In the past six months, both Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP) and AIG Travel Insurance (AIG) have rolled out coverage plans that consolidate and simplify their best offerings in bundled packages. But at the same time, they are filing terms and conditions with state regulators that would in theory allow them to offer more flexible, customized plans.
Global insurance giant Generali Global Assistance joined BHTP and AIG when they recently announced three new plans with enhanced coverage for consumers -- Standard, Preferred and Premium. All three Generali Global Assistance plans include traditional travel insurance coverage, but the Preferred and Premium plans also cover for the loss, theft, damage or delay of sporting equipment. The Premium plan includes rental car damage coverage, trip cancellation coverage, and coverage for pre-existing conditions.
"We recognized that our current offerings were far too limited and lacked the customization that today's customers desire," said Chris Carnicelli, Generali Global Assistance CEO. "These new plans have been built using direct customer feedback and I am pleased to say they are just the beginning of a new comprehensive suite of offerings we plan to roll-out."
In May of this year, BHTP launched ExactCare Extra, bundling all of its traditional "inconvenience coverages" with immediate-payment fixed benefits. Since then, said BHTP president Dean Sivley, "we've received positive feedback from travel agents and consumers, who say the new options simplify the process and make travel protection more accessible. Travel agents have added they are happy to have something different and more personalized to offer their clients."
Beth Godlin, president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice, sees these moves as part of a strong trend driven by consumers and travel agents demanding both simplified choices, and the ability to easily add on coverage for services that reflect the growing personalization of travel itself.
"We are seeing personalization trends in sales of everything, and travel insurance is no exception. This is a continued evolution of the travel protection market, as we innovate to better meet changing consumer needs," she said.
She noted how plans sold by cruise lines and tour operators "are already customized to fit the demographic of that particular brand's market segment. These travel companies also provide a straight-forward way for agents and their customers to protect their trips. In addition, many travel suppliers offer their own choice of an upgrade product or might include Cancel-for-Any-Reason benefits in their core product, which provides the best of both worlds."
Godlin, whose company is essentially a reseller of travel insurance plans from a variety of providers, said the moves by AIG and BHTP to bundle core, popular coverage plans meet the needs of most consumers.
"Depending on the type of trip, some travelers prefer a straightforward product that protects them for the most common emergencies. When a plan is developed for a specific type of travel, such as a domestic flight, and is offered up, it will likely be appropriate for the vast majority of situations. So while someone going on a beach vacation might not have the same needs as an adventure traveler, most consumers will be well-served as long as the plan served up fits the travel being purchased," she said.
Customizable can also mean more complicated, though, "so there needs to be a balance between ease of purchase for the agent and customer, and getting the right protection that is appropriate for that trip," she said.
One thing Godlin doesn't think will change is the importance of travel agents helping consumers choose the right coverage.
"If consumers continue to value travel professionals for all of the benefits they provide, savvy agents will know how to bring additional value to the sale of travel protection as well. New and innovative products could mean more products agents can sell to more consumers. The travel agent distribution channel is still important in the travel protection market," she said.
Sivley at BHTP agrees. "More choices and greater innovation mean better options for travelers, which provides more opportunities for travel agents to sell travel insurance. As our industry continues to innovate, we expect that updated products will enable travel agents to be positioned as an even better resource for their clients."