By Hector D’souza
The word `jabs’ has now become `passe’ or so normal when people say they’ve been `jabbed’, few shut the eyelids! The target is to `jab’ the whole world in perhaps the next one year. This is the good news; however, those in the travel industry will need to rein in their horses for maybe couple more months, especially those in the Indian sub-continent. This is one part of the story.
Naturally with all that’s transpired in the past 14 months, the world is still on tenterhooks; especially tourism. Country borders and destination attractions are starting, sputtering and shutting, sometimes at moment’s notice. There is no denying safety of life and good health is the priority of nations panning across the globe. Health experts are not unanimous in their choice of solutions; quite often the left hand is not quite in sync with the right. This is the other side of the story. Uncertainty!! Every traveller in the world hates to deal with this unpleasant word.
Yes, we all need to be optimists and humanity thrives on hope. Our sector needs solutions as well. In all likelihood, insurance against (uncertainty) cancellation, commonly referred to as `trip cancellation insurance’ will be the product that will bring the confidence back to the travelling public. How does it work?
In normal times `trip cancellation insurance’ is purchased by the traveller before commencing her/his travel journey to an international destination. If for any medical reason or an unexpected civilian disturbance at the destination, the traveller cancels the trip, he or she will be fully reimbursed for the unused services of the trip. For example, if travel is cancelled before departure, complete amount paid to travel agent or tour operator will be reimbursed back to the traveller by the insurance company.
This is a practice followed in many Western countries and has been in existence for few decades now. It is quite successful though premium is not necessarily cheap. This type of insurance premium will definitely not be in the range of INR 1,000/-! It’s much higher, depending on the number of clauses added to it. Clauses could range from weather disturbances, to acts of God, terrorist attacks – all factors that could disrupt travel.
How will `trip cancellation insurance’ work in today’s Covid-19 times, considering travel bans can arise at the last minute, passengers tested negative before departure are tested positive on arrival, the host country from where the traveller departs is suddenly turned into a `red zone’, thereby effectively preventing a departure as the destination country will not accept the visitor?
In the first instance it’s a regular trip cancellation that includes – Covid-19 and all other factors related to it. This will be purchased by the traveller/s from the insurance company directly with the condition being there is `no ban to travel’ order emanating from the host and destination countries, at time of purchase. With updated information technology this will not pose a challenge. If there is a ban, the policy will not be issued. Second requirement would for travellers to have completed taking both the jabs, before issuance of the policy.
This being the case the policy could be issued. Other parameters need to be considered as well. What is the provision if the vaccinated traveller falls ill before departure on arriving at the destination? Logically all medical as well as hospitalisation expenses will be involved in this policy, like a normal overseas medical insurance policy. The cost of the trip will need to be reimbursed for any unused services after due diligence reports are submitted by the tour operator or OTA to the insurance company directly.
The insurance companies should also verify that the tour companies or OTAs providing the services have received payment in full and there is no such – `stop payment’ – notice issued by the insured person to service providers. The scope for ambiguity should be reduced to bare minimum, assurance should be also be provided by the credit card merchants or banks through whom services are paid for by the insurer of complete transparency in transactions.
If the trip is cancelled midway due to circumstances beyond the control of the service provider for a number of reasons covered in clauses issued by the insurance company, then the service provider will need to provide an adjusted bill after deducting all services utilised by the traveller, to the insurance company. Granted, trade secrets need not be shared, however, in these days of total unpredictability where a sneeze can completely jeopardize a traveller’s plans, it’s time all verticals join hands together to bring the confidence back to tourism.
`Jabs’ notwithstanding!! Reassuring concrete plans are needed and insurance companies are well equipped to deliver. When travellers know they will be compensated or paid back fully for services they do not avail of, all forms of travel especially international will show a double- or triple-digit growth. In its absence, we will only prod along in this blurry world of `uncertainty.’
Hector Dsouza is the founder of L’orient Travels & India Rep for the State Tourist Board of Southwest Germany. A prolific travel writer with over 1.2 million words to his credit, he began by publishing a Travel Magazine, Travel-n-Tell in the early nineties. He switched over to online mode in 1997, continuing to this day. Featured in a number of national as well as couple of international publications including – Times of India, Economic Times, ET Travel World, Mid-Day, Afternoon, Dreamscapes, & E Turbo, his forte is describing travel destinations, tourism analysis, & opiniated reporting. Well read & well travelled, he used the lockdown to increase his academic knowledge, attending several online series on Archealogy, Art & Architecture of Ancient India, Rock Cut Monuments, Protohistory, Charting Mumbai & Many Architectures of Mumbai. He also presented a paper on tourism – Subjective or Objective during the lockdown.
The views expressed in the column are of the authour, and may or may not be endorsed by the publication.