On November 22, 2023, CAFII hosted its seventh and final webinar for 2023 – Travel Trends and Travel Insurance Developments in 2023. Co-Executive Director Keith Martin was joined by Katia Umutoniwase, Helen Cosburn, and Sheila Burns to discuss the travel insurance industry’s regulatory landscape.
Katia Umutoniwase is the head of Sales Operations & Digital Enablement at Manulife and the Chair of CAFII’s Travel Health Insurance Committee. She is a seasoned professional with 23 years of experience in the Travel Insurance industry. Helen Cosburn is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Allianz Global Assistance. Helen has been with Allianz for the last 10 years across various sales and distribution leadership roles. Helen currently serves as the Chair of the Membership and Communications Committee for the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THiA). Sheila Burns is the Director of Health and Disability Policy at the CLHIA, where she works with the member and associate companies to build consensus on industry policy positions. Sheila has worked in the insurance industry for over 20 years.
Co-Executive Director Keith Martin began the webinar with an acknowledgment of those in attendance. In addition to the many representatives from CAFII’s 15 member companies and nine associates, in attendance from allied industry associations and regulators and policy-makers from across Canada were:
- Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, or CLHIA;
- The Travel and Health Insurance Association, or THIA;
- The British Columbia Financial Services Authority, or BCFSA;
- The Insurance Council of British Columbia;
- Alberta Treasury Board & Finance, or ATBF;
- The Alberta Insurance Council;
- The Insurance Councils of Saskatchewan;
- The Insurance Council of Manitoba;
- The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario, FSRA;
- The Autorité des marchés financiers, or AMF;
- The Financial and Consumer Services Commission of New Brunswick, or FCNB.
Keith Martin began the webinar by posing a question: has travel fully returned to pre-pandemic levels? Helen Cosburn responded that this is a big question and one whose answer changes every month. Certain indicators, however, do suggest a recovery has taken place. Canadian airport traffic, travel out of the country, and travel type are good metrics and, combined, do indicate that levels are almost back to pre-pandemic levels, although it is hard to be conclusive about this. Business travel is still lagging compared to the 2019 business travel levels. Sheila Burns suggested that 2024 travel may provide a more accurate picture of travel trends. Another indicator, S. Burns explained, is travel claims paid. In 2019, this was around $900 million; in 2022, this number was nearly back to that level at $700 million. It is surmisable, from these numbers, that travel is returning to pre-pandemic normal.
The audience was polled to see if they believed Canadians were travelling more, less, or the same as pre-pandemic. The audience responded that 30% felt there has been more travel, 27% felt there has been less, and 43% felt it has been at the same levels. These polls are indicative of the lack of clarity around travel trends.
K. Martin asked a follow-up question: what has changed since the pandemic days around travel and travel insurance? K. Umutoniwase explained that the way people travel has changed. Longer duration trips have increased, as have multi-generational trips. People seem more inclined to splurge on very expensive trips. Group travel has increased, which may be a response to people wanting to be around people after the social distancing experienced during the pandemic. People are also increasingly using travel agents to help them plan their trips.
When it comes to insurance, before COVID, corporate travellers didn’t seem to utilize insurance often, but this is no longer the case; now, many more are purchasing coverage. This is also true for individuals visiting Canada. There has been a huge increase in purchases of comprehensive insurance packages, which could likely be a response to the uncertainty COVID-19 created. H. Cosburn agreed that comprehensive coverage is on the rise. In fact, a recent consumer-based study by Allianz indicated that 3 in 4 Canadians felt travel insurance was equally, if not more, important post-pandemic than pre-pandemic. S. Burns added that Airline Passenger Protection Regulation has also become a bigger topic, particularly with government.
Moving the conversation to risk and travel, S. Burns explained that Canadians are thinking about this more, especially young people; millennials are buying travel insurance. Canadians are thinking about the details more, asking more questions, and becoming increasingly aware of their options. News stories can be very helpful for spreading the word about what is available and what is already covered. Lately, a big question has been how much coverage is enough. It seems the mentality has moved from what is the cheapest to what is the best for me. This is why knowing your coverage is critical. H. Cosburn mentioned that at Allianz, the volume of customer calls asking about their benefits has increased significantly. Allianz has also incorporated questions about coverage appropriateness into its sales process to better cater to consumers. K. Umutoniwase agreed, adding that Canadians are conscious about the coverage they purchase. She drew a connection between this increased awareness and COVID-19; when the pandemic began, coverage for COVID-19 was separate from a typical health insurance package, therefore, consumers had to educate themselves on the products available that would truly protect them. Post-pandemic, where there no longer are travel advisories in relation to COVID, COVID-19 is now a part of standard health insurance packages.
The audience was polled again and asked if they thought Canadians were spending more, less, or the same amount on travel insurance. The audience overwhelmingly felt Canadians were spending more. This was not surprising to the three speakers; after the discussion on the increased desire for comprehensive coverage, it is not surprising that Canadians would be spending more.
K. Martin talked briefly to the three speakers about Pearson Airport and its infamous reputation as a terrible airport. All agreed that, while not the best airport, it has improved post-pandemic. That being said, improvements are still needed.
