As the global travel industry continues to navigate a climate of uncertainty, customers are looking for more than a glowing recommendation for the best beachfront hotel. They’re counting on trusted travel advisors to provide peace of mind, and that includes financial security. That means the overall sale depends on strong partnerships and an unwavering commitment to customer service.
Travelers spent $3.5 billion on travel insurance products in 2022, according to IBISWorld. A recent AAA Travel survey revealed that one-third of U.S. travelers are more likely to purchase travel insurance for trips this year due to the pandemic. It’s never been more important for advisors to rely on strong partnerships with experienced travel insurance providers so they can help their customers protect their vacation investments. From small inconveniences to major medical emergencies, travelers want to know they can relax knowing someone has their back.
Focusing on the customer experience
According to Forbes, the changing travel landscape has become a catalyst in the shift towards more customer-centered services, better transparency and flexibility, and comprehensive policies. Travelers want more than a hotline; they want a lifeline. They want to feel taken care of during every step of their trip with things like concierge services, tele-medicine access and roadside assistance. They expect ticket refunds, but they also need to know they matter: They expect above-and-beyond assistance and a wide scope of services only a top provider can offer.
So many things can derail a vacation – from minor hiccups to emergency medical situations – and the smallest detail must be swiftly addressed, says Sue McCloskey, chief travel officer at Let’s Go! Vacations By Sue, an affiliate of KHM Travel Group in Maumee, Ohio that specializes in group travel.
For example, when passengers get off a plane and discover essential equipment such as car seats or bicycles have been damaged, they need immediate assistance from advisors and insurance providers working together, notes McCloskey.
“You really are at the mercy of the airline, so these insurance policies offer extra protection for that – my clients love all those bells and whistles,” she says.
Another time, when escorting a trip in Venice, one of McCloskey’s clients lost her purse. “Attempting to deal with the Venice police was a nightmare, but I knew I could get in touch with our insurance company for all that. Thankfully, she soon realized she’d left her purse on the bus, but that could’ve been a disaster if we had no one to lean on.”
Selling a worry-free vacation
“These days, anybody would be crazy not to take out travel insurance, especially if they're traveling overseas,” says Bill Knight, president of All Cruise Travel in San Jose, California.
“We had an incident last year where a gentleman fell in the Seychelles and broke 10 ribs. They used emergency medical evacuation to take him to Singapore, which basically saved his life. It was a $150,000 bill for the cost of a $600 insurance policy.”
Knight adds that his customers are relieved to learn that if they show up at a port to board a cruise ship and then test positive for COVID-19, there’s no need to panic.
“The insurance provider will step in and either rent a hotel room for you or assist you to get back home, plus they would reimburse you for the amount of the cruise you missed” he explains, adding he experienced that himself in January while in Antarctica with a friend who tested positive for COVID-19 halfway through their cruise.
“He isolated, and I was in isolation because I'd had dinner with him. The insurance company paid us both for the amount of time we were in solitary,” he adds.
Being able to reach out for help for inconveniences such as a missed flight connection can save a customer’s vacation, notes Knight.
“If you book your own airline tickets, the cruise line doesn't care; it's your responsibility to get to the next port. The insurance company ... will help you get an alternative flight or per diem if you must stay in a hotel,” he says.
An uptick in insurance sales
With more than 20 years booking complex itineraries worldwide for customers, Tony Huffman knows how vital travel security is. Most of his clients buy insurance and he’s seen the acceptance ratio increase by more than 50% since the pandemic. The value of a comprehensive travel insurance product – along with a 24/7 support team and global expertise – is incalculable, he says.
“It doesn’t matter whether you're insuring a $250,000 trip or a $1,200 cruise; travel insurance is very important and necessary; customers need to know that if something happens, they won’t lose all their money,” says Huffman, the founder and chairman of Huffman Travel in Dayton, Ohio.
The pandemic has changed the conversation around travel security, adds Knight.
“Before, we’d always offer up the travel insurance, and customers would often just pass on it, thinking they didn’t need it. Now, people ask for it upfront,” he says.
“I can't even think of any clients we have going out we don't have travel insurance for, especially if they're going out of the country. It's such a small price to pay for peace of mind,” he says.
Travelers want proactive advisors
Travel advisors believe in travel protection, and pass that conviction on to their customers, adds Knight.
“Having a good relationship with your insurance provider is key,” says Knight. “We’re able to offer an excellent policy and we have a custom plan. It’s so important to point out the general things like whether the plan includes any coverage for pre-existing conditions with a client before they purchase the insurance. But, if there are ever any coverage questions or issues, I know where to go to make sure the customer gets taken care of.”
Clients want assurances they can count on their travel advisors to steer them right every time, and a solid relationship is built on trust, adds Huffman.
“Just as we will never book a hotel in Paris that we’ve never heard of, we tell our clients that we stand behind the insurance product we’re selling; you have to have confidence in the product you're selling.” says Huffman.
“We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year sending our advisors all over the world to experience the product they sell, and insurance is the same way. It adds value. We had a client who tested positive on his COVID test two days before leaving on a trip, so they had to cancel. They got all their money back, and the claim was about $60,000.”
Above-and-beyond assistance when it matters most
All it takes is one close call to convince travelers – and advisors – that insurance is an invaluable investment, says McCloskey. I took a group on a cruise through the British Isles, and on our flight from London to Reykjavík, one of my guests became ill onboard – she was gasping for breath,” recalls McCloskey.
When the group touched down in Iceland, the customer was whisked to the hospital, where she was treated for pneumonia. She had purchased travel insurance just days before we traveled, and thank goodness, because I didn't have to worry. They just jumped in, worked with the hospital and monitored her,” recalls McCloskey. “The level of service was amazing; it showed me you just cannot travel without insurance because we never know – no matter what age we are — when something will go awry. Today, essentially 100% of my clients take insurance.”
McCloskey adds that long-term relationships with trusted insurance providers makes her job easier when it’s time to figure out constantly changing travel requirements. I’ve had such unique situations throughout these pandemic pauses where I just need to run something by my rep to make sure I’m doing the right thing, and it’s great to have a shoulder to lean on,” she explains. “I really do think clients should always consider travel insurance. We're still in some interesting times, and we have to make sure we’re offering them options that give the coverage they need, to protect ourselves and our clients.”