Summer Travel Trends
with Travelex Insurance

Episode #23 of NAVIGATE discusses leisure travel trends with Travelex Insurance.

Summer travel trends transcript:



Frank Harrison

0:00:04 – 0:00:28

Hello, my name is Frank Harrison. I’m the regional security director in North America with World Travel Protection. Join me as I talk with Amber Wheatley from Travelex. Travelex is our sister company that supports leisure travellers and WTP is the backbone behind the Travelex app. Welcome to NAVIGATE, Amber. I’ll get you to introduce yourself first and explain to our listeners what Travelex is.

Amber Wheatley

0:00:29 – 0:001:33

Sure. Hello, my name is Amber Wheatley. I’m with Travelex Insurance Services. We’re based out of Omaha, Nebraska. I’m a Sales Director here at Travelex. So Travelex, we offer travel insurance through various channels. If you go and book a cruise, or a trip with your local travel agency, you may see a brochure sitting on that person’s desk. And that’s what we do, we offer the travel insurance via the brochure through different catalogues.

A lot of people think that’s all travel insurances is – insuring the cost of a trip. Rather, when you’re on trip, you know, there’s medical expense, there’s medical evacuation, there’s baggage coverage delay, which is of course happening all over the world flight delays. So if something like that were to happen, where the flight is delayed, and it’s beyond your control, then we’re reimbursing, you know, maybe an additional hotel stay, or meals, transportation. So it’s it’s pretty comprehensive when you think about what travel insurance is.

Frank Harrison

0:01:33 – 0:02:00

When I use my credit card from my lending institution. If I’m looking at travel, I usually get this little pop up window, do you want the additional insurance? So you’ve touched on a real interesting subject that a lot of people should actually pay attention to when we’re talking about all these various types of insurance for the individual traveller? Can you just expand a little bit on the actual benefit of having this type of insurance, traveling versus not having any insurance.

Amber Wheatley

0:02:00 – 0:03:29

So that’s a really good point, too, is a lot of people think that they are protected through the credit card. And often, that credit card is only protecting maybe the cost of the trip that you booked with that credit card. But if you didn’t, if you use cash or another credit card, then that component wouldn’t be covered. Often credit card coverage is just like flight accident coverage. So you want to always consider a third party because we’re going to be all encompassing, it’s going to be very comprehensive when it comes to the cover that we are affording.

Another good point to make, and I know you didn’t raise it, but just to be very clear with potentially who’s listening is when you think about supplier coverage, we can ensure cruises will oftentimes – that cruise is then reimbursed in the form of a voucher, you don’t actually get your money back. Potentially you don’t want to cruise with that, that cruise line any longer, potentially, you know, the sailings are pushed so far out that you’re no longer interested. But unfortunately, that’s what you bought is is supplier coverage. And you’re only getting that voucher returned, not monetary reimbursement.

So it’s really important to start to dissect, I know it’s, it can be boring right as to look into insurance policies. But once you start to really look into whatever coverage you were given through credit card through supplier, it’s not really, I guess, in my opinion, it’s not, you know, it’s not going to be the best bet for the traveling consumer.

Frank Harrison

0:03:30 – 0:03:42

And post COVID like we speak very deeply to the issue of the world has changed. So from your perspective, when I use the term ‘the world has changed’, what are you seeing in your space?

Amber Wheatley

0:03:42 – 0:05:53

So during COVID – that’s, that’s interesting question because during COVID, you know, obviously, no one was traveling, and I shouldn’t say no one – majority of people were not traveling, they were all forced to stay home. I managed vacation ownership partnerships, which is otherwise known as timeshare. And those partners still were seeing occupancy rates, not of course, at the levels that they had seen in the past, but still pretty steady occupancy rates because people could feel safe spreading out going to a home away from home, knowing that they can go to the store, you know, and just kind of stay in a home maybe on a beach or near the mountain, not necessarily in the middle of Nebraska.

Now since then, travel is really booming. Of course, we are seeing extremely I don’t want to say high participation rates, where people are aware of the need for travel for travel insurance. Certainly there’s an awareness that’s greater than there ever was. So people are seeking out travel insurance before I would say travel insurance was probably regarded as a grudge purchase. You know, you don’t want to have to spend that extra couple $100 on insurance, you’d rather maybe swim with the dolphins instead. It’s the last thing that people want to do right but when you need it, certainly it’s going to be there and available and afford you so much peace of mind, I think is the best way to say it, when you are traveling and a mishap happens.

