Welcome to 2021, a year that looks completely different to how analysts would have predicted it to five or 10 years ago. A considerable portion of the global population has shifted to remote working seemingly overnight1; around the world, telehealth consultations have surged exponentially, with market growth projected to continue at a dizzying pace2; and, following what the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) declared to be the worst year in tourism history3, international travel finds itself in the midst of a diplomatic stalemate as Covid-19 vaccine efforts advance at varying paces in popular tourist source and destination markets. It’s a bizarre new landscape for us all, not least of all for the international travel and health insurance industry – for which, over the past 12 or so months, rapidly evolving policy coverage has become a way of life, as has the phenomenal shift to digital infrastructure. And many have increasingly found that communication-enabling technology has been a godsend for keeping travellers safe, and for keeping them informed of the changing assistance offerings available to them.
The role of tech in rebuilding confidence in travel
For most – if not all – of us, over the year since global travel restrictions began, the role of communication technology – whether it be Facebook, Zoom, or a carefully curated conference platform – has become pivotal to maintaining some semblance of ‘normality’ and sense of ‘connectedness’. For the travel assistance industry, where technology usage has been widely adopted already, its importance has only been accentuated. As Australia-based international travel insurance and assistance firm Cover-More told ITIJ: “Information, access, and rapid support are imperative for traveller health and safety – and even more so during a global pandemic.” It’s not as if the role of technology in the travel risk management (TRM) sphere is anything new. Employee assistance programme providers have long been using digital platforms to help track and maintain the safety of overseas employees, and providers had begun integrating apps to help travellers access quick and timely assistance even before the advent of the global pandemic – though, perhaps, real-time TRM in the leisure travel sphere was not as well-established as it has been in the business travel sphere. However, the sudden drop in international tourism due to lockdown restrictions and increasing cases of coronavirus in early 2020, followed by a subsequent drop in traveller confidence, has meant that the industry has had to make a gargantuan shift towards promoting products that prioritise traveller safety if they wish to keep the prospect of international travel ripe for the picking.
Catering to the ‘global traveller of the future’
It can therefore come as no great surprise that companies such as Cover-More have made ‘significant investment in TRM tools’ that ensure 24/7 assistance is available to customers – both business and leisure. The global insurance and assistance provider is on the cusp of launching a travel assistance app for leisure travellers – a product that it says will complement its app already in existence for corporate and business travellers. “Both apps provide proactive risk and security alerts through geo-location, as well as click-to-call for rapid assistance no matter where our customers are in the world. Basically, that means, based on our global intelligence, we are able to proactively contact customers we know are in trouble spots – or, for example, in the midst of Covid-19 outbreaks – and then we can provide immediate support, care and advice.”
COMMUNICATION-ENABLING TECHNOLOGY HAS BEEN A GODSEND FOR KEEPING TRAVELLERS SAFE
Cara Morton, Cover-More Group Chief Executive Officer, said that the new app was catered towards the ‘global traveller of the future’, who ‘we know will be far more engaged with the details of their travel insurance policies than ever before, and they will want a lot more information about the risks of travel and what assistance is available to them’: “So our leisure travel assistance app aims to deliver that – to provide travellers with much more localised information about potential risks wherever they are, so they can make better decisions.” Placing the customer at the centre of travel assistance technology not only means that assistance providers are able to directly communicate with customers in real-time should a risk arise, it also gives the traveller more control over their own health and safety while travelling, giving them peace of mind that help is just a click away should they find themselves in a tight spot. “For leisure travellers, TRM practice can inspire people to see the world while ensuring they are well-informed and supported. Once travel opens up again, we believe leisure travellers will value this kind of support and security more than ever,” said Cover-More. “Travel insurance and assistance providers must be able to provide that if they are truly focused on their customers.”
