Travel agents should not view travel insurance as merely an ‘ancillary’ service but a highly salable core product directly impacting the agent and agencies profit performance, argued Mike Kelly, president and CEO of On Call International, a leading provider of medical, security and travel assistance and the president of the United Sates Travel Insurance Association (UStiA).
‘Travel agents should remind every client on every trip and urge them to buy travel insurance and travel assistance. From my perspective it’s a professional obligation to remind travelers – business or leisure - of the value and importance of travel insurance and assistance,” Kelly said in an interview with Travel Agent.
“Look at recent events: endless strikes, weather delays, ash clouds, terror attacks, floods, earthquakes, tsunami’s and political upheavals that force mass evacuations. There are risks involved in travel – foreign and domestic. And travel insurance and travel assistance delivers a high degree of security and peace of mind,” Kelly said.
“Consumers and professional travel agents know this and, in fact, travel agents have become a key component in the distribution of travel insurance and assistance programs,” Kelly said. While the total amount paid to agents for sales is not known, it is sizable, Kelly says, as are online sales channels.
“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest growing consumer awareness and purchase of travel insurance and assistance programs. Headline evacuations in Egypt, Libya or Japan this year alone have focused on travel protection.”
Citing data from earlier research, Kelly noted that Americans traveling on leisure trips spent more than $1.3 billion on travel insurance in 2006, representing a growth of 20 percent over 2004. The figures are substantially higher today, he believes.
The 2007 Travel Insurance Market Survey says more than 67 million people were covered by a variety of travel-related insurance and emergency assistance services from UStiA member companies, an increase of 18 percent over 2004.
Of these, one-third—or 23 million Americans—purchased a per trip policy, representing a 20 percent increase. Again, Kelly believes the current figures to be substantially higher and the emergence of stand-alone assistance programs that are available for as low as $45.
Among the many insurance products available, are per trip package policies that can include trip cancellation/interruption coverage--by far the most popular--accounting for 77 percent of total sales. Travel medical and medical evacuation policies, while representing a relatively small fraction of the market (4 percent), posted the highest gains (almost 34 percent.).
Research shows that Americans rank safety and security as top concerns for international travel. Even so, 70 percent of respondents say that safety and security issues would not deter them from traveling internationally. When it comes to choice of destination, however, Americans are slightly more cautious, with 60 percent of those polled saying that safety and security concerns would influence their choice of an overseas destination.
Kelly notes that UStiA members offer a diversity of affordable, high integrity travel insurance products with many working closely with agents to support marketing goals.
He also noted the difference between travel insurance firms and travel assistance companies. Kelly’s company, On Call International, is a leading provider of medical, security and travel assistance on a global basis. With 15 years of experience, On Call often operates under contract to corporations as well as individual travelers.
On Call operates 24/7/365 and is responsible for the safety of 13 million travelers. Kelly estimates that On Call handles approximately 2,000 medical evacuations each year from all points on the globe.
By contrast, travel insurance covers monetary damages and compensates a traveler for costs of unforeseen emergencies while traveling – a vital function.
In a post-Sept. 11 world, travel insurance has come of age, Kelly believes, with strong growth ahead.
"I urge agency owners and managers to build awareness of the importance of travel insurance sales and insurance assistance companies and the opportunities they offer.”