So the awareness is there now people now that something could come up, they know that I could get sick prior to departing on my trip. So what am I going to do? You know, if the doctor says, now I’ve tested positive for Coronavirus or even besides that, you know, my child has an ear infection. And I can’t any longer take my trip. People are, like I say they’re they’re definitely seeking us out, which is, which is good for us. You know, we’re not, we’re not having to insert ourselves into a booking path begrudgingly, people are wanting to know that they have peace of mind when they’re either before having to leave for their trip or when they’re traveling.

Frank Harrison

0:05:54 – 0:06:07

So now that we’re slowly creeping up to the pandemic into an endemic phase, what are you seeing from a surge standpoint, like what’s going on with the travel industry in the United States?

Amber Wheatley

0:06:07 – 0:07:37

So people are definitely traveling. And, you know, we still have concerns around the economy. Yet, people are still spending their dollars on vacations, they might be vacationing a little differently, they might be staying a little closer to home, they might just be taking a road trip. But at the same time, people are still traveling. Flight, you know, there was a statistic that I read around the average round trip ticket. So whether that’s international or domestic, the cost in April was $585. But of course, you know, what’s interesting about that is that this was the highest recorded price in the last seven years. And it’s up 8% from the month prior and up 45% compared to 2021.

So, again, vacations are more expensive right now. But people are still spending those dollars vacationing, what they’re doing is they’re making a shift. They might not be swimming with the dolphins, but they’re definitely going and plopping themselves down on the beach. And just spending the day kind of taking in, soaking it all in right soaking in that that view, and not spending the dollars doing a couple of the excursions perhaps.

With the testing requirement being lifted, that could bring an additional 5.4 million visitors to the US. And that equates to an additional $9 billion in travel spending through the end of 2022. So like I say, people are getting out there, people are vacationing, it’s just it’s looks and feels a little bit different.

Frank Harrison

0:07:38 – 0:07:51

That’s a very interesting study. $9 billion of additional travel spend. So with this massive rush of travellers, a surge, this term, the rusty traveller, are you hearing that?

Amber Wheatley

0:07:51 – 0:09:22

Yeah, absolutely. And I would even call myself a rusty traveller, because, you know, corporate travel isn’t even, it hasn’t necessarily returned yet. But as a salesperson I do. I’m on the road fairly often. And then of course, there’s an expectation for me to be on the road, bringing on new business, visiting existing partnerships. So I would even label myself that to some degree. Yeah, rusty traveller, people are forgetting they’re forgetting kind of what it looked like what travel looked like in the past, they’re forgetting their passports.

I was standing in line with the TSA and I noticed the sweet little lady and she had forgotten her passport. And so she had to go all the way back home, you know, and grab her travel documents, and then drive herself back to the airport. And of course that delayed her delayed her vacation. I saw people pulling out their full size liquids out of their carry out bags, because they’re forgetting the you know, there’s that cut off. You can only have what travel size, liquids or less than three ounces. People are packing their prescriptions and their baggage and or excuse me their checked luggage.

So yes, the term rescue traveller is thrown out pretty frequently. There’s a relearning curve, if you will. So when you stop the routine, it’s hard to get back into it. Even something as simple as throwing out your water bottle before you are going through airport security or remembering to to wear those slip on shoes so that you’re not standing there holding up the line because you’re trying to get your shoes off.

Frank Harrison

0:09:22 – 0:09:39

I can speak to – I just attended a major mining symposium here in Toronto. There’s about 14,000 people and rusty traveller is definitely front of the crowd and there were definitely a couple of folks walking around with their board shorts and Hawaiian shirts because they forgot to pack a suit.

Amber Wheatley

0:09:40 – 0:10:20

I’ve just have returned from two different trips both for work each trip and I won’t name the carrier but I was delayed so badly that I had an overnight stay. They were continuing to push back my I guess my my flight right and so I had an overnight stay. So my flight – it’s delayed, I’m bumped. And that’s really unfortunate because I’ve paid for that seat. I’ve got plans, I need to get where I’m going. But yet, unexpectedly, I’m, you know, in a new hotel overnight, and nothing in terms of a toothbrush, I didn’t have a change of clothes.

Frank Harrison

0:10:21 – 0:10:38

So it’s an interesting topic about the airlines and responsibility and, and when you get stranded somewhere along your route, are you seeing that coming through in your system with people in claims? Where people are basically, you know, arriving in Omaha, Nebraska, and you’re supposed to be in New York City?

Amber Wheatley

0:10:39 – 0:11:39

Yeah, absolutely. So when your flight’s delayed, you know, people often wonder what they’re entitled to, you know, does the carrier have to give me money? Or are they going to compensate me in some in some way?

