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.
"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.
"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.
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
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
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."
"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."