Good communication reduces costs and optimises productivity
Speaking of customer centricity, James Page, Chief Administration Officer and Head of Assistance and Claims at North American travel insurer AIG Travel, told ITIJ about its assistance website and app that is available on smartphones. “Tech plays a valuable role in helping us to make sure that customers get the full value of our product by being able to seek out relevant information on their own, without having to call, and having a location where they can identify additional services we might provide,” he said.
Indeed, a spokesperson for health insurance and benefits provider Cigna Europe tells ITIJ that as the use of smartphones has become second nature in the world we live in, particularly while travelling, it is crucial that travel companion applications, such as the Safe Travel by Cigna App (owned and operated by Cigna’s partner Healix International), are easily accessible and downloadable on the leading mobile platforms (Apple Store and Google Play). Although, as Adrian Leach, Chief Executive Officer, World Travel Protection, CoverMore Group, notes, these ‘easily accessible communication channels’ must be backed up with ‘the right mix of key medical and security people in place for when an issue escalates’. For AIG, Cigna and Cover-More, this is the case.
TECHNOLOGY MAY ALLOW TRAVELLERS TO ACQUIRE THE LATEST TRAVEL INFORMATION DOWN TO THE SECOND … BUT IT ALSO GREATLY INCREASES THEIR RISK OF SUFFERING DATA BREACHES
Page explains that AIG’s apps allow customers to connect live with someone who can help them further, should they require it. Cover-More tells ITIJ that its traveller assistance apps – which are the first port of call for a traveller when they need assistance overseas – offer a direct line to Cover-More’s Command Centre via a one-touch call that enables travellers to speak to experts for advice and access to medical care. Cigna’s newly launched Crisis Assistance Plus™, provided exclusively by FocusPoint International, offers time-sensitive advice and co-ordinated in-country crisis response services in the event of a travel or security risk that may occur while customers are travelling globally. No doubt these direct methods of communication also greatly reduce the likelihood of travellers heading to out-ofnetwork providers and later having claim issues. Cover-More sums up the benefits: “Being able to reduce known travel risks and being educated on how to promote safe travel can reduce the severity of incidents, if they occur. This minimises travel disruption for the traveller, it reduces insurance claims, and minimises costs for the organisation while optimising productivity, the traveller’s wellbeing and business resilience.”
Navigating the pitfalls of travel assistance technology
Of course, there are also barriers to the implementation of travel assistance technology. When you make plans to enhance operations through technology-led communication channels, it’s imperative that you also consider the security risks that go hand in hand with this. Sure, technology may allow travellers to acquire the latest travel information down to the second, with immediate assistance available at the touch of a button, but it also greatly increases their risk of suffering data breaches and other forms of cybercrime – unless their provider has stringent cybersecurity protections and protocols in place. For this reason, Cover-More makes a point to advise travellers to travel with the latest security updates, as well as with the least amount of sensitive information possible, as they can be at an increased risk of cybercrime due to insecure networks and weak passwords. “All our entities globally are aligned and comply to GDPR, even in regions where regulations aren’t as stringent as the European Union,” the company said. “We can share information across our different businesses as we have the correct GDPR controls in place around our customer data. We know what we share, why we share it and who we are sharing it with.”
Elsewhere, AIG’s Page reasons that data privacy regulations can present some challenges for providers: “Understandably, customers would prefer not to be bombarded with unwanted correspondence, and the regulations are accordingly there to protect them from that – and from potential misuse of personal data. The converse, of course, is that it also limits our ability to provide customers with relevant information proactively.” Page adds that data protection regulations also stipulate that insurers such as AIG must adhere to stringent onboarding processes of providers (hospitals, ambulances, etc.), which can be very time-consuming and, as a result, it takes AIG much longer to bring those providers onboard – which sometimes puts these providers off. But nonetheless, AIG remains diligent in its compliance efforts, says Page.
