It’s a girl thing!' Is there a demand for woman only travel insurance?

It’s a girl thing!' Is there a demand for woman only travel insurance?
It’s a girl thing!' Is there a demand for woman only travel insurance?

An increasing number of brands market travel insurance specifically to female travellers. Tatum Anderson investigates the thinking behind this strategy and asks whether such policies are meeting a real need.

An increasing number of brands market travel insurance specifically to female travellers. Tatum Anderson investigates the thinking behind this strategy and asks whether such policies are meeting a real need

Travel insurance products targeted at women are meeting the needs of an under-served, untapped market. That’s the view of Ben Webster, one of the founders of Travel With Jane, a brand of travel insurance products aimed specifically at women, which launched in March in Australia. He believes the product will shake up the Australian travel insurance market, which has so far ignored this vital demographic: “This segment hasn’t really been tapped before as it’s just been a blind spot.” Travel With Jane offers provisions that will appeal to its female customers said Webster. Dependants aged 21 and younger go for free when they’re travelling with their parents. It also includes generous pregnancy coverage; it will cover overseas emergency medical assistance for women up to 26 weeks pregnant, or 19 weeks with twins and other multiple births. 

This segment hasn’t really been tapped before as it’s just been a blind spot.

The plan is to develop even more provisions that target women. As such, the company is carrying out research to determine how its travel insurance premiums might reflect the pay gap between men and women. “We’re primarily interested in being able to deliver a price to women that negates the pay gap. In Australia the pay gap is at 17.3 per cent,” he said. Targeting women in this way is likely to be such a good strategy that Webster believes the brand could launch around the Asia-Pacific region. The idea behind Travel With Jane originally came about from Webster’s experience working in financial services. He discovered that financial services were put out of reach of many women. “From my extensive customer engagement I heard over and over again how women felt disenfranchised when engaging with financial services,” he said. “This was attributed to things such as language used in product documents.” That women have been overlooked was apparently a surprise to those in charge. “This came as a great shock to men in management positions within these financial institutions,” Webster added. “They had not set out to exclude women. They don’t see it happening.” One of Travel With Jane’s aims is to empower women to have confidence in the products they buy by making policies clearer. “From an insurance point of view, we’ve identified a gap in the way policy information and pricing structure is communicated to women. This is a problem seen across the financial services sector, which we’ve set out to address through an investment in consumer education,” Webster said in a statement. There are other companies with a similar ethos. Travel With Jane is one of a handful of companies that have launched travel insurance products targeted at women. Auto & General, another Australian firm, also plans to capitalise on the success it has seen with its 1st for Women car insurance products, which are aimed at female drivers in both Australia and South Africa. It has launched a travel insurance policy that allows dependants under the age of 18 to travel for free.  Auto & General’s are not the only travel insurance products launched as a spin-off from successful car insurance products tailored to women. UK insurer Sheilas’ Wheels launched in October 2005 promising women drivers cheaper car insurance. Its big bold marketing campaign offered very girly-specific provisions – handbag cover, a dedicated counselling line run by trained professionals and a network of female-friendly repairers. A Sheilas’ Wheels travel insurance product followed in 2010 – it also includes ‘Handbag on Holiday’ cover and, like Travel With Jane, a provision allowing children to travel for free on their parent or parents’ policy. UK Diamond insurance, which originally launched a car insurance product for women, also now offers travel insurance, with provisions including cover for damage to equipment such as child seats or buggies.

Meeting a real need …

To what extent are these women’s travel insurance products merely a marketing effort? In other words, are these products ‘washed in a feminine colour’, as one contributor put it – are they travel insurance policies that could be sold to either men or women but are heavily marketed to women?  Certainly the marketing of these products can be rather blatant. Websites often feature snappy travel advice on girly weekends away, weddings and beauty tips. They are provocatively worded; one website cautions: “Of course, no self-respecting girl would be seen about the town without a handbag and this can also be covered by the insurance, up to £300.” And even for those products that aren’t branded pink and sparkly, and don’t mention handbags, it’s quite difficult to work out how they differ from any other normal forms of insurance. Men can be named as policyholders, so that children can go for free with their dads as well as mums. Indeed, a close look at many product disclosure statements and policy wordings reveals that there is no explicit ban on men taking out these policies too. In fact, the only mention of women in some products is in the title of the insurance.

we’ve identified a gap in the way policy information and pricing structure is communicated to women

