You have been with Starr Insurance for over six years. What has changed in that time, good and bad, and how have you dealt with these changes?
Over the past six years, the Covid pandemic more than any other event wrought the most change throughout the travel industry. It immediately stopped almost all travel, but it also turbocharged the demand for travel insurance for those who were still travelling.
Now that Covid has subsided, demand for travel and insurance has been surging, particularly since the end of 2021.
Another significant change is in the buyer’s focus. More Americans now want medical coverage in their travel insurance, not just trip cancellation coverage. Pre-Covid, people primarily bought insurance to cover the cost of cancelling a trip. Post-Covid, they want to be sure their policy will pay for medical costs while travelling.
We’re also seeing increased travel insurance demand among younger people. They generally have less money to spend, so they can’t afford to take the risk of testing positive for Covid and being forced to quarantine for several days in a hotel before returning home. And many countries require Covid testing before being allowed to travel there.
Younger people also often don’t have health insurance, so they value having travel medical coverage, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
How does your previous experience as Director at Hotel Insiders help you in your current role?
I’ve seen the travel insurance industry from both the buyer’s and the seller’s perspectives. That experience gives me a better understanding of the buyer’s mindset and how to develop plans that meet the customer’s needs.
Travel insurance is going through a lot of changes due to Covid – are there any changes you welcome and that you hope stick around?
We’ve noticed people increasingly booking their trips at the last minute, yet they are increasingly likely to purchase travel insurance. Pre-Covid, people were better about planning trips far in advance and making sure they bought travel insurance to protect their investment. Now, because of what they’ve learned about risk amid a pandemic, they’re not just concerned about the trip cost – they want to cover the risk of a medical crisis while travelling. We welcome that heightened awareness of risk.
What about some of the difficulties, how have you been overcoming challenges related to the pandemic?
We have closely watched the post-Covid trends on claims stemming from policies that offer coverage for cancelling a trip for any reason – so-called CFAR insurance. We expected a spike in those kinds of claims but didn’t see it. The reason is that most travel suppliers proactively offered refunds and reimbursements for people who had to cancel trips because of Covid.
One difficulty we’ve had to manage is training our call centre representatives to serve our customers’ needs and address their concerns under extraordinary circumstances. As the pandemic emerged, call volume surged, even from people who didn’t have claims, and of course claim volume rose as well. We had to create new documents that provided proof of Covid-related coverage.
Do you have any stories of particularly weird or interesting claims?
We see all kinds of travel calamities. Recently, one of our policyholders parasailing in Aruba had a line snap and severely injured her head and face. Our assistance team worked with the hospital in Aruba to get the victim stabilised for return to the US. The evacuation was complicated by the fact that, due to the head injury, we had to fly thousands of miles at a low altitude. Fortunately, a full recovery is expected.
What sets Starr Insurance apart from other travel insurers?
We’ve been providing insurance on a global scale for more than 100 years. We trace our roots to an insurance company founded in Shanghai. We’ve been an international insurer since day one. Starr travel insurance plans are available in North, Central and South America and throughout Asia, including China. We understand risk better than most. We were able to keep offering cancel-for-any-reason travel policies, for example, after Covid hit while virtually every other carrier stopped selling it.
Other differentiators include an unsurpassed global assistance network. We have the ability to customise plans, with over 85 different benefits to choose from. Three out of the Forbes top-five pandemic travel insurance plans for 2021 are underwritten by Starr as part of our white-label programme. The breadth of what we sell includes adventure travel, cruises, city vacations, safaris, family visits, and missionaries, among others. We also offer annual multi-trip plans as well as single-trip coverage.
What’s your ideal travel destination?
My ideal destination is one that offers a new experience. That’s what travel is all about, and it’s not about distance. You can get a new experience a hundred miles from home – to try new cuisine, see a shooting star. The ideal destination is wherever our policyholders want to go.