With Political Unrest Growing, What Protection Does Travel Insurance Offer?

by Richard D'Ambrosio
With Political Unrest Growing, What Protection Does Travel Insurance Offer?

Hong Kong protests that started in June are now impacting travel plans, with Hong Kong's International Airport shut down this week due to ongoing disruptions. Photo: Jimmy Siu / Shutterstock.com. 

It’s becoming an ever more common occurrence. In January, the “Yellow Vests” in Paris shut down portions of the city. For a few days, some cruise lines avoided old San Juan, as island-wide protests against Puerto Rico’s government swelled in the popular port. And now, Hong Kong’s airport was shut down by government protesters, following weeks of activism that have impacted the island and the city.

When civil unrest disrupts tourism to a destination, the protection that your clients have can become a life-saving investment. At a minimum, it can help them recoup expenses for a vacation cut short or canceled.

“Civil unrest, riots and acts of war are typically not covered by any type of insurance, including travel insurance,” said Jenna Hummer, director of public relations at Squaremouth, an online travel insurance sales website. A client’s full travel costs would be lost in these situations.

In cases like Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, travelers would be covered by Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) insurance if they felt the need to cancel their trip prior to departure.

As of the start of the protests in Puerto Rico on July 13, Squaremouth had recorded a 47.7% increase in travelers purchasing travel insurance to Puerto Rico. In addition, the company saw a 51% rise in Puerto Rico-bound travelers purchasing CFAR upgrades with their policies. (The company had not had any claims filed relating to the protests as of last week.)

For China, Squaremouth had not seen a corresponding increase in travel insurance purchases since the protests started this March, though the company has seen a 2.63% increase in travelers purchasing a CFAR upgrade overall for their trips to China. (The airport closure occurred after the most recent Squaremouth data was pulled for Travel Market Report.)

Non-medical evacuation protection
If a traveler wants the comfort of knowing they would have coverage if they need to leave a destination experiencing unrest, they could purchase non-medical evacuation coverage, or purchase a plan with a company like Global Rescue.

To be eligible, however, most policies require the U.S. State Department to issue a qualifying evacuation notice due to the protests to order either a political or security evacuation, Hummer said.

When civil unrest wracked Haiti in February of this year, missionary teams working in the country relied on their travel protection with Arch Insurance Company to evacuate them.

Volunteers from Source of Life Ministries and Kentwood Community Church had purchased travel plans from Faith Ventures, a collaboration between Brotherhood Mutual and Fly For Good, offering travel protection specifically designed for church groups. The plans include coverage for emergency assistance and security evacuation arranged by Arch’s travel assistance provider.

In February 2019, as anti-corruption protests against Haitian President Jovenel Moïse grew, protesters set up roadblocks, set fires, and reportedly violently robbed foreign visitors. Combined with the country’s failing infrastructure, double-digit inflation, rising fuel prices, and food shortages, the unrest led the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory, urging U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the country and ordering the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their families.

However, a mission group of eight travelers from Kentwood Community Church in Kentwood, Michigan, had arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport amid the protest. Departing the airport for their destination in Les Cayes, a foster care facility about four hours southwest of the capital, the group had to seek shelter at a local hotel due to violence and roadblocks.

Unable to leave the hotel for three days, the group called for help when several thousand rioters, armed with automatic weapons, came within a few hundred feet of the barbed-wire enclosed hotel.

Group leader Mike Bradley contacted Rich Avery at Kentwood Community Church, who contacted the travel assistance provider to coordinate evacuation. Secure transportation from the hotel to the airport was arranged, and flights were booked on commercial airlines for the group to return home.

“The evacuation team arrived at 6:40 Wednesday morning,” Bradley recalled. “They pulled in, loaded us into two vans, and then sped us to the airport … They weren’t stopping for anything. It was a rather wild ride through the streets.” By Wednesday evening, the Kentwood mission team was safe at home in Michigan.

“This experience reaffirmed the importance of having travel insurance,” said Avery. “Everyone should have travel insurance, and I think Faith Ventures is a great product … We were grateful for what we had and for the help we received.”

The total insurance cost to Kentwood Community Church for the entire mission group was just over $100. The total cost of the evacuation, including airline fees and unexpected hotel stay, was more than $10,000, fully insured by Arch.

Non-medical evacuation coverage is uncommon
“Many travel insurance plans do not include security evacuation coverage,” said Cory Sobczyk, vice president, business development, Arch Insurance Company. “Arch is proud to offer it with most of the plans we underwrite, including Faith Ventures.”

Arch underwrites custom travel insurance plans for some of the biggest travel suppliers in the U.S. and offers exclusive plans for resale through travel agents. They also offer travel insurance plans directly to travelers at RoamRight.com.

In its Description of Coverage regarding Political Security Evacuation coverage, Arch states: “We will pay, up to the Maximum Benefit Amount shown in the Schedule of Benefits, for all reasonable evacuation expenses incurred for Your transportation to the nearest safe haven, if You must leave Your Trip for a covered Political or Security Event.

“Evacuation must occur within 7 days of any Political or Security Event. Arrangements will be by the most appropriate and economical means available and consistent with Your health and safety. Benefits are only payable for arrangements made by Our Program Assistance Provider.

Following an evacuation due to a Political or Security Event and when safety allows, We will pay for one-way Economy Transportation to return You to either the Host Country or Your Home Country [country on a traveler’s passport], whichever country You designate.”

Arch defines a “Political or Security Event” as one experiencing a natural disaster; civil, military or political unrest for which a formal written recommendation is issued to leave the country by an appropriate local government authority or the U.S. State Department; or when a traveler is expelled or declared a persona non-grata by a country they are visiting.

Helicopter evacuation was the only option
The same coverage helped evacuate two Pennsylvanians serving in Haiti this year with Source of Life Ministries. At the time of the protests in Port-au-Prince, Vern Annis and a companion were at a school about one hour away. 

“Where we were, there was not a problem other than the local stores running out of food. In the location of our kids’ home, you would not know that anything was going on,” said Annis.

As they listened to local news reports, however, they realized things were devolving and they needed to leave, but the main road to Port-au-Prince was blocked by rioting and gangs.

On the way to get the travelers, the secure transport was attacked, pelted with rocks and concrete. A window was broken and a member of the security team was injured.

As a result, Annis and his companion had to be evacuated by helicopter, which picked them up at their location and flew them straight to the Port-au-Prince airport. From there, they boarded an eight-passenger plane to the Dominican Republic, where the travelers spent the night in a hotel and flew home on commercial flights the following day. 

The evacuation costs underwritten by Arch were almost $20,000. The combined cost of their travel protection plans was $64.

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