Good news, bad news from latest THIA consumer survey

TORONTO — Here’s the good news: 80% of Canadians plan to travel in 2021, according to a new survey conducted by the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA).

Here’s the bad news, at least for anyone whose livelihood typically depends on selling international travel: most respondents in the survey said they don’t plan to cross borders for their trips anytime soon.

The THIA’s 2020 Smart Traveller Survey, conducted in October 2020 with 1,000 responses from across Canada (from consumers ranging from ages 18 to 60+), suggests that 53% of Canadians will only begin making cross-border travel plans when a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

Barring a vaccine, 74% of respondents say they want carriers, from airlines to trains, to block off seating or operate below maximum capacity to allow for physical distancing before they feel comfortable booking any travel.

And 62% of Canadians also want assurances from their travel health insurance providers that they have appropriate coverage should they or their travel companions’ contract COVID-19 while on vacation.

“The travel health insurance industry evolved dramatically at the pandemic’s outset when March Break travel was interrupted. Support centres became the only resource for travellers scrambling to return,” says Will McAleer, THIA’s Executive Director and spokesperson.

“The travel insurance industry is responding to consumers’ needs for assurances and a growing number of our members are offering specialized COVID-19 coverage, either within or as a rider to their policies. Many companies are waiting for the Canadian government to reduce the level three travel advisory before offering new insurance products,” says McAleer.

He notes that 29% of survey respondents are willing to travel outside of Canada. Their biggest concern with travelling outside of Canada includes questions around returning safely.

And here’s the problem with the honour system for health questionnaires and screenings: of those who said they plan to travel in 2021, 25% said that they would answer untruthfully to COVID-19 screening questions in order to board their flight home.

The federal government’s travel advisory remains in effect, warning Canadians against all non-essential travel amid the pandemic. However THIA notes that there are still options for Canadians who choose to travel, and says it’s more important now than ever to ensure that travellers understand their travel health insurance coverage and have the necessary coverage.

Here are the THIA’s golden rules of travel health insurance before clients leave for vacation:

  • Know your policy – Insurance providers have staff available to answer any questions related to policies. Make sure to ask your provider about extended coverage options for COVID-19, recent policy updates or changes.
  • Know your health – and consult a health care provider if you have any questions.
  • Know your trip – How long will you be gone? Are you a snowbird? Will you be travelling many times during the year? Do you plan to scuba dive? Find a policy that is specifically tailored to your trip.
  • Know your rights – The Bill of Rights and Responsibilities will help provide all travelling Canadians with additional confidence in their travel insurance purchase knowing their company is supporting their rights as a consumer and making them aware of their responsibilities.
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