Interview: David Ewing and Warren Brown, THIA 2023 conference co-chairs
ITIJ spoke with David Ewing and Warren Brown of Canada’s Travel Health Insurance Association (THIA), about what’s coming up on the THIA 2023 conference agenda
What has changed since the pandemic about how people view conference attendance; do you think the perception of value that such events bring is different now?
David Ewing (DE): We returned to in-person conferences with our 2022 Conference in Cancun. Attendance was about 75 per cent of our usual levels, but people were eager to reconnect and that is only growing. I expect that in 2023 we’ll be back to pre-pandemic levels and perhaps higher as people are suffering from web meeting fatigue and want to see old friends and make new connections. With remote working remaining in some companies, it’s a chance for people to see others outside the office and to re-engage.
What’s coming up on the agenda at THIA’s event in April?
DE: 2023 marks THIA’s 25th year as an association and we have a great agenda for those making the trip to Nashville, with high-quality speakers and lots of chances to network with colleagues while also enjoying the birthplace of country music. We will open our 2023 conference on Sunday, April 16th on the rooftop of the Westin Nashville where many television specials have been filmed, offering panoramic views of Music City. THIA will close its conference off-site on the famous Nashville strip at Ole Red and hopefully see its owner Blake Shelton, while enjoying some of the local foods and drinks overlooking the strip with colleagues and friends.
Warren Brown (WB): In terms of the daily schedule, the conference will open on Monday morning with Bernard Lord, former Premier of the province of New Brunswick. Bernard is the CEO of Medavie, the Chair of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association of Canada and the President of the Canadian Association of Blue Cross Plans. Tuesday will see the morning free for delegates to meet with colleagues and continue their networking before our programme kicks off with a luncheon followed by an afternoon of speakers and a cocktail hour to close off the day. On Wednesday, we resume our morning sessions and wrap up the conference with our closing gala that evening. All of our speaker bios are on THIA’s website.
How are you working with providers and payers to further develop the Canadian travel health insurance industry, improving engagement with customers and understanding of the products consumers are buying?
WB: THIA has various committees focused on key areas of the industry to support our members, including regulation, education, and communication. Our Innovation Committee recently hosted a sold-out annual one-day Innovation Summit geared towards educating our members on emerging trends affecting our stakeholders, including consumers. The objective of the summit is to encourage creative thinking around products as well as processes internally and for customer-facing experiences. Topics included cyber security, enhancing the customer journey, and finding new ways to work together.
We have also been working on additional partnerships to support our members. Along the lines of innovation, we’ve partnered with Cookhouse Labs to offer THIA members access to various programs aimed at increasing innovation across our industry. Cookhouse Labs is a space that fosters and encourages open collaboration and idea generation within the insurance industry. THIA members can take advantage of Cookhouse’s unique process for generating innovative solutions to organizational and industry problems that has produced successful, proven new business models, products and services.
We also recently announced a new partnership with BlueDot, Inc., a global leader in infectious disease intelligence that empowers public and private sector organisations to rapidly identify, understand, and effectively respond to global infectious disease threats. Through this collaboration, THIA members receive near-real-time intelligence on important health threats emerging around the world, so that they can make informed decisions to mitigate travel risks and preserve business continuity.
What are the primary challenges that North American insurers are facing at the moment, and what do you see as the solutions to these issues?
DE: Covid and the pandemic have heightened travellers’ awareness of the value of travel insurance and the need to travel insured. Consumers are more aware of their potential risks while travelling and want to be sure they are adequately covered in the event of something occurring before or during their trip. But challenges still remain around misinformation about when travellers need coverage, as well as the risks they are willing to take in not adequately insuring based on the trip they will take. Increasing awareness of the need to be insured among those who think ‘it won’t happen to me’ is also essential to continuing to grow the travel insurance marketplace.
How are you planning to engage the wider travel and health insurance industry, rather than just the Canadian operators, going forward?
DE: THIA has always been the leading voice of travel insurance in Canada but the subjects the association discusses and presents transcend geographic boundaries and are really industry topics that affect everyone in Canada, the US and elsewhere. We hope to capture new members who are looking to network and collaborate with their industry colleagues in Canada and North America. THIA has always welcomed everyone so our membership is broad and includes not only Canadians but also Americans and people from other countries in the western hemisphere.
WB: In addition, we’ve always recognised the opportunity to learn from other markets, such as having speakers from the UK, Europe, Latin America and beyond. There is tremendous insight to be gained from international presenters who can help us understand the impact of global trends and guide us through essential topics for our industry to consider. Not to mention understanding what our travellers might face in other regions. For example, Cookhouse Labs has offices both in Toronto and Utrecht, Netherlands so we have been able to tap into that network too.
Are Canadian tour operators and travel agents reporting increased interest in travel insurance among their clients, and if so, how do you think insurers can foster this interest and make the most of the opportunity they have to ensure growth for the insurers?
WB: Our market has certainly seen the value of travel insurance skyrocket and while travel agents and operators have always been able to offer travel protection for their clients, to better support this, THIA developed the Travel Insurance Program (TRIP).
TRIP is an in-depth, online curriculum about travel health insurance that gives industry professionals and individuals interested in working in travel and travel insurance a foundation of knowledge for their careers. TRIP is the first program of its kind and equips users with the technical expertise and professional competence required to excel in the Canadian travel insurance industry. It is recognised by several provincial insurance regulators and recently began to be offered to Travel and Tourism students at an Ontario college.
As we move into 2023, what are your hopes for the future of the Canadian travel and health insurance industry?
DE: We are hoping for continued growth and opportunities in our industry space. New players entering the marketplace both in retail and group insurance are offering new and innovative products driven by technology designed to make the consumer’s travel journey as seamless as possible – from electronic IDs to seamless cash claims payments and more. Our members have a great story to share with travellers and we as an association want to be sure those stories are heard.
How important is it for insurers to engage effectively with other members of the supply chain in the industry – assistance companies, healthcare providers, air ambulance companies, cost containers and more? – at industry events?
DE: Insurers have a valuable opportunity at industry events to get to know suppliers both old and new in a social setting and to learn about their offerings and potential to assist them with their needs. Some of my best client contacts have been made through conferences like THIA’s and maintained for years. It’s a valuable opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
WB: Engaging with stakeholders across the industry is the most effective way to deliver the best support to our travellers when they are in need of assistance, and this is why conferences and learning events are so crucial. This is where industry collaboration and sharing opportunities to better work together is critical.