Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Travel Insured International (TII) is celebrating its 25th year in business.

That business is one built off partnerships with the agency community: According to CEO Jon Gehris, 51% of its policies have been sold by agencies that have been working with TII for 17 years or more.

Of the agencies TII works with, 21% have been with the insurer for 15 years or more, and more than half, 52%, have been with them for seven years or more.

Of the 690 agencies that have been with the insurer for 10 years or more, only 34 are no longer active.

"We've always considered ourselves and extension of their business," Gehris said. "Whenever I talk to our people, it's like we have a desk in their office. They offer the travel, and then they turn it on over to us to protect it and make sure it's there. So we have a massive responsibility to fill that because it was their recommendation. It's been such a great relationship with them."

Jon Gehris' father, Peter Gehris, started the company in 1994.

Peter Gehris had a successful career with the Travelers Insurance Company, under which he oversaw a successful travel insurance business. In 1993, he was considering retiring right around the time there were conversations about what would happen to the travel product. The company was considering keeping it, selling it or outsourcing it to a managing general agent to run.

The travel insurance division had good market share in the travel agency market, and Peter Gehris saw the potential for a sharp uptick in travel from retiring baby boomers with the means to travel.

"My father went to the Travelers and basically said, 'I would really like to set up a managing general agency, and I would like to manage your products and services and start up my own company,'" Jon recalled. "And that company would be Travel Insured International."

So, on Feb. 1, 1994, Travel Insured International in Glastonbury, Conn., became the exclusive carrier for Travelers' travel insurance products, with 44 team members who had a combined 136 years of experience.

At the time, Jon Gehris said, the company's biggest concerns were whether postage was going to go up, whether phone lines would go down or if the company didn't get its brochures to get its products and services in front of potential customers.

Business was simpler than today. TII had one product, which was aimed at travelers with international destinations looking for medical and other coverages.

Jon Gehris estimated that, in 1994, travel insurance was a $100 million market. Today, it is a $3.5 billion to $4 billion market, and it's expected to hit $6 billion by 2025.

"Kudos to my dad for having the vision and being one of those founding folks in the industry to carry this all the way through," he said. "I guess he picked the right market."

The company was going strong until Sept. 11, 2001, a day that shook the entire industry.

The company's priority became assisting affected travelers and their families and reimbursing claims. Bankruptcies and defaults throughout the industry added another challenge in a post-9/11 world.

"Our phones in our call center were no longer ringing from the people who wanted to buy travel protection, and that went on for about nine months," Jon Gehris said. "The only phone that was ringing was at our claims center. The thing that we're most proud of over the years is the way the senior management team and the people rallied during that time -- that was a make-or-break moment for TII."

Senior leadership essentially gave up their salaries for the year after 9/11, Jon Gehris said, and that the company did not have to lay off a single person.

Sept. 11 was a gamechanger for TII and the industry as a whole. Assistance services available 24/7 to travelers started to crop up, something many insurers still offer today. Domestic coverage also came into play.

"Each event that happens, it's our time to stand, but it's also for us to pivot and make sure that we make our programs better," Jon Gehris said.

TII also undertakes various charitable initiatives on the local and national level as well as within the travel industry, contributing money and volunteering. Those endeavors are called Team TII.

Today's travel insurance marketplace is one filled with a number of players offering numerous insurance options. It's a landscape full of competition, but it's competition that Jon Gehris welcomes.

"Yes, we are an industry with a lot of players in it, and I think it's great," he said. "Because right now, with all these players in it, that means we have voices everywhere spreading the word that travel insurance is something that you've got to have."

It also forces the companies to push themselves harder to create new and better products and services, he said.

The future of travel insurance is all about ensuring customer loyalty. That is accomplished through a number of measures, Jon Gehris said, like making it easier to file claims.

Today, TII has the benefit of a larger organization's size and scale behind it. In 2015, the company was acquired by Crum & Forster.

"In the three years, we've doubled our business," Jon Gehris said. "It's because we were allowed to focus 100% on the strategy," while also tapping into Crum & Forster's global resources.

Over the years, TII has been governed by "Pete's Principles," eight guiding principles that help shape the core of its business. Their namesake, of course, is Peter Gehris.

"Our No. 1 principle is to anticipate and fulfill our customer's needs," Jon Gehris said, "and that's the one we live by."

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