Is the pandemic finally over? And what does it mean for upcoming spring break and summer vacations? I asked Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance, for his expert guidance. Here’s our interview.
We’ve had several countries lift their travel restrictions, and omicron appears to be headed for the exits. What’s your outlook for travel?
I’m really optimism that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and that we’ll be returning to travel on a global scale this year. Seeing those travel restrictions get lifted and the omicron variant subside in parts of the world is encouraging, and I can’t wait to start exploring the world again.
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You’ve said that this winter travel season is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. How so?
Covid-19 is still a concern, particularly with the emergence of the omicron variant, but people are traveling again – and many for the first time since the pandemic began. So there are a lot of interesting factors at play. People are ready to travel, yet they’re exercising caution. We’re seeing shorter booking windows but also a lot of interest in travel.
How did the travel industry do during omicron?
We did pretty well. The vacation rental space was particularly successful. People are still worried about the virus and the industry is still feeling that hesitancy, but people are also ready to travel again and see their loved ones. Overall, we saw a lot of growth and a lot of improvement this year.
One of the biggest trends during the pandemic is the mad dash to rent a vacation home. People don’t think of travel insurance when they rent a vacation home. How can travel insurance protect you?
Travel insurance can help protect you in a number of ways. Renting a vacation home is an investment, and travel insurance can help protect you from losing that investment if you have to cancel your trip or cut it short because of a covered reason.
Travel insurance can also help protect your health while you’re away from home. If an insured traveler gets sick on their trip, they have access to 24/7 travel assistance and telemedicine services, so you don’t have to leave the vacation home to get care.
Another part of renting a vacation home that people don’t think about is the security deposit. Can insurance help there?
With more and more travelers working from their vacation homes and booking longer stays, we recommend purchasing a vacation rental damage protection plan. This plan gives you coverage for accidental damages during your stay, including damage caused by kids and pets if you are staying in a pet-friendly rental, so you can feel at home and not have to worry about losing a hefty deposit.
But there are some things travel insurance doesn’t cover. Can you talk about those?
Travel insurance can’t cover everything, and it can’t prevent the things that it can cover from happening. Changing your mind, feeling afraid to travel, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders are all examples of things that most travel insurance plans don’t cover. And while travel insurance can’t keep you from getting sick, or a winter storm from canceling your flight, it can help with certain costs and the headaches that those situations can cause.
We’re right in the middle of wave season, which is when most cruises are sold. How has travel insurance evolved to protect cruise passengers?
Travel insurance is a must for cruising, and one of the most important ways it can help travelers is by giving them emergency medical coverage and emergency assistance and transportation coverage. If a traveler gets sick or injured and needs a medical evacuation, having a travel insurance plan that can help anywhere and anytime is essential. Building our 24/7 travel assistance services into our plans is one of the ways we’ve made travel insurance such a valuable asset for cruisers.
Travel insurance can also provide coverage for the cost of your cruise if you aren’t able to board the ship because of a covered reason. This is an important possibility to keep in mind when booking a cruise this wave season. If you get sick with Covid-19 and can’t take your cruise, travel insurance can reimburse what you’ve prepaid and even help with the costs to isolate and get back home.
What are things cruise insurance can’t do for you?
Like other types of travel insurance, travel insurance for cruises can’t cover everything. If you decide you don’t want to take the cruise at the last minute or if there’s another resurgence of a variant and you’re afraid to board the ship, most travel insurance plans won’t be able to cover those situations unless you purchased ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage.
I’ve been interviewing other travel insurance companies lately, and there’s a lot of talk about customization and the use of technology. What is Generali’s approach to a customized insurance product? And how are you using technology to improve the customer service experience?
We want to give our travelers a solution that provides the right coverage for the right cost, so we’re actively developing ways to better customize and fine-tune our plans. We currently offer solutions that are tailored for specific destinations, as well as different trip types, like cruises, flights, tours and vacation rentals.
The vision is to take customization a step further and offer a truly dynamic product that empowers travelers to pick and choose from a menu of coverages to build a plan that suits their individual needs. We’ve laid the groundwork to be able to do this and are really excited about where we’re heading when it comes to customization.
Something we’ve done recently to improve customer service is to create an online travel insurance assistant that asks you about the type of trip that you’re taking and the types of coverages that you’ll need for that trip. Through a couple of quick questions, the assistant recommends the plan that’s best for you and that’s best for your trip.
If you could give travelers one piece of advice for next year, other than to remember to buy travel insurance, what would it be?
Book early and be safe. We’ve learned that you can’t predict the future, but after these past two years, we’re really expecting 2022 to be a big year for travel, and we’re already seeing the effects of that pent-up demand.