What is your role with ABTA, and how does it fit into the goal of increasing uptake and understanding of insurance products?
As Head of Travel Insurance, my key role is to develop quality travel insurance products that can be used by ABTA Members and made available to the general travelling public.
Covid-19 has certainly highlighted the need for quality travel insurance products and I believe that the partnership that ABTA have with AXA enables us to deliver this. Our product, ABTA Travel Sure, has been well received by both ABTA Members and consumers. It is seen as a natural fit alongside the association’s core activities and the ABTA brand, which is synonymous with trust and quality. We’re getting many enquiries from ABTA members wishing to promote the product, with some now going through the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulatory process. With cover for medical and cancellation should you become ill with Covid-19. ABTA Travel Sure further supports the protection that customers get when booking through an ABTA Member.
When the pandemic hit and the first lockdown happened in the UK, how did your role instantly change?
We were due to launch the ABTA Travel Sure product back in March 2020, with a sizable PR event planned. This was cancelled and a soft launch followed in July 2020 when some travel resumed. My role did change by moving from what would have been driving and monitoring distribution, to one of giving advice to ABTA Members of what coverage was out there. Something else that we had to adapt quickly was the level of coverage we offered. The ABTA Travel Sure products include cover for cancellation should you fall ill with coronavirus and are unable to travel or required to self-isolate.
Being part of the European Union gave British travellers access to healthcare services abroad at either low or no cost. What effect will Brexit have on healthcare availability for travellers from the UK? Is the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) the answer – or could it cause confusion, as it is neither global, nor insurance, really?
Any change will initially lead to some element of confusion; however, there is little immediate change for most UK holidaymakers as European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) remain valid until their expiration date.
However, it's important to remember that neither the EHIC nor the GHIC are replacements for good quality travel insurance as they will not cover all medical costs, the cost of emergency repatriation back to the UK or disruption-related costs, like paying for a hotel to quarantine in and new flights home if you get Covid while abroad.
Balancing development opportunities with risks is a key part of your role with ABTA. How do you ensure you find the right equilibrium?
One of the risks many insurance products face is distribution, but ABTA Travel Sure is only distributed through ABTA Members, Partners and directly to the consumer.
As this is a regulated product, ABTA Members have three ways that they can promote it, depending on the size of their business. There’s a limited number of appointed representatives, meaning they can sell the product directly to their customers. Then there are quite a few introducer-appointed representatives, which means that they can introduce the product to their clients, but the sale is made by AXA. And finally, there are passive advertisers, who will simply have a leaflet/poster in store or a static banner ad, for example.
What more can travel agents and tour operators do to ensure their customers are protected not just by any insurance, but by the right insurance? And what more can insurers and brokers do to achieve the same goal?
The travel sector has had a particularly tough time since March 2020. While their main activity is to sell holidays, they also need to give customers confidence to book, and being ABTA and Air Travel Organiser’s Licence bonded is a first step to that, and offering package holidays too. Consumer survey results show that confidence in ABTA has remained robust throughout the pandemic and ABTA has been vocal in promoting package holidays for the protection that the Package Travel Regulations bring to customers.
Another step to promote booking with confidence is for travel agents and tour operators to suggest their customers get good quality travel insurance – but they must be careful not to advise nor recommend particular products or insurers unless they are FCA-authorised agents.
On the other hand, insurers and brokers need to make insurance easy to understand and transparent, not hiding exclusions in the small print, especially when it comes to coverage for Covid-19.
The pandemic has highlighted to customers the need for quality travel insurance and customers now take more care in reading policy wordings, which can only be a good thing. When the pandemic is well behind us, whether there will be a return to low cost, bottom-of-the-line policies – only time will tell.