A new era for travel protection: what's trending and what's here to stay
Jeff Wright, CEO of Allianz Partners USA, on the shifting landscape in travel insurance, growing awareness and evolving support
The pandemic forced a number of changes upon our industry, while also radically transforming consumer behaviour. When travellers unleashed pent-up demand in 2022, travel service providers across the globe – including Allianz Partners – faced both opportunities and challenges to meet it. But the biggest impact is what people are expecting of travel suppliers: new solutions for flexibility, optionality, safety and security.
There is a definite renewed awareness of products like travel insurance – which, for many, started with seeking out a ‘security blanket’ when booking under more unpredictable circumstances. When the pandemic began, we immediately put into place temporary accommodations to help protect customers with trip cancellations and medical emergencies caused by Covid-19.
These protections are now built into plans in most states – along with additional benefits for situations like denied boarding due to suspected illness and mandatory individually ordered quarantines. These updates have helped customers feel that their most relevant protection needs are being met.
Many now see travel insurance as an essential part of the trip planning process. On top of epidemic- or pandemic-related risks, widespread staffing shortages and supply chain issues have also made travel (and life) more unpredictable. Flight cancellations, delays and other obstacles became more common and visible – causing travellers to better plan for unexpected situations.
Responding to consumer demand, more suppliers have begun offering insurance, while realising its potential to help protect customers and drive additional booking confidence. Many companies see travel insurance as a great ancillary revenue opportunity, which it certainly is, but it’s a lot more than that. It helps give consumers confidence, translating to bookings and higher-priced trips. The other benefit is customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Offering products that make a meaningful difference when your customers need them most versus products that have little follow through, will certainly increase brand loyalty.
Customers appreciate peace of mind and like the option of being protected when things don’t quite go as planned. They also like knowing they can be compensated for covered trip cancellations, interruptions and delays, along with lost, stolen or delayed baggage, or emergency medical care – plus receive 24/7 assistance from our award-winning customer service team, almost anywhere in the world.
‘Bleisure’ and ‘micro-cations’
Other trends have emerged, including more short-term rental bookings and the combination of business and leisure, or ‘bleisure’, trips. Preferences are edging towards shorter, more frequent ‘micro-cations’, while international travel has also returned with a vengeance, as countries open back up and the strong dollar lowers costs for Americans.
Trends shared at the 2022 Skift Global Forum included travellers booking more often and earlier, to check-off bucket list trips before something unexpected interferes. Flexible payment options – like buy now, pay later, through a variety of methods – and flexible cancellation and change policies are also in higher demand.
According to the American Society of Travel Advisors, in addition to seeking safety nets like insurance, 48 per cent of travellers feel an advisor would put them more at ease about booking a trip – offering expertise on topics like up-to-date requirements, reputable vacation package providers and pandemic-related issues. To facilitate this, we’ve partnered with Sherpa to aggregate the most current requirements across the globe, offering quick and accurate lookup. These trends are likely to stick around, actively factoring into our ongoing innovation of products and services – as I’m sure they are for many in the travel space.
This industry is close-knit, with advisors, airline and cruise executives, tour companies, rental car firms and insurance at the table with the same customers. We all serve a distinct role in the value chain, complementing one another and helping to find solutions to complex problems.
We have longstanding partnerships with the world’s most iconic brands and, as part of that, are an extension of them. So we make excellent customer experience the core of what we do. We’re constantly modelling new ways to predict service request volumes, and to adjust our resourcing to meet expectations. At the end of the day, we want happy customers and our partners to look good – and a customer-centric approach is key. This includes building an extensive, actionable Voice of Customer programme that collects and measures preferences, while providing feedback and resolution points for customers in need – what we call, ‘Close the Loop’. We use this data to anticipate market trends, quickly identify pain points and establish new processes, products and services to constantly innovate the way we drive value. We’ve also invested heavily in technology solutions to make our processes smoother for customers and more efficient for associates. Our customers can access a 100 per cent digital claims experience, with self-service options to get information on their policy or track a claim – without ever having to pick up the phone. Of course, we have people available 24/7 to help when required.
Right now, there is a struggle to hire enough people to meet demand. Managing our award-winning customer service teams in a new hybrid work environment has prompted us to retool how we train and manage our associates. We’ve transformed a lot of processes to use machines and automation to assist humans in making quicker decisions, while allowing them to spend more time on complex tasks that require a human touch.
What customers may not see is what we do through our partnerships to enable solutions. Our organisational structure has been set up so that each one has a dedicated team supporting their business. These include project management experts, performance analytics professionals, marketing strategists and advertising creatives. There are no functional silos that need breaking down, so things get moving quickly. This is one of the many tools in our belt that break the stigma massive companies with global reach and financial strength can sometimes have. We’ve always led innovation that redefines what travel protection can do, to drive higher customer value.
Our company is one piece of the value chain, but one we believe is an essential part of each traveller’s journey. At the end of the day, everyone in our industry is in a race to figure out who can take care of customers best, pushing ourselves to be better. Travellers demand it and, frankly, deserve it.