Rock climbing, watersports, skiing, conflict zones and balconies. All of these are potential risks for travellers. But how can you discern between the reality of a travel risk and the perception of one?
An increasingly important role for insurers is to educate leisure travellers about the importance of travel protection, as well as sifting through the reality and the risk perceptions. It’s part of the package to consider which travel risks impact the customer, and to help them make informed decisions which could have far-reaching consequences.
Risk influences travel decisions
Risk is the subjective feeling of an individual concerning uncertainty and danger. Perceived risk is viewed as a motivational factor that influences travel intentions, decision making and information gathering. Risk perception is influenced by personal characteristics, previous travel experiences, gender, education level, nationality, and cultural differences.
In the Skift and Allianz report The Future of Travel Insurance: Understanding Travel Risk — Perceptions & Realities, Mike Nelson, CEO, Global Travel and Americas Allianz Worldwide Partners, said: “While part of what we do is to educate the travelling public about the benefits of travel protection, at the end of the day it behoves us and the travel industry as a whole to help dispel myths about the impact of travel risks.”
In an interview with Skift, Michael Quiello, Head of Business Development at JetBlue, says: “We have to think about risk as being many different things. Operational risk includes all the factors that are out of your control, such as weather, for example, that could lead to your trip being disrupted. It could encapsulate your flight being cancelled, your vacation being cancelled … in fact, risk for a customer is more often limited to these things.”
Risk perception changes with age
Demographic factors can influence an individual’s travel decisions, with female travellers found to be more risk resilient than men. In China, younger tourists will look for information on risk even when travel risks are considered to be low, whereas older travellers tend to do their research much more when travel risks are high, according to The Effects of Covid-19 Risk Perception on Travel Intention: Evidence from Chinese Travellers.
Travel insurance purchases continue to spike, especially with the lifting of Covid restrictions. Millennials and Gen Z travellers accounted for more than 40 per cent of travel insurance policy purchases through Squaremouth travel insurance in 2021, compared with less than 30 per cent in 2020. Steven Benna, Squaremouth’s Lead Data Analyst, reasoned that ‘younger travellers are still the most comfortable taking trips right now’.
In China, younger tourists will look for information on risk even when travel risks are considered to be low
The next generation of travellers are clearly in the sights of travel insurers. The always-on, digital natives are using social media for information and research. It’s becoming increasingly important for companies to get plugged into social media to communicate with their customers and make travel insurance part of the brand’s media feed.
Through tweets, posts, photo uploads, and timely messages, insurance companies can impart information and increase their customers’ understanding of travel risks. Building in solutions is vital – forewarned is forearmed.
Direct Travel Insurance has made use of its news section to publish travel safety advice from ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents, and the British FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office). Prevention is better than cure, which is the path ABTA took by running a campaign over the summer of 2021, providing tips and advice for young people to have a safe holiday. The campaign was targeted at the 16-23 age group, and provided safety tips such as looking out for their holiday companions and being aware if any of their party was missing, as well as taking care on balconies. Young people, as we know, engage in dangerous behaviour such as climbing from one balcony to another or jumping into the pool from their balcony – in many instances after drinking alcohol.
The most common activities that result in severe injuries and fatalities include children near to hotel and villa swimming pools, adults taking part in adventure sports such as kayaking and white-water rafting, as well as jet skiing
The Foreign Office has warned holidaymakers: “Your travel insurance may not cover you for incidents that take place on a balcony or if you were under the influence of drink or drugs when it happened.”
The most common activities that result in severe injuries and fatalities include children near to hotel and villa swimming pools, adults taking part in adventure sports such as kayaking and white-water rafting, as well as jet skiing.
“Young people in particular tend to be fearless, which leads them to take on more risks because they don’t necessarily know their boundaries in the way that more experienced travellers do,” says Lisa Cheng, Communications Manager at World Nomads, the recommended travel insurance partner of Lonely Planet. The travel insurer has a web page dedicated to travel alerts and warnings, with the latest global updates on civil unrest, natural disasters and disease outbreaks.
Travel insurers can also be leading lights in this new age, as the public rush to experience once again the joys of travel, for a market that includes leisure travellers, gap year adventurers or students studying abroad. It is an enriching experience that allows for exploration and the broadening of life experiences.
Cheng told ITIJ that scams and thefts are among the most prevalent problems during long-term trips and academic years abroad. “Having your belongings stolen can be a particular danger when travellers are staying at hostels with communal spaces or frequenting crowded areas where it’s easy to get distracted.
