When travelers face a crisis during their trip, they frequently turn to their smartphones and their travel agents to solve their problem. But being available 24/7, seven days a week, and managing multiple clients that might be facing the same challenge, can drain an agent’s time and energy.
Leading travel insurance companies are identifying the links between traveler and agent needs, and are seeing this as an opportunity to drive added value to both agents and clients by adding more emergency services to their smartphone apps, leveraging technology as a key tool.
East Hartford-based Travel Insured recently launched a new mobile app that provides health and safety advice before and during a trip, and for the first time is incorporating artificial intelligence to push relevant emergency information to travelers when potentially disruptive events like tropical storms, protests, and terrorist events threaten their journey.
Mobile app quickly alerts travelers
The app leverages services from the Canadian company Sitata, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect travel-disrupting events from traditional news sources and social media. Sitata says its systems “detect more than the usual governmental travel alerts and at a much faster pace.”
When Sitata detects a relevant event, it publishes a Trip Alert to travelers through the app based on their itinerary details. Alerts, available through email and the app, provide map-based details on exactly where the event is occurring, a description of what is happening, and advice for how to stay safe. If a traveler believes they need help, they can obtain assistance through a single tap inside the mobile app.
“With this new offering included in each and every plan, we’re doing our best to ensure travel anxieties are kept to a minimum, and now travelers can make informed, safe decisions with timely, relevant information,” said Travel Insured CEO John Gehris.
“One important aspect to this system is that because we know a traveler's itinerary details, we can notify them of events that are happening in cities which they will be travelling to in addition to where they are now,” said Sitata CEO Adam St. John.
In the past, St. John said, these types of services have been used mainly by corporate travelers, due to their high cost. But better technology and economics make these services accessible now to even leisure travelers.
Helping travel agents provide a lifeline
Allianz Global Assistance recently added features also designed to put travelers at ease in the event of a crisis. “Assistance Around Me” uses geolocation to direct travelers to local hospitals, doctors' offices, pharmacies, police stations and U.S. Embassy locations, including turn-by-turn directions.
Richard Aquino, vice president of sales at Allianz Global Assistance USA, believes that travel insurance companies are uniquely qualified to work with travel agents to provide a lifeline during crises. “We’re looking to see how we can make our products more relevant during all the steps of the traveler’s journey,” Aquino said, “placing at the fingertips of the traveler a sense of comfort, while bringing value to the agency partner.”
“What is available today is just scratching the surface of what we can offer to our agency’s clients,” Aquino said. “I don’t think our partners want their phone ringing at 3 a.m. because of a flight delay.”
In the future, consumers and agents should look for Allianz to develop more solutions that naturally fit with the company’s “protection” brand, Aquino said. For example, “if your client is sitting in a café in Brazil, and feels like they’re getting a stomach ache, they will be able to open our app and talk to us at the touch of a button. We can order them an Uber and get them to the nearest facility.”
Allianz recently published an 8-page white paper for agents called, “Five Practices to Stay Connected to your Customers’ Needs.” The white paper defines the various stages in a traveler’s journey, and the many touch points where agents and Allianz might be able to add value.
“This is a natural progression of where the customer has been going. As more and more people are relying on their mobile device to provide them with real-time information enroute, every vendor needs to be able to live in that world,” said Isaac Cymrot, Travel Insured vice president of sales and industry relations.
“When consumers think about travel insurance, the thought process they go through is ‘I will be somewhere in a destination, and if something goes wrong, isn’t my travel insurance plan there to solve the problem for me?’”
Cymrot believes that technology is only now catching up with traveler and travel agent demand.
Technology enhances agent-client relationship
About three years ago, Cymrot was at a consortia panel advisory meeting, right after a major incident in the news. “The agents grilled us about ‘How can you help us facilitate these 2 a.m. crisis phone calls?’ For me, the light bulb went off. This is in our wheelhouse. We should be stepping in and filling that void, and taking that off the agent’s plate. It’s a great way to be a value-add partner.”
Both Cymrot and Aquino believe that not every travel agent is likely ready for letting go of those early morning “hero moments” when an agent can save the day. But as travel agents book more business, the need for outsourcing certain services to valued partners will only grow, both executives agreed.
“There is a different mentality between different agents. More tenured agents are moving towards technology to provide solutions. They understand that they cannot do everything for every client, especially those high-demand clients who want everything fixed immediately,” said Cymrot.
“If the tools you provide your clients aren’t cutting edge and available when they need them, they might choose a different agent the next time. If you provide that value, through whatever means, they are coming back because you made a better situation better. It’s one more service in their toolkit.”
The overwhelming majority of Travel Insured’s sales are through agents, so the company is extremely sensitive to introducing services that partner with agents, Cymrot said.
Sitata also provides a history of recent events for every traveler before they leave so they can better prepare themselves for their trip. For example, a traveler planning to go to Kenya would be informed about an outbreak of cholera, or a young family visiting France might need to know there has been a major contamination of infant formula, St. John said.