And, you know, simply the answer is no, they do not have to, there’s no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money, or other compensation. Each airline, of course, has its own policy, and may do something that benefits that passenger, but they don’t, they don’t have to. So, you know, you can always ask for them to pay for meals or a hotel room. Again, they don’t have to do those things.

So that’s, again, where travel insurance is going to come in and, and kind of save the day, right is, we’re going to reimburse for any of those out of pocket expenses as it relates to that flight delay. So those meals, like I was saying, the hotel stay, even the Uber, to get you to the hotel and back to the airport, the next morning would be something that would be covered, if that were the case.

Frank Harrison

0:11:39 – 0:12:03

That’s an interesting thing. So without insurance, you may find yourself stranded somewhere. So if we look at the bigger picture, travel is coming up, we see the the TSA numbers, we look at the airport numbers in Canada. From your side of the Travelex business, what are you seeing from, you know, we’ve talked to high level surges, but what are you actually seeing for volumes going up?

Amber Wheatley

0:12:04 – 0:13:57

So, at the end of quarter one of this year, the TSA was reporting the US passenger count is 84% of the volumes seen in 2019. So people are definitely getting back out there and traveling. Our policy counts are higher, you know, if we’re just talking about insurance policies, our policy counts are higher than they’ve been since 2019, as well.

So various reports are reflecting that these volumes match both 2019 and likely will exceed 2019, as we go into the summer travel season. And that’s, that’s going to result in pure chaos. In my opinion, you’ve got people that that want to get out and travel, you’ve got people who are traveling, you’ve got that rusty traveller who’s not quite remembering, you know, the rules and the guidelines that they should be following.

You’ve got TSA, employees that they have no patience, and I should even back up because as a traveller, you know, you’ve got little patience too, because everyone around you is they’re excited to be out or they’re mad because they forgot something, or, you know, the kids are crying. So it’s kind of it’s chaos. You know, the airport was chaos. Of course, I was in Orlando where it was tons of children and parents running around and forgetting what they can or can’t bring on to the airplane. But where I was going with that is there’s fewer employees at the airports.

So the lines are longer, patience is growing thinner. And that’s on both sides. That’s the traveller side, that’s on the side of the the employee that’s working at the airport. And it’s just going to continue to, I don’t want to make it worse, because I don’t want to, you know, I don’t want to deflect from traveling and getting out there and taking a vacation because of course it’s worth it right. It’s worth it the minute you touch destination. But I think patience is something that people need to have right now. Patience and grace.

Frank Harrison

0:13:58 – 0:14:02

So we’re looking at travel, it’s coming up, what are you seeing as the top five destinations right now.

Amber Wheatley

0:14:03 – 0:15:10

So certainly USA is is one of our top five and then Mexico. So to that point, people are going to definitely just want to go plop themselves on the beach and just relax and not have to do a whole lot. Europe, certainly there’s going to be significant travel to Europe, for sure now that we can actually go out of the country and come back into country and not have to worry about those screenings or those those tests to return to the US. And then Israel is an interesting one people are definitely getting out and going further, and the Caribbean islands would be the fifth.

And people are they’re planning their trips, you know four months in advance. So they’re putting thought into it but they’re also thinking through again, to your point they’re thinking through the costs. You’re thinking through how they can save dollars in one in one way. And then maybe really, you know spend the the funds maybe to get them further out of the USA. And then like I say, just kind of being in country and destination and enjoying just the space, right? The environment, the scenery, the people, the culture.

Frank Harrison

0:15:10 – 0:15:13

It’s outside of your own home.

Amber Wheatley

0:15:14 – 0:15:19

Right, exactly. We’ve all been seeing the same four walls for a long time.

Frank Harrison

0:15:20 – 0:16:06

So we’ve talked about the merits of insurance and why. So if we look at North America, you know, one of the things we’ve talked about a World Travel Protection has been the extremes of weather events that we’re starting to see evolving. And, you know, we’re seeing 100 year storms every two years.

If we could take the subject of insurance and just put the hurricane perspective into that, and just use a scenario of someone goes to a Caribbean island, the island experiences a hurricane. They’re stuck there, the facility they’re staying at has been damaged, just to give us a walkthrough scenario of what Travelex can do for the client, and then what the client on the ground would be seeing and how Travelex would be helping them out.

Amber Wheatley

0:16:07 – 0:17:30

Meteorologists are forecasting a record seven straight, unusually busy Atlantic hurricane season. So supposedly producing 14 to 21 named storms this year. So if we talk about how insurance then can protect that, you know, that person in the event of the hurricane or or experiencing hurricane or your destination is is made uninhabitable prior to that, certainly.

