Bad news is often good news for the travel insurance industry, and since 2016 produced plenty of negative headlines about terrorism and other world events that consumers could not ignore, the insurance sector had another 12 months of solid growth last year.

But in addition to heightened consumer awareness of dangers, sales were boosted by the increasing value of the policies themselves in terms of both coverage and streamlining the claim-filing process.

Megan Freedman
Megan Freedman

"In general, there is increased awareness and purchase of travel insurance by American travelers and a growing awareness of potential travel disrupters, leading to an increase in the number of people buying travel protection products," said Megan Freedman, executive director of the U.S. Travel Insurance Association.

Insurers reported year-over-year increases in 2016. For example, travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth said that 18% more travelers were insured in 2016 compared with the year prior. Allianz Global Assistance, meanwhile, reported a 15% growth in sales of travel insurance.

Though he declined to release specific figures, Isaac Cymrot, vice president of industry relations at Travel Insured International, said his company realized sales growth in 2016, despite a slow first quarter.

"Most agents didn't have the first quarter they wanted to have, which had an impact on our business," Cymrot said. "Overall, we had a good year, but I would say because we ride the wave with travel agencies, it was an up-and-down year from that perspective."

Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection also had a strong year in 2016, although its growth -- 900% year over year -- was skewed by the fact that the company has only been selling travel insurance for about three years, according to president Dean Sivley.

Dean Sivley
Dean Sivley

"But I think more importantly, the industry is seeing growth," Sivley said. "In other words, our growth isn't always coming at the expense of somebody else; it's that the market truly is expanding, and I think that's the more encouraging thing."

That industrywide growth was largely attributed to increased consumer awareness about travel insurance products, spurred by terrorism, extreme weather and diseases such as the Zika virus.

Megan Singh, project management director at Squaremouth, said her company saw a change in the reasons travelers were looking for insurance in 2016. Historically, the prevailing need was medical coverage, but those concerns have shifted.

"What we saw this [past] year was, really, current events playing a role in those concerns," she said.

Beth Godlin, president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice, said events such as extreme weather and the potential risk of terrorist attacks have been influencing more and more people's decisions to purchase travel insurance in recent years.

"[Events] didn't stop them from traveling, but may have influenced their travel choices, and certainly influenced their desire to think about buying some protection for it," Godlin said.

That much is evident when considering traffic spikes to TravelInsurance.com, according to co-founder Stan Sandberg. After each recent terrorist incident, starting with the November 2015 attack in Paris, the site saw about a 25% increase in traffic in the following week.

Media coverage of things such as Zika and terrorism often mentioned travel insurance as well, giving the industry that much more of a boost, said Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Allianz.

"The upside of that for us was that travel insurance came into sharper focus for consumers who were concerned about how world events might affect their travel plans," Durazo said. "And the good news is that travel insurance does offer some useful coverage and benefits for consumers concerned about Zika or terrorism."

In addition to the global climate and its impact on travel insurance, Godlin said suppliers are also doing a better job of positioning the benefits travel insurance offers their clients, which is also contributing to the industry's growth.

Dan Durazo
Dan Durazo

Another factor was the increasing value of travel insurance products today vs. several years ago. Durazo said policies are offering more benefits, such as coverage for existing medical conditions. Additionally, online claim filing has become more readily available, as have mobile apps that enable consumers to track their policies, he said. Agents have also benefited from technology when it comes to booking and tracking insurance for their clients.

Cymrot agreed. "How we communicate and how we interact with both agents and consumers certainly has changed, and I think overall, everybody would agree that the experience for both sides has greatly improved," he said. "It's easier to file claims, it's easier to quote a policy, it's easier to purchase a policy, it's easier to access your policy information when you need it."

In some cases, insurers are auto-adjudicating certain claims, Sivley said, making the payout process even faster.

Insurers agreed that the growth their industry is seeing does not appear to be slowing and will likely continue, at least for the foreseeable future.

Jason Schreier, CEO of April Travel Protection, said his company, like the industry overall, saw a strong 2016.

"We look at the year-over-year growth, and it's been consistent for all of the last few years we've been looking at it," Schreier said. "So as long as that growth stays consistent year over year ... there's still a lot of room for us to mature."

Durazo agreed.

"Travel insurance is still a fairly immature market in the United States," he said. "In other markets, such as Europe, nobody leaves the country without travel insurance. They just think it's very foolish to do so, and they could get stuck with huge medical bills. And we think that Americans are moving in that direction. ... We think there's a lot of room for growth."

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