“Another concern we see is the failure to meet entry and exit requirements. Government rules change often and travellers can be denied entry for not providing the right documentation or undergoing the correct [Covid] testing.”
Risk mitigation measures during travel
Leisure travellers and gap year students need to educate themselves on what their insurance plan offers. This is where universities can play an active part in information dissemination. Staff and students at York University in the UK have access to crisis response management experts Crisis24 (formerly WorldAware), which is provided by Aviva. There’s a range of security advice and assistance services, information on worldwide travel, including country risk ratings as well as a rolling news ticker, providing real-time health and travel stories from around the world.
Trips that require border crossings may require Covid tests for entry or exit. Cheng advises travellers that they should check government websites for up-to-date travel requirements – which are changing at a pace never seen before – a week before departure. Cheng also recommends that they use social media to sign up to government alerts in the country to which they are headed.
World Nomads’ website utilises multimedia in the form of videos, articles and guides for off-the-beaten-path destinations. “Our travel writing guides are especially popular and perform well in terms of engagement and lead generation,” Cheng said.
Reputational risk for travel destinations
Tourists’ travel risk and perceptions of whether a country is safe or not can impact their psychological behaviour about when or where to travel. This is especially true in the face of the ongoing uncertainty of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Some countries have reputations as safe or risky – which may or may not be true – and many factors come into the equation. Terrorist attacks are a good example. Few could have known that Paris, the city of romance and love, would be at risk. The November 2015 attacks took place in France’s capital and the city's northern suburb, Saint-Denis. The attackers killed 130 people, including 90 at the Bataclan theatre, the deadliest in France since the Second World War. While terrorist attacks that involve international victims grab the headlines, the likelihood of tourists being caught up in one is, in reality, very low. The biggest risk to travellers’ health and wellbeing, whether corporate or leisure, remains being in a road traffic accident.
Some countries have reputations as safe or risky – which may or may not be true – and many factors come into the equation
“The reality is that any country is prone to risks and travellers can be subjected to unexpected events, no matter where they are. Maybe a traveller is going to a country that is perceived as safe, but engaging in risky behaviours,” Cheng explained. “At the end of the day, travellers need to assess not only the risks specific to a country but also their own personal circumstances as well.”
One of the most interesting recent issues that Claudia Reichstein, Head of International Programmes at Dr Walter insurance brokers, has noticed is the changing purchase behaviour of customers seeking comprehensive cover. “Whereas in the past, the price was the decisive factor for many people when it came to insuring themselves against risks, nowadays much more value is placed on good quality insurance. Actually, this is not only the case for worldwide long-term stays abroad but also travels with Europe, if we look at the German market,” she told ITIJ.
Healthcare access and quality also key
One of the main risks to a traveller in need of help is that the healthcare system in the destination country may not have the same standards as their own. In order to get the best possible healthcare, which can be vital, medical transport home becomes necessary. Repatriation is associated with high costs. “In general, this is not covered by national insurance policies,” said Reichstein.
Obviously, one of the greatest risks today is a traveller contracting Covid-19. Only 33.2 per cent of the world’s population is fully vaccinated, and only 2.3 per cent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data.
Reichstein advises her customers, especially those travelling to countries with high infection rates to take out insurance against a possible Covid infection. This is increasingly important as more in-person events take place.
“Students should actively approach universities and find out about the current measures and precautions. As an insurance provider, we also conduct training sessions and provide our sending organisations and universities with important information and make suggestions on how to protect travellers and expats.”
Dr Walter also provides travellers with their safety app MY-SAFETY-APP2, which has the option of customers making use of telemedicine solutions directly via the app.
“We try to use videos to inform travellers about the benefits of the appropriate insurance,” Reichstein explains. “We also recommend the use of our app, where customers can directly find all telephone numbers, email addresses or even chat contacts of the assistance. Further, we train the sending organisations and universities so that they can pass on the information accordingly. When customers approach us, they do so to an even greater extent via our app, but also via messenger and email.”
Knowing risk realities gives confidence
Risk and perceived risk make people uncertain of what actions to take, and can lead to travel anxiety, resulting in customers delaying or not taking out insurance. It is important that insurance companies help their clients and potential clients to make informed decisions. This includes enhancing their communication strategy by educating their clients on a wide range of topics – from real-time updates on destination travel regulations as well as SMS travel alerts and warnings so that customers can feel confident about their travel insurance coverage.