What is your background in the travel insurance sector, and what drew you to it?
I worked in the UK financial services market with software and services companies before I joined the Australian startup. It was at the beginning of the dotcom boom, and it was a great opportunity to be involved in a project that didn’t even have a name yet. I’d been introduced to the founder of a large wholesale travel agency company, and he pitched me moving to Sydney to help start working on his vision of a backpacker travel insurance company.
You joined World Nomads over 20 years ago. What has been your biggest challenge or success since starting?
Our biggest challenge from the outset was that we knew that we had a clear vision. We wanted to offer travel insurance to anyone from everywhere that would allow them to go anywhere. Clearly, we had an enormous regulatory challenge on our hands in trying to achieve that, and our vision of having one insurance partner quickly became multiple partners, which is where we are today.
Our biggest success was partnering with Lonely Planet way back in 2005. We had a 15-year relationship and it enabled our significant growth from startup to a major industry player. We were initially using Google AdWords to drive traffic to our site and then, overnight, we had our logo on the Lonely Planet homepage with millions and millions of new customers being exposed to our brand and insurance products. It was a game changer for us.
What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis, and which aspects do you enjoy the most?
I look after our B2B [business-to-business] team and have responsibility for our local and global partnerships. We’ve recently changed our partnership programme and have undertaken a huge shift away from a commission-based deal to a pay-per-quote model. We have a significant number of partners in the market and we manage their displayed content and also work with them in creating joint marketing material.
You have partnerships with assistance companies. How important is it to choose the right ones in each region? And what are those choices based on?
Choosing the right assistance companies in each region is extremely important for us. We have a pretty solid network of providers worldwide, but, let’s face it, we can’t cover every nook and cranny of the globe. Sometimes we need the help of local partners who have the inside scoop, established relationships, and a network of providers in specific regions.
There are a bunch of situations where we might need a third-party assistance partner to lend us a hand. If we don’t have language assistance readily available, we team up with local experts who can help bridge the communication gap. It’s all about making sure our team, the customer, and the local healthcare providers can understand each other clearly.
Occasionally, getting medical reports or cost details can be a real hassle, whether it’s due to logistical issues or uncooperative folks. In those cases, having a trusted third-party partner comes in handy. They’re pros at navigating these challenges and can help us get our hands on the necessary documents and cost information. That way, our case managers, medical teams and customers have all the info they need to make informed decisions and process claims smoothly.
Our partners are like our secret weapon in making sure our policyholders get the medical services they need without any unnecessary delays
In terms of money, if a hospital refuses to accept our guarantee of payment (GOP) directly, it can be a headache. That’s where our partners step in to negotiate alternative payment methods or work out cost containment strategies. They’re like our secret weapon in making sure our policyholders get the medical services they need without any unnecessary delays.
There are also times when we can’t find a local facility within our existing network. That’s when our partners with their local know-how and connections swoop in and help us locate suitable healthcare facilities, even in the most remote or unfamiliar areas. It’s a real lifesaver for our customers who need medical attention in those hard-to-reach places.
Last but not least, when it comes to arranging ground transportation, sometimes our regular network just can’t deliver the goods. That’s when our partners come to the rescue, sourcing reliable and efficient transport options to get our customers from point A to point B safely and on time.
How are payers seeing the value of air ambulance repatriations change?
While the prices of air ambulance services have increased somewhat, it goes without saying that the value of such repatriations remains highly significant. The ability to quickly and safely transport an injured or ill traveller back home or to a suitable medical facility can be lifesaving.
Are you seeing a significant rise in air ambulance costs as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels?
There have been some increases in prices, but nothing that could be deemed excessive. The price of the services themselves are affected by a number of factors, for example the appropriate medical crew (specialised and highly trained staff) which is heavily dependent on the patient need and the severity of the case, range of the mission, specialised equipment, fuel and maintenance costs, travel costs, international fees and permits.
Are you seeing problems with getting an air ambulance when you need it?
This, thankfully, hasn’t been an issue for World Nomads. It comes down to a number of factors. From a travel insurance perspective we can only cover travellers to the limits of where we can actually help. So, we’re confident in our ability to deliver on that. It all comes back to our well sourced local connections and networks.
How did the pandemic change how World Nomads works?
The pandemic was seismic in terms of its impact on the travel industry, and World Nomads was no exception. Aside from the obvious impact of prohibiting international travel, it also necessitated several changes in how we operated and provided services to our customers.
Thanks to the pandemic, the cost of providing travel insurance has skyrocketed
One thing the pandemic did was magnify the often fastidious nature of international travel for many people. It not only made everyone acutely aware that travel comes with risks, but it also highlighted the benefit in having suitable travel insurance, including coverage for trip cancellations and medical expenses related to Covid-19.
We had to quickly adapt our plans to include coverage for trip disruptions due to lockdowns or border closures. We also provided coverage for emergency medical expenses if a traveller contracted Covid-19 while on their trip. These were non-negotiable items in terms of our responsibilities as a travel insurance provider in this new landscape for travellers.
We worked closely with our underwriters and partners to ensure that our policy language and coverage options were clear and transparent regarding Covid-19-related claims. This was crucial in addressing the concerns and uncertainties of travellers during unprecedented times. We also focused on providing up-to-date travel information and resources to our customers, helping them navigate the changing travel restrictions and guidelines imposed by different countries.
What do you think are the major challenges right now facing international insurers?
Thanks to the pandemic, the cost of providing travel insurance has skyrocketed. Medical expenses are through the roof, and insurers have to cover trip cancellations and disruptions like never before. When you then start to factor in other matters relating to the cost-of-living crisis, inflation and issues with transport authorities and airline carriers – public strikes, for example, or airlines operating under capacity leading to increased delays and cancellations – it’s like trying to balance a budget with a leaky bucket.
As if things weren’t complicated enough, new risks keep popping up like whack-a-moles. Climate change, political unrest, cyber threats – insurers need to stay on their toes and figure out how to cover these evolving risks. Dealing with regulations continues to be a live issue also. Insurers need to make sure they’re on the right side of the law in every country they operate in.
What do you think sets World Nomads apart?
We’re not just a travel insurance policy – we’ve worked incredibly hard over the years to create a brand and ethos that resonates and connects with our travellers. From our enormously successful Footprints Network, our in-house philanthropy arm that’s raised nearly $4 million for projects around the world, through to our international scholarship mentor competitions – our fun and engaging language guides to our heavily resourced travel safety content – we believe that we’re part of our travellers’ journey and we share in their travel values.