As we start year three of the pandemic, travel has become more complicated. And so has travel insurance. At least that’s what Jeremy Murchland will tell you. He’s the president of travel insurance company Seven Corners. Just how complicated is travel insurance? I asked him in a recent interview.
This omicron variant is giving a lot of people second thoughts about travel. Is it safe to plan a trip yet?
Yes, I think it’s absolutely safe to plan a trip.
Cleanliness and sanitation have become a priority. The air filtration and cleaning protocols on airlines make them one of the safest ways to travel. Travelers can take extra precautions by wearing masks and staying away from larger crowds. Vaccines are also available for those who want them, which helps mitigate risk of severe illness. You can travel and be safe at the same time – they aren’t mutually exclusive.
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So things are safer, but we’re not out of the woods yet.
If we’ve seen anything over the last year, it’s that things can change quickly. New travel restrictions or other safety requirements can pop up quickly, which could derail some of your travel plans or make some experiences less enjoyable. In such a case, you may not want to go on your trip.
And in which case you’ll need travel insurance. I want to get to that in a minute. But let me ask you, do you think that travel in 2022 will be a repeat of 2021? This omicron variant looks scary. And it looks like we’re having another surge of delta cases.
I think there’s almost no chance that 2022 will be a repeat of 2021. International borders have started reopening late this year, restrictions have eased, and there is simply pent-up demand to get out and experience things again.
I really think we’ll see people booking more international travel in 2022 and others booking domestic travel, given all of the experiences they put off the last couple of years. Also, there’s a lot of economies across the world that rely on tourism, and it’s important to these economies that travel continues to return.
Alright, let’s get to travel insurance. There have been lots of ups and downs in the travel industry this year. I’m sure you get asked this a lot: What’s the best type of travel insurance to buy?
The best type of travel insurance to buy is the one that meets your own personal needs for protection.
Seriously, you need a plan that covers your particular type of travel and your financial investment. Travel medical insurance for international travel is different from trip protection insurance for a domestic trip. The needs of travelers vary.
How has travel insurance changed during the pandemic?
Consumers’ overall awareness of travel insurance has increased. Many insurers have now added COVID and pandemic coverage of some sort in their policies, whereas some excluded it pre-pandemic.
How about for you and your customers?
For Seven Corners, we’ve really taken this time to understand the customers and what they need to feel comfortable traveling. As a result, we were the first travel insurer with named COVID-19 medical coverage, and we also introduced several process and technology enhancements across our business. These made it easier for our customers to interact with us, make changes to their policies, file a claim, or get travel assistance, whether it be by phone, text, chat, or WhatsApp. This is all part of our 24/SEVEN customer guarantee that we launched earlier this year.
Since the pandemic started, I’ve fielded more than my fair share of questions about travel insurance that didn’t work quite as expected. What do you tell people who buy travel insurance but then get turned down when they file a claim?
The first thing I say is “I’m sorry your experience of travel insurance wasn’t a positive one.” Then, I’d offer one of our agents to help next time. Travel insurance is complicated and continually becoming more so.
Insurance policies describe — though not very clearly at times — what is covered and what isn’t covered. But it can be confusing.
To all of my friends and family, I recommend they talk to someone, especially if they are first-time buyers. Ask questions, let us answer, and then give us an opportunity to match you and your travel with the best plan. Our goal is to make sure you understand what you buy, when you are covered, and how to get help – we don’t want surprises, and it’s unfortunate when customers aren’t satisfied.
Seven Corners recently introduced a customizable insurance product for domestic travelers called Get Away USA. I thought travel insurance was mostly for international trips. Is that changing?
I think that’s what many people think, but many travel insurance plans can be used for domestic travel as well. The problem we saw in the market is that these plans weren’t the best fit for domestic travel — maybe there were some benefits that were more geared towards international travel, or perhaps the benefits were simply too rich for most domestic travel.
People are still spending a lot of money on domestic travel, with nonrefundable airfare, hotel and resort deposits, and tickets to various experiences and events that they may want to cover. Our new plan is really geared more to the domestic traveler and allows for more customization based on your travel plans.
I just interviewed another travel insurance company about customization. That seems to be a trend. Can you talk about that?
That’s definitely an emerging trend in travel insurance. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work anymore.
People don’t want to pay for benefits they’re never going to use and only want to insure the things important to them and their specific trip plans. We’re continuing to work with our underwriters to bring more flexibility to our benefit design and pricing to offer more customization to our customers.
I’m really impressed by some of the new technologies that insurance companies are using. You just relaunched a new chatbot this month called Sven. What can Sven do? And, most importantly, does he know when to hand off the conversation to a human agent?
Well, we actually launched Sven some time ago, but he wasn’t smart yet and didn’t really answer any questions for you. He simply directed you to a live agent based on various prompts.
Now, as phase two, Sven tries to engage our customers in a conversation and uses AI to help resolve your issues. Sven is still learning, so if he can’t answer your question or you need additional help, then you can still easily get to one of our customer service or sales agents.
The goal isn’t to launch technology for the sake of technology, but rather to enhance the customer experience. Sven will help answer some portion of customer inquiries more quickly and at any time without a wait – immediate satisfaction.
You’ve developed a customer service guarantee, and I can’t think of another travel insurance company that does that. Why?
We realized during the pandemic that many travel insurance consumers were dissatisfied with the service they received or the product they were sold and how it was sold. We saw the need to take a step back and evaluate what really mattered to the customer. We wanted to make some commitments that we can stand behind and that are also a guide to our teams internally as we develop new products, build new customer-facing technology, or enhance processes across the organization.
What’s in the guarantee? And why did you think it was necessary to guarantee customer service?
Our guarantee embodies seven pillars of our commitment including an easy purchase process, 24/7 access to our customer service team and travel assistance service, and a timely, customer-focused claims process. Putting something like our 24/SEVEN customer service guarantee front and center makes us hold ourselves accountable to what matters most – the customer experience.
What do you wish travelers knew about travel insurance?
Travel insurance has limits and doesn’t cover everything. Travel insurance, like all insurance, is priced based on the benefits and coverage in the plan. There is a misconception that anything and everything that can happen during travel is covered, and that’s just not the case. This is why it’s so important to talk to someone when when you know what you need and are ready to purchase.
What do you wish travel insurance companies knew about travelers?
Not all travelers are the same, and what works for one traveler doesn’t work for the next. Provide customization when possible. But, most importantly, provide flexible and timely service.
As a CEO, you travel a lot. What’s the one thing you wish you knew before you started traveling?
One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of knowing someone local. I’m a bit of a foodie when I travel. I love exploring local, authentic, and ethnic cuisine.
Whether it’s for work or personal travel, I always research beforehand and ask locals upon arrival where I can go to experience local cuisine.
I remember one trip to New York when I stayed in a hotel close to LaGuardia Airport. A professional acquaintance took me to an Italian restaurant with no signs outside, down a side street somewhere, that only accepted cash. But it was some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had to this day.