Even though Covid-19 is slowly loosening its grip on the world, international travel demand remains almost flat compared to last year. Americans are reluctant to travel abroad, with memories of quarantines and travel restrictions still fresh in their minds. And then there’s Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I asked Greg Pearson, CEO of global assistance company FocusPoint International, to take a closer look at those worries and read the tea leaves for the upcoming 2022 vacation season.
Why are people afraid to travel today?
Most people are still looking at travel through the lens of a world reeling from Covid-19. While the EU has begun to relax Covid protocols, the thought of navigating entry and exit requirements is enough to dissuade some people from traveling abroad. But more broadly, travelers don’t want to contract Covid-19 during a trip and be forced to quarantine or, worse, end up hospitalized as a result. Add to that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and it’s easy to see why people would be hesitant to travel abroad this summer.
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How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the perception of travel?
I suspect the fear of NATO being pulled into the war between Russia and Ukraine is on most people’s minds. Those who had plans to travel to Ukraine and Russia are obviously very mindful of the risks and have most likely taken actions to postpone or cancel their travel plans altogether. Those looking to travel to countries like Poland or others that border Ukraine are probably second-guessing themselves as the conflict gets closer and the refugee numbers continue to rise. However, Europe is a big continent, and people with plans to travel to Western European cities like London, Madrid, Lisbon, or Paris this summer may have a “wait and see” attitude.
Given that you’re a security expert, I wanted to ask you for your advice on traveling safely. In terms of coverage, I assume you would recommend travel insurance and a policy through a company like FocusPoint International. What else do you need to travel safely?
There is an abundance of information readily available online that covers best practices for traveling safely. That said, the four basic pillars of traveling safely are: Be aware, be low-key, be unpredictable, and maintain good communications.
Travelers are also doing more research before they go. What type of research would you recommend?
You have to conduct some basic research on the destinations you plan on visiting. Understand local customs and cultural sensitivities. Be mindful of any major events or significant anniversaries happening at the destinations you plan on visiting.
Also, research ground transportation and know how to access it if needed. Know where the closest U.S. consulate or embassy is, and store their contact information. Map out medical facilities in and around the areas you plan on visiting. Know how to access local emergency services if needed.
Know how to make local and international calls from your phone, too. And ensure your accommodations have hard-wired smoke alarms and an automatic sprinkler system if staying in a hotel.
You recently expanded your tripside CAP plan to consumers. Can you tell me what that is and how it can address some of the uncertainty of travel?
Think of CAP as a tripside assistance service that acts much like a roadside assistance service, except that CAP responds to medical mishaps that result in hospitalization and security incidents that impact or have the potential to impact customers during a period of travel.
The CAP plan comes standard with a mobile assistance app that provides travelers destination-based health, safety, and security information, a one-touch emergency assistance button and near real-time alerts that get pushed to the traveler’s smartphone throughout their journey. Having access to destination-based information before travel, staying up to date with the latest developments at the destinations during travel, and being able to seek assistance with the simple touch of a button through the mobile assistance app should make people feel more comfortable about traveling.
What about people who are looking for more than roadside assistance for security?
If that doesn’t address the uncertainty of travel, I would add that all CAP plans include no-cost evacuation benefits for things like political threats, riots, strikes and civil commotion, terrorism, or natural disasters. CAP plans also include medical evacuation and repatriation benefits for customers who suffer from injuries or illness that result in hospitalization; and Covid-19 benefits such as mandatory quarantine expense coverage and hospital to hospital medical transfers for customers who become hospitalized due to Covid-19 during their trip.
One of the things people dislike most about travel insurance is the claims process. What’s that like?
Accessing the benefits of CAP does not require the customer to complete a claims process, pay a deductible, or pay out-of-pocket and seek reimbursement, which CAP doesn’t require in the first place.
If you are stuck in the hospital and you have Covid, can you get a customer out or do they have to stay? I mean, you can’t just take a client out, can you?
Yes, if a customer is hospitalized as a result of Covid-19, our in-house medical team will work directly with the treating facility to coordinate the release of the customer for transport to another treating facility close to the customer’s home. The CAP plan benefit includes coordination with the treating facility, coordination with a receiving facility, and the air medical transport of the patient, all for no additional cost to the customer.
Can you get someone out even if they’re on a ventilator?
Yes, transport would be done via air ambulance and may include the use of an isolation pod (Iso-Pod), while connected to the ventilator.
How about travel insurance? Would that help?
We always advocate for the purchase of travel insurance with a “Cancel for Any Reason” or “CFAR” provision. This allows customers to cancel their trip without losing their investment should the need arise. There are other benefits, such as the ability to seek reimbursement for lost, damaged or stolen bags, and medical expense coverage that some travel insurance policies provide that could come in very handy during a trip. But remember, to access the benefits of a travel insurance policy, you must first suffer a loss. So, while medical expense benefits are vital, you have to suffer from an injury or illness in order to trigger these benefits. By contrast, the CAP plan lowers the barrier to use by responding to the threat of a loss rather than the loss itself.
For example, if a customer is traveling in Europe and a violent protest breaks out, CAP benefits, up to and including no-cost evacuation to a temporary or terminal safe haven can be exercised by the customer. Travel Insurance benefits would not kick in unless that customer suffers from bodily harm or property damage, a loss event.
So yes, certain travel insurance policies should absolutely be purchased, but customers just need to be fully aware of the nuances and complexities that come with travel insurance.