For years, travel advisors have told me that, after asking a client for their vacation budget, offering travel insurance is the second most difficult conversation that they have with their customers.
“I don’t want to remind them that something could go wrong just when they’re getting excited about going somewhere,” is the oft-spoken explanation that I hear from even experienced advisors.
“Insurance is so complicated. It’s regulated and I could get into trouble for saying the wrong thing. I don’t know that I’m expert enough to even start the conversation.”
Sound familiar? Totally logical? Pre-pandemic it was.
But COVID has changed everything when it comes to leisure travel, especially insurance. Insurance is top of mind for just about everyone I speak to, because they want to cover the possibility of having to cancel their trip if they turn up positive on their pre-departure COVID test.
Others express concern about the need for additional medical insurance as a requirement to even entering a country. And, depending on where they are staying, they may need insurance to cover lodging and other expenses—if they have to quarantine for an extended period due to a positive pre-return COVID test.
And there are other significant changes afoot, the long-term impacts of which we won’t know for at least a year or more. The number one change I’m seeing is the average age of travelers purchasing insurance.
According to the travel insurance aggregator Squaremouth, the average age of someone purchasing travel insurance in February of this year was 40.6 years, 16.5% younger than the average for February 2020, and nearly 20% younger from February 2019.
If you took the 13 months from January 2019 to January 2020, the average age of a travel insurance buyer was 50.2 years. Imagine that! What other products do you see dropping ten years in average purchaser’s age in a year’s time?
“Due to the increased uncertainty of traveling, more people are aware of the potential need for travel insurance,” said Steven Benna, Squaremouth Marketing Manager, “so a younger demographic that may not have considered buying travel insurance in the past is doing so now to protect their trip investment.”
Allianz Global Assistance saw a similar drop, “as much as 20% during the height of the pandemic last summer,” said Daniel Durazo, Allianz Director, Marketing & Communications, USA.
Okay Captain Obvious. We Understand. Older Travelers are Hibernating
Yes. I know. Older people took themselves out of the travel market in large numbers because of fear of contracting coronavirus. So naturally, that reduced the average age of travel insurance purchasers.
But I don’t believe that explains all of the shift. And more importantly, it doesn’t explain the opportunity for you to make travel insurance purchases a stronger part of your service offerings as clients of every age emerge from their lockdowns.
When Arch RoamRight surveyed consumers pre-pandemic for its 2020 Playbook, they found that 29% of travelers chose not to purchase insurance because they couldn’t figure out how to choose the right coverage.
Meanwhile, some 45% of those surveyed declared themselves “not ready to buy” insurance, while another 20% said travel insurance was too expensive.
Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Why would they have said they are “not ready to buy” travel insurance? I’m thinking that sentiment is linked with the concept of travel insurance being “too expensive.”
The average consumer likely has lived a life relatively free of any major health issues, car accidents, or tragedies that required a large insurance claim. Now they’re heading out on a vacation—something they’ve done dozens of times—and then a travel advisor recommends insurance.
Confirmation bias from the consumer’s lived experiences likely sounds like this in their head: “Why would I need to spend money on that? Nothing ever happens to me.”
Further, if they’re a person of modest means but traveling on a big trip they saved for years to take, and the insurance premium is a couple of hundred dollars, they might see that added expense as “too expensive.”
Keep Your Eyes on This Space
Now, I’m not expecting the average age of travel insurance purchasers to remain in the low forties forever. In fact, we’ve seen a slow and steady climb in average purchaser age since December 2020, when it got as low as 38.2 years of age, according to Squaremouth.
And Allianz isn’t so sure the average age won’t return to exactly where it was sooner rather than later. “Since the summer, the change in the average age of our direct customers has slowly diminished and we’re now seeing an average age that is only 6% lower than the same period during the previous year,” Durazo said. “If the trend we’re seeing continues, the average age of our customer should return to where it was pre-pandemic sometime this summer.”
Still, travelers of all ages have been introduced to many of the same universal risks, which aren’t going away any time soon.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is by far the top concern for travelers who are planning trips and buying travel insurance right now,” Squaremouth’s Benna said. “These travelers are buying policies for two primary reasons: cancellation coverage in the event they contract the virus and must cancel, and medical coverage in case they contract the virus and need treatment during their trip.”
Destination Analysts, a leading travel research firm, says 60.3% of Americans still feel unsafe about traveling outside the United States as March begins. Inside that percentage is likely a lot of travelers who might feel safer if they were educated about travel insurance.
Additionally, Benna said, Squaremouth believes that “ongoing travel supplier cancellations” have resulted in “a considerable increase” in travelers wanting more flexibility to cancel their trip. Thus, they are purchasing Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) upgrades.
CFAR “ensures they at least have some protection for their trip investment,” Benna said. Since the start of the pandemic, roughly 15% of travelers who buy travel insurance are buying a CFAR upgrade, the highest percentage Squaremouth has seen since the company was founded in 2003.
Finally, none of us are certain when destinations will feel comfortable about their medical systems covering more of the cost of tourists hospitalized for COVID-related treatments. So having sufficient travel insurance could remain an incentive to purchase.
Even after a large percentage of the U.S. and the world are vaccinated, and/or countries reach herd immunity, issues like medical insurance requirements and the potential for involuntary trip cancellations are likely to remain a somewhat common occurrence in the traveling public’s conscience.
The Bottom Line is, Travel Insurance is Both a Practical and Emotional Decision
A whole new cohort of travelers has been introduced to the practical benefits of travel insurance, and they are very likely acclimating to the concept that it could be a regular consideration when planning and budgeting for a trip.
“The past 12 months have had a significant impact on traveler behavior, and have raised new concerns for the average traveler,” Benna said. “As a result, we expect to see an overall increase in the number of people buying travel insurance to protect their trips.”
If prior to COVID you felt trepidation about having “the travel insurance discussion” with your clients, it might be time to revisit your fear. There has never been a better time for you to brush up on your travel insurance knowledge as well as the policies, terms and conditions of your favorite insurers. Very likely, your clients are waiting to hear from you.
Richard D’Ambrosio is a master storyteller who, for more than 30 years, has helped leading brands like American Express, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the Family Travel Association (FTA), and Thomas Cook Travel tell their stories to their customers, the media, and employees. A professional business coach and content marketing consultant with his own firm, Travel Business Mastermind, Richard most recently has worked with The Travel Institute, Flight Centre USA and a variety of host agencies and tour companies, helping entrepreneurs refine their brands and sharpen their sales and marketing skills. Richard writes regularly about retail travel agencies, social media & marketing, and business management.