Travel insurance providers are increasingly introducing apps or adding to an existing app's list of features to act as both a differentiator and a customer service arm in the channel where most consumers want it: their mobile phone.

"We're kind of in an arms race right now with the mobile apps," said Daniel Durazo, director of communications at Allianz. "The travel insurers are all trying to beef them up and get them out."

Allianz recently released a new version of its TravelSmart app with user experience improvements. On the app, travelers can access policies, file and track claims, track flight statuses and contact Allianz, among other features.

"Generally, travel insurance providers are looking for ways to provide additional value to our customers, especially to those customers who may have a smooth trip and not need to file a claim," Durazo said. "I think this is one of the levers that's driving app development for travel insurers. ... We want people to get value out of working with us."

Travel Insured International last month introduced a new app. In addition to giving users the ability to do things like purchase plans and file claims, it includes a new service thanks to a partnership with the company Sitata. The app enables users to get push notifications of any disruptive events based on their itinerary, as well as health advice, such as recommended vaccinations or medications, before they leave.

"Consumers are looking for a mobile experience," said Isaac Cymrot, vice president of industry relations at Travel Insured.

While many insurers' apps likely offer similar functionality, Cymrot argued there are differentiators as well. In his company's case, it's the service provided by Sitata, which has a platform that employs artificial intelligence to scan large numbers of sources, using data and algorithms to determine if something is likely to disrupt travel.

Sitata CEO Adam St. John said it can detect anything from major events, like a terrorist attack, to more local events, like a transit strike. Humans then review the information and, if warranted, publish trip alerts to push to users via app notifications and email branded to Travel Insured.

"The next evolution for all of us is to be able to provide that instantaneous information in their hands, whether it's a simple travel delay or a more serious incident," Cymrot said. "They want that instant information in the palm of their hands on their mobile device. The world is mobile now, and we need to live in that world."

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