Digging into the comments made earlier that Canadians are taking different kinds of trips, K. Martin asked the speakers to elaborate further on the shifts and ensuing trends emerging. H. Cosburn said that, first and foremost, Canadians value travel. This can be seen with the trend of revenge travel post-pandemic. Now, old trends are re-emerging, including snow-bird travel and the ongoing Canadian desire to travel to sunny destination locations. Secondly, another trend is a rise in downtime travel, where Canadians are engaging in travel that is relaxing rather than adventurous. Many, however, are still very interested in gaining new experiences, and many seem to be willing to spend more money on creating that ultimate experience. K. Umutoniwase added that another trend is Canadians going on their once-in-a-lifetime travel earlier in life now, rather than in retirement. S. Burns agreed and noted the influence of social media, especially for younger generations, on travel and travel trends.
On the topic of coverage, particularly on travel health insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and baggage loss insurance, K. Martin asked how these coverages have changed. S. Burns commented that, while these have each changed during and post-pandemic, some changes were already emerging and changing pre-pandemic as well. In direct response to the pandemic, however, there are now more options available within travel health, trip cancellation, and baggage loss insurance. S. Burns remarked that, in terms of baggage loss, it was not clear if there really was a change within this part of the industry or if people have changed the way they travel, with fewer now checking bags.
Clarity of language is key in travel insurance packages, H. Cosburn added. Every traveller needs to be able to understand the coverage they are buying and how to make a claim if need be. K. Umutoniwase added that people need to be able to understand what coverage they have and also what is not covered in the package they purchase. People are more frequently seeking comprehensive coverage, but not everyone is looking for the same level of it. Understanding package differences through clarity of language is, therefore, critical. Travel insurance providers cannot be only interested in the products they offer from their perspective; they need to care about how their products are offered to and accessed by consumers.
There was a question from the audience asking if COVID is covered at the same or different maximum limit from other coverages. K. Umutoniwase responded that it is covered at the same maximum limit since it is now considered a medical condition like any other.
Another audience member asked how travellers can tell if they are paying too much for travel insurance. K. Umutoniwase advised that travellers get a quote from multiple providers to compare prices and coverages. She went on to explain that this comparison should extend beyond price because what is covered and what is not is equally important.
One of the final topics of the webinar was on harmonization. K. Martin noted that CAFII and CLHIA had often collaborated on the importance of this issue in interactions with regulators, and asked S. Burns if there were any current efforts around harmonizing the language used in travel insurance products offered by different companies in the industry. More specifically, Mr. Martin mentioned the confusion that could be caused by using different words for the same coverage and asked if the industry is trying to use the same words to make this easier for consumers. S. Burns articulated that this has been an important discussion point for industry stakeholders since 2019. Policy comparison is critical for harmonization, but this takes time, especially as industry innovates and changes resulting in different coverages being offered in a highly competitive marketplace.
K. Martin posed another series of questions to the speakers about aging travellers. He noted that Canadians are getting older and asked at what age does travel insurance become prohibitively expensive? He followed up by asking what can older Canadians do to mitigate these expenses? Mr. Martin also asked what is the best insurance option for snowbirds? K. Umutoniwase said that it is difficult to define a specific time when travel insurance is going to become more expensive; this is dependent on health, lifestyle, travel location, income, etc. She recommended purchasing travel insurance if it is affordable regardless of age. She also said that knowing your health status is important because you can then purchase a plan that best suits you. K. Martin remarked that this answer echoes the theme of the webinar – there is no one-size-fits-all answer for travel insurance, particularly during this rapidly changing post-pandemic world. H. Cosburn commented on the medical costs of different countries; the US has an incredibly expensive healthcare system, for example, so not travelling there could mean that one could purchase travel insurance at a better price. Therefore, snowbirds may want to consider travelling to a different country if they are concerned for their health and the potential cost of travel insurance.
For the final question of the webinar, the speakers were asked what travel insurance issue keeps them up at night. S. Burns said it was the occasionally poor depiction of travel insurance in the media based on exceptional events that was always a concern. K. Martin noted that CAFII research has found that 98% of travel insurance claims are paid out, but we often only hear about the unpaid 2%. H. Cosburn replied that what keeps her up is hearing stories about travellers who go abroad only to get sick or hurt and then need their insurance, only to find out that they did not purchase the package they should have. K. Umutoniwase said that during COVID, there was a huge increase in customer requests, and industry could not respond immediately. What if something similar happens in future, she asked—would industry be prepared?
K. Martin asked the speakers if they had any final comments before ending the webinar in terms of major trends for 2024. K. Umutoniwase said the major trend for travel and travel insurance is the increasing use of technology. Clients want to feel like companies are with them every step of the way, and technology will facilitate this. Following this train of thought, H. Cosburn said 2024 will see a new normal in which technology will be used in new and innovative ways to better serve the consumer. Finally, S. Burns said 2024 will see carriers offering new products, particularly for visitors new to Canada and for temporary foreign workers.