged the demand for protection like Covac Global. This was very evident in terms of the numbers of travellers we supported, due to uncertainty about getting home if they had Covid. They needed to feel confident they would be taken care of, which is where customer service became so important. I believe customer service is an example of another big change in the industry – it was suddenly at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It highlighted the importance of assistance providers to customers; and to assistance providers, the value of putting customer service first, when information from multiple sources was confusing and clear communication was needed.
If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just entering the travel medical assistance industry, what would it be?
I have been part of this industry for over eight years, and it’s a fantastic place to be. It provides great opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals globally.
Adaptability is a good characteristic to have. In this ever-changing world, we are constantly identifying new solutions to overcome medical and logistical challenges in the most effective manner possible.
To people entering the industry now, I would also suggest not to be shy – it is very welcoming. Connect to different colleagues from different companies, join conversations and attend conferences. Always be on the lookout for feedback and career growth!
We wanted to think differently about what benefits would offer our members the most value
Have you started to travel for leisure again? Where are you planning on going, now restrictions are being lifted?
I’m still a little cautious, given my insight into the industry – perhaps it is because I am so in tune with the medical or security emergencies that can happen when you travel. I believe it is also very important to not limit yourself. Wherever I go, I make sure to have a plan and give myself flexibility.
I learned from the pandemic that the best trip is the one that offers a new experience. It does not matter how far I am going; it is about what I am doing. During Covid, I flew to my parents’ house in Sicily where I grew up, and discovered the countryside and places I had never visited – just outside my doorstep.
In the next months, I will be travelling a lot for business. In terms of leisure, I would like to go back skiing in Japan once restrictions are lifted. I adore nature and beautiful landscapes, and would love to spend a few weeks there again, disconnected from everything.
I recommend that everyone starts to travel again, but I don’t think we will ever go back 100 per cent as it used to be. It is important to have a plan and make smart choices.