GOOD COMMUNICATION REDUCES
COSTS AND OPTIMISES PRODUCTIVITY
Communication to ensure duty of care compliance
A recent survey from global travel and operational risk firm headquartered in the UK Anvil Group, which interviewed over 500 frequent travellers at large global US and European firms to determine the effect that global mobility has on those employees in light of the Covid pandemic, highlighted that business travellers are considerably concerned over their companies’ TRM offerings. Anvil Group’s findings4 revealed that only 39 per cent of respondents believed their firm’s travel technology to be fit for purpose, and 63 per cent of respondents said that they were not fully prepared to take quick action and return to safety, or to recover emotionally, when incidents happen.
Clearly, with the advent of the global pandemic, a lack of confidence among business travellers in TRM offerings is also clear, and so the need for enhanced tech-based TRM offerings should not be undermined. Communication assistance technology is vital for the world of business travel – where duty of care has played a major role in the quick adoption of TRM tech solutions. Cover-More tells ITIJ that apps help avert risk while travelling for overseas employees, making it easier for them to comply with their organisation’s travel risk policy. What’s more, Cover-More also notes that its app, World Travel Protection, has geolocation capabilities that allow the traveller to be accurately located in the visiting country after landing and before taking off – not only perfect for business travellers who need to comply with the organisation’s travel risk policy, but also an extra level of customer convenience: thanks to geo-location, travellers are free from having to check in with their organisation, also fast-tracking their access to care. “In addition, we will be able to use the information received through the apps to provide more tailored products in the future that match the specific demands of our customers,” Cover-More told ITIJ.
More than just travel insurance
Allianz Global Partners, the insurance and assistance provider with headquarters in France, has also been quick to utilise technology to enhance its travel offerings in the context of the global pandemic. Its new product (offered through its partnership with Blink) offers travellers an ‘immediate solution’ to being ‘more comfortable in the event of a minor flight delay’ – such as by sending them a lounge pass. “Being able to make even minor issues a little easier for customers as and when they happen is really important,” Allianz Global Assistance UK’s Head of Travel and Tourism Rachel Temperton explained. It’s a thoughtful offering that the insurer believes will provide customers the comfort and peace of mind that their insurer is there to support them. “It’s about putting the customer at the heart of our business, especially now that they’re likely to be nervous to travel again once more opportunities arise,” she said. A crucial factor that Temperton also identifies is that, with its new offering, customers don’t need to make a claim to benefit from their travel insurance. “However, in the event that disruption becomes severe and a claim is made, having access to data from Blink, as well as other tech tools already in place, means that we can check whether a flight was delayed/cancelled to support further validation of the claim and make the claims process easier and more efficient for the customer.”
Communication is key to keeping travellers informed
As we see with those travel risk management solutions and digital offerings detailed, the integration of technology allows travel insurance to move out of the negative space surrounding travel, and into the foreground: it becomes more than just a last-minute add-on, offering protection in the ‘unlikely’ event of an unfortunate mishap. Instead, it is a means to uplift and augment the entire travel journey, placing the customer’s peace of mind and comfort at the centre of operations. For travel insurers, another benefit of enhanced communication opportunities that tech provides is increased customer retention. Technology allows insurers to develop their portfolio of travel assistance offerings to customers and, as Page identifies, communication via these new digital platforms allows insurers to inform customers of the comprehensive benefits available to them through their insurance coverage – which they might have otherwise not been aware of. In addition, insurers can even save money through multiple methods of communication that are available through these digital platforms. “The cost equation is very simple,” said Page. “If we’re able to provide customers with service – using technology that precludes the need for a phone call – and customers find that service to be valuable, then that absolutely lowers costs overall, because we can then deliver highquality service to a larger customer base without having to add resources in order to field phone calls on a one-off basis.” Particularly in the current climate, the enhanced offerings that travellers are keen to see – and which will hopefully get them travelling again – are increased health risk management platforms that put them in control of their own travel risk, and assistance in the event of flight delays and cancellations. “The primary purpose in investing in this application and the related features is to increase the peace of mind of our customers. Our aim is to have satisfied and engaged customers throughout the entire time they are with [us] and ensure they have access to the very best of care and services available to them as and when they need it,” Cigna concluded.