So the traveller is protected in the event that that destination is made uninhabitable in the event of inclement weather if it causes delay or cancellation of travel, that named hurricane causing cancellation or interruption of travel to that destination has to be inaccessible, and or uninhabitable. So yeah, there’s there’s certainly concern when it comes to hurricane season, people are definitely aware of the impact a hurricane can have on their travel plans.

So that is, again, you know, I mentioned people seeking out cover. Seasonality is so important. And it’s so significant when it comes to travel insurance. People think, again, it’s protecting just for a few things, they don’t realize all of the coverage that’s available to them or are afforded to them and an insurance policy or travel insurance policy rather. And certainly, coverage for inclement weather, such as a hurricane is one of the top reasons a person would buy.

Frank Harrison

0:17:31 – 0:17:37

So if we look at the big picture of travel insurance, I like to say it’s a must.

Amber Wheatley

0:17:39 – 0:17:41

I would, I would agree.

Frank Harrison

0:17:42 – 0:17:56

Then if we just step back, if you could give three tips to travellers, what would they be to help them better prepare themselves for travel right now in this near endemic state of the pandemic?

Amber Wheatley

0:17:57 – 0:21:54

That’s a great question. Use a travel agent, lean on the expert. So a lot of people like to try to plan their own trips they think using for some reason they think using a travel agent is going to result in them spending more money. And perhaps it might, because a travel agent is not going to put you in maybe, you know, the wrong area or a poor part of town. They absolutely know. They’re subject matter experts, right? They know travel. So if I’m planning a trip to Europe, I’m not going to go online and take my chances booking the trip by myself, I’m going to go to the expert and ensure that this person is going to put me in a nicer hotel, maybe a nicer part of town, they’re going to give me guidance on the best restaurants. I’m a foodie, I love to eat. So if I’m going to go and be in destination, I want to experience the culture, I want to experience the food and they’re going to give that guidance. So first and foremost, use your subject matter expert, walk down the street and find one. You can find them online. They’re there ready to help you.

So that’s number one using a travel agent. Number two, of course buy travel insurance. You need to protect that trip, right. So again, we talked about peace of mind. And it extends beyond the insured benefits that I’ve been referencing, as you know, as an assistance provider, working for WTP, needing concierge services, needing kind of a friend in your back pocket. I don’t know where I’m going from week to week sometimes. If I’m sitting in Philadelphia, I don’t know where the nearest clinic is. The hospital, a doctor if I’m not feeling well, I need to seek out a Walgreens. Sure I can pull up my phone and potentially find something.

But I can also now utilise the services of an assistance company through my travel insurance plan and they can give me that guidance they can, they can talk to me about, you know, even, I’ll take it a step further, they can even give me this to some degree a diagnosis over the phone. Here’s my, here’s my, here’s what I’m feeling. What should I do? Do I need to go see a doctor? Do I just need to go get something from Walgreens or a CVS. And if I have to go to the doctor, they’re going to locate that physician for me. So that’s what’s nice is you’re afforded these extra services, extra features in the insurance plan. And people don’t realize, like you say, again, I keep referencing comprehensive, but being able to pick up the phone and call someone who’s readily available 24/7 and can give me that guidance of the clinic, the hospital, it’s really, it’s comforting.

And then three, gosh, number three, pack the right things. You know, before I take any trip, whether it’s personal or business, I’m laying out my luggage, about a week prior. And I’m walking by it daily, of course, I’m thinking, oh, gosh, I could, I should take that with me. And I’m just dropping it in just dropping it into my bag. And so by the time I’m you know, day before preparing, and packing, I have everything that I need everything I could possibly need. And I’ll take that a step further pack, a change of clothes, in your carry on bag and a toothbrush. So you’re not stuck without those amenities. Sometimes a hotel will have that for you, but sometimes not.

So everyone’s wanting to get out, travel the globe, I talked about the top five destinations. What is your perspective, when I say to you, second top destination for us is Mexico. Do you have any insight on maybe where people should or shouldn’t travel within Mexico, I mean, it’s a pretty large region.

Frank Harrison

0:21:56 – 0:25:42

So we’ve spoken extensively at World Travel Protection about what’s going on in Mexico. And there are some pretty serious issues with the cartels and criminality and with the pandemic and the mass shuttering of a lot of businesses and unemployment. There are regions that have been hit very seriously from an economic standpoint, with mass unemployment.