Of course, marketing products to women might be a rather good strategy given that it’s more likely to be women that shop around and buy insurance policies for families. In fact, the firm behind Travel With Jane, Sydney-based Insured By Us, also operates Woolworths Travel Insurance and Real Travel Insurance policies and it says two-thirds of the travel policies it sells are purchased by women. Certainly some believe it’s a struggle even to work out precisely which provisions women need that might differ from those demanded by men and, therefore, why separate insurance products are necessary. After all, men take hand luggage on holiday too – although few will call what they carry a handbag – but would be grateful for cover. Likewise, dads would probably quite like to travel with their children for free and would also appreciate cover for car seats and buggies that they use on holiday. So says Fiona Macrae, head of client engagement at Travel Insurance Facilities in the UK, a firm that helps improve the risk-rating methodology for products aimed at people with specific health conditions. It helped create products on behalf of charities that promote better understanding of these conditions. But although she has helped create many health-specific products that, by default, are aimed at women because they cover conditions that largely or exclusively affect women, such as breast, cervical or ovarian cancer, she cannot think of any specific provisions that would justify women-only travel insurance. “I can’t see that there’s anything conditional that you could put in a product like that that a man wouldn’t use as well or need to use,” she said.  But whether or not these products are marketed at women, it’s important that customers understand they should not exclude male travelling partners from their policies. In other words, men should be included on the policy if they are all travelling together, said Macrae. That way, if something happens – mum becomes sick for instance – everybody else on the policy can benefit from its provisions; cancellation, if they are forced to leave early, or accommodation provision if dad must look after the children and stay nearby while mum is in hospital: “Everybody travelling should be on one policy. Say a woman had cervical cancer and her husband wanted to go on holiday. We would also say to cover the husband on holiday, because if they needed to cancel because of her cervical cancer then both people would be covered. What’s potentially insulting about women-only travel insurance products, say some contributors, is the idea that women can’t understand financial literature and need specific products that spell out provisions in uncomplicated financial language. Certainly, household, motor and travel insurance has, in the past, been written in a very particular, and sometimes impenetrable, language, conceded Macrae. But things have improved over the years, with initiatives such as the Plain English Campaign. “Everybody has worked really hard – insurers and underwriters – because it’s in our interests to make sure that your customers understand your policy and what is and isn’t covered,” she said. “To say women are excluded because they don’t understand is ridiculous. It is not women that don’t understand, it is that nobody used to understand. Putting it into plain English isn’t just going to help women, it will help everybody.”

… or just clever marketing?

Another argument put forth against the idea of gender-specific travel insurance is that, from a risk point of view, there may not be much reason for it. Statistically, women tend to be safer drivers than men, which provided insurers with the mathematical basis for an entirely new segment of car insurance products. They could offer women cheaper car insurance on the basis that as a group they were likely to make fewer claims. That is also true of life insurance. If there are differences between the sexes when it comes to travel insurance, however, it’s unclear whether this has been borne out by industry-wide, well-understood statistics. It is also unclear whether the reason behind the launch of these products is because, say, women end up in hospital less frequently, cancel less frequently or thieves target men’s suitcases more than women’s. That said, Travel With Jane says it is conducting research to confirm a statistical difference. “Our data indicates that women make significantly fewer claims than men. We’re still validating this data to see if cheaper premiums can be delivered as a result,” said Travel With Jane’s Webster. 

from a risk point of view, there may not be much reason for it

Of course, in Europe, offering different premiums to women and men is illegal. That’s because the EU Gender Directive outlawed discrimination between genders in financial products from 2012. The directive means insurers cannot offer customers different prices based on whether they are male or female. That makes it more difficult to provide women-only products that are anything other than marketing in Europe. Insurers are able to market products specifically to either women or men as long as the pricing and benefits are equal. Special offers must be available equally to customers of both genders if they wanted to take them up, say experts. Women-only travel insurance products may evolve further in the future, however, and become more sophisticated. Some products are being honed to distinguish between the wide range of different kinds of women there are in this demographic. Auto & General, for instance, is conducting in-depth research to assess the kind of woman certain travel insurance products should be aimed at. “We need to consider who makes up our target market and the segments within this. We need to understand each of the segments’ needs too in developing the product that we want to deliver.” says Jodi Thomas, head of travel insurance. “Are we insuring a mum with her children, or a wife that does all the planning, a highly empowered woman with expensive luggage, or a single female adventure seeker, and so forth?” Whoever they’re aimed at, travel insurance policies certainly look to become more sophisticated in terms of the cover they offer to certain female demographics. In markets where the creation and sale of women-only policies is permitted, this could mean the offer of cover that meets real needs. There’s no doubt, though, that in any insurance market, the targeting of women is a savvy marketing tool that is sure to bring in extra revenue from those ladies lured by the offer of cover that appeals to their instincts, whatever those may be; but that’s for insurers to work out.⬛