Travel Agents Don’t Have to Go it Alone in a Crisis

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Travel Agents Don’t Have to Go it Alone in a Crisis

Photo: Shutterstock.com


Canadian travelers have been swept up in many natural and human made events that disrupted travel over the last 2-3 years, including the 2018 shooting in Las Vegas and three devastating hurricanes last fall.

For many travel advisors, these events required immediate assistance for travelers. For those whose clients were not impacted, agents still need to manage the growing anxiety many travelers have about an uncertain world.

This anxiety was reaffirmed at a recent panel discussion about crisis assistance for travelers, at Travel MarketPlace East in Toronto.

Panelist Tanya McCuen, director of strategic development at FocusPoint International, which provides emergency services to travel insurance companies like ManuLife, quoted some results from recent surveys by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) and the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

In the ACTE survey, 87 percent of business travelers said they had experienced a travel-related mishap in the past 12 months while 57 percent of business travelers said they felt any destination could be a high-risk destination. Terrorism was the biggest concern among GBTA survey respondents for business travelers, McCuen said.

“These experiences as business travelers are informing traveler opinions when they travel for leisure, as well,” McCuen said, and travel agents should, at a minimum, be aware of this.

Geneviève Angers, manager, consular communications and outreach with Global Affairs Canada, said that last year, 916 Canadians requested medical assistance from the government agency when traveling abroad. Canada has consulates or similar offices in more than 150 countries.

Global Affairs also recorded assistance requests for the deaths of more than 1,400 Canadians, as well as 632 “whereabout inquiries” from families and friends of travelers who had gone missing for a period of time. The agency was especially active during the 2017 fall hurricane season, updating its web site with news nearly 60 times, while also working with travelers and their families to provide information regarding emergency evacuations.

Establish a lifeline back home
Very often, especially when it comes to a crisis that could involve medical treatment, a lifeline back to experts in Canada is crucial to helping both the traveler and their families and friends make the best decision. Dealing with a crisis can often make the traveler/patient poorly suited for objective decision-making, said Bruno Sicard, MD and PhD, and chief medical officer for Allianz Global Assistance Canada.

Sicard gave an example of a traveler being in a car accident, where the injury is enough for them to visit a hospital to stabilize them, but surgery is not required. “We’ve had travelers who wanted to be discharged against the advice of the hospital because they thought they were fine,” he said.

When a traveler purchases travel insurance, they receive access to experts like Sicard and his staff, to coordinate care abroad. “Speaking to the doctor, we knew the risk was greater if they left, despite their symptoms not being so apparent. What we do is ask our teams and the hospital or physician we are working with to talk to the patient and family members to rationalize the decision,” Sicard said.

This kind of assistance is even more crucial during what Sicard calls a “collective crisis,” like the 2018 Las Vegas shooting, because local medical service providers could be overwhelmed with victims. Coordination for insured travelers could make their care more effective and efficient.

Call on the experts
All three panelists expressed the importance of agents not trying to be experts themselves, but instead familiarizing themselves with the various information and service options available to their travelers. For example, Angers at Global Affairs Canada, noted how the agency’s website assesses risk in destinations and provides timely updates on potential threats so agents and their clients can make informed decisions prior to booking or departing for a trip.

Also, Global Affairs Canada produces many publications agents can order for free off their website, including brochures about traveling safely abroad for women and solo travelers.

Register and get travel insurance
The Canadian agency also actively promotes registering for international trips, and the purchase of travel insurance. “It’s important that your clients purchase the right type of insurance,” Angers said. She noted how many countries will not provide medical assistance if proof of medical insurance or ability to pay cannot be provided.

“You don’t want your friends to borrow money to get you out of the hospital,” Angers advised.

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