The reality with Mexico is most of the resort areas stayed open during the pandemic, they kept their doors open, they may have reduced their staffing numbers. And what we saw was an interesting shift where as the traditional Canadian and American customers dwindled off, there was a surge of customers from South America that actually filled a lot of those occupancies and those resorts were able to keep going. They weren’t, you know, as lucrative as Canadian and American travellers, but they stayed open. And then we’re looking at areas like Cancun and other areas on the west coast of Mexico were pretty serious cartel infractions and violence.

And the advice that we would give our clients are, if you’re going to Mexico, stay at a resort, stay close to your resort, and talk to the concierge at your resort to understand where you can go, what’s actually a no go.

I spend a lot of time at Puerto Vallarta and the area I like to go into the criminality has encroached into that residential area to the point where the last time I was down, I was encouraged not to go beyond the main street. So go out to the main street, get on the Malecon, go down to the tourist corridor in the main city, but not go into the neighbourhoods that I used to just wander around and do the traditional street foods and the local bars. And I was told point blank, they’re out of balance now.

So it’s let’s say, listen to your travel provider. But also get ground truth. Get the reality perspective from the people on the ground that will tell you the truth. And take that to heart because in our business, both you and I what we see is we get a lot of these so called seasoned travellers that travelled extensively for leisure or business before the pandemic. And they have a perspective of what their safety factor was beforehand. They have a personal bias of what they think they’re capable of.

And you know, especially in the travel business, travel space where you’ll have people coming off a plane going into an environment that they travelled to extensively before pandemic and they’re going back and I’ll use mining companies, that may be the only business is still operating in a geographic region. Mass unemployment, you’re now the target because you have wealth, nobody else does. And you become a visible person of interest to a lot of people who have lost everything and they may in a roundabout way blame you and your organisation for their hardship. So people need to be aware of where they’re going, what has shifted, the new risks that they’re exposed to, and how to operate safely. And I’m from the same camp you’re from where there are areas in this world, I will categorically tell people do not go to these areas. But the vast majority of them, it’s have your pre-travel awareness briefings, understand who you are, as a traveller, understand the destination you’re going to and understand the activities you’re going to do. So if your objective is to go to a nice, warm place, and swim with dolphins and understand where you’re gonna stay, and how you’re gonna get to the dolphins and how to get back to your nice safe accommodation.

Amber Wheatley

0:25:43 – 0:27:08

Yeah, I was, you made a couple of good points there that I wanted to comment on. So 36% of Americans are more likely to travel internationally in the next six months. So with that said, if you don’t do it in your hometown, don’t do it. You made it, you made a good comment to say, don’t go walking out alone at midnight, down a dark alley, thinking that you’re going to be safe, because you’re not and I wouldn’t do that at home. So why am I contemplating doing that in a in a town or a city that I’m just completely unfamiliar with?

So we recently launched a travel on app, that’s a new value proposition we are offering to our customers in response to their desire for safety and security as they resume traveling. So the travel on mobile app provides our customers with meaningful information before and during their trip to keep them safe and informed about their travel destination. So key features include destination intelligence and travel advice, travel destination risk ratings, real time security alerts, and click to call travel assistance. So following a purchase of one of our our plans, our customers then are invited to download the app, whether that’s through the App Store or Google Play. We provide, you know the access codes and such and then it’s pretty instantaneous that they can get access to all of that destination intelligence and travel advice.

Frank Harrison

0:27:09 – 0:28:00

Thank you for joining us as we spoke to Amber Wheatley. In this episode, we focused on Travelex the importance of travel insurance, and having that friend in your back pocket when your travel is interrupted.

In our next episode, we’ll explore some of the questions and answers presented by Amber with two of my WPP colleagues.

Looking for the best travel podcasts inspire your upcoming adventures, while also helping you travel smarter. Listen to NAVIGATE, the top travel podcast that enhances the way you explore the world found on our Travel assist hub. In each episode our World Travel Protection host speak with a travel industry expert or experienced everyday traveller. Bring you thought provoking travel insights, experiences and advice helping empower you to travel the world confidently.

Until next time, I am Frank Harrison.

Summer travel is well underway – and in this episode we cover what Travelex Insurance is seeing and how they’re supporting customers. With policy counts rivalling those in 2019 and a growing desire for safety and security support within travel policies, we cover how Travelex is responding to this demand, the rise of ‘rusty travellers’ and how not all insurance policies are created equal.

At the end of the episode, we ask Regional Security Director Frank Harrison about changing travel risks in Mexico and hear Amber’s top three travel tips.

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