TORONTO — Few things highlight the importance of travel insurance like a global pandemic. But in a Catch-22, a global pandemic can also make it really difficult to purchase travel insurance.
This is why when the federal government finally lowered Canada’s travel advisory on Feb. 28, 2022 from Level 3 to Level 2, travellers across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Level 3 advisory, which had been re-instated on Dec. 15 due to the Omicron variant, was met with frustration across the travel industry and resulted in a wave of cancelled bookings for many travel agents. But now, with Level 2 and the government no longer recommending that Canadians avoid travel for non-essential purposes, Canadians have not only been given the green light to travel, but have gained greater access to a wider variety of travel insurance options.
“Insurers were unlikely to issue new trip cancellation or travel health policies for destinations under a Level 3 travel advisory,” says Joan Weir, Vice President, Group Benefits, Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA). “But with the lowered Level 2 advisory, those planning to travel are able to get all types of travel insurance, including trip cancellation and travel health for most destinations.”
Weir does note that COVID-19 and its variants should still be treated as a concern for travellers, and recommends going to the Government of Canada’s travel website for the latest travel advice and advisories.
“While all types of travel insurance are now available, travellers should be aware of the requirements to enter any particular country and the availability of healthcare should there be a need,” she says. “It’s also very important to realize that the situation and restrictions at destination can change at any time, and to be prepared for that.”
Though travellers are still being advised to travel with caution as part of the Level 2 advisory, given the spread of Omicron, the fact that restrictions are finally easing and travel insurance is now readily available are worth celebrating. We asked Manulife, Allianz Global Assistance Canada and TuGo what travel agents should know about travel insurance at this stage of the pandemic, particularly now that the travel advisory has been lowered. Here’s what they had to say:
Travelweek: How has the lowered travel advisory impacted your existing travel insurance policies?
Manulife: Prior to the advisory being lowered, individuals required our COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan to be covered for COVID-19 related illness while in destination. This is due to our core medical policies having a travel advisory exclusion, which limits coverage in destinations where there is an “Avoid non-essential travel (Level 3) or “Avoid all travel” (Level 4) advisory. With the advisory level lowered, Emergency Medical Insurance within our core plans now covers COVID-19 related illness.
Julia Deanne Koene, Corporate Communications, Allianz Global Assistance Canada: While it’s important to choose coverage based on individual needs, with the lifting of the Level 3 global travel advisory, emergency medical expenses related to COVID-19 are now eligible under our standard plans as long as on the policy effective date, there is no Level 3 or Level 4 travel advisory related to COVID-19 in effect at the destination.
Brad Dance, Chief Customer Officer, TuGo and Travel Health Insurance Association (THIA) past president: The travel advisory level change doesn’t impact our vaccinated customers who had Emergency Medical Insurance, since TuGo began offering coverage for COVID-19 regardless of travel advisory level back in November 2021. We have been insuring Canadians for travel outside of Canada, including cruise travel, since then. Our customers have been able to travel knowing they have coverage if/when they need it.
With the lowering of travel advisory, TuGo has seen a further uptick in travel insurance purchases, for travellers of all ages. Traveller confidence has continued to increase with the Government of Canada lowering the advisory level, suggesting it’s safer to travel now. We anticipate even more uptake now, with the testing requirements ending April 1.
Travelweek: Would you say it’s easier for travellers to obtain travel insurance now?
Manulife: There are now more plan options available to customers who are looking for complete package coverage. With the advisory being lowered, our Premium Protection Plan and All-Inclusive Plan both include Emergency Medical coverage for COVID-19, as well as Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance benefits. It’s important not to lose sight of insuring the cost of the trip prior to departure, as 70% of claims traditionally occur prior to departure.
Koene (Allianz): The same terms and conditions apply and clients must meet all eligibility requirements to obtain travel insurance coverage.
Dance (TuGo): Yes, it will be easier; some providers aren’t in the position to offer coverage when the travel advisory is a level 3 or 4. But, it’s still essential for travellers to review the policy before they purchase it and again before departure, so they’re well aware of how the policy covers or excludes travel advisories.
Travelweek: What stipulations, if any, are still in place when obtaining travel insurance with a Level 2 travel advisory? What should travel agents know?
Manulife: As recommended by the Government of Canada, insureds need to be fully vaccinated for at least 14 days before departing on their trip in order to be covered for COVID-19 on our core medical plans. The pandemic has certainly highlighted the importance of travel insurance. With Canadians longing to travel again, we feel strongly that our travel agency partners are feeling more comfortable and confident than even before in selling our products. Through all of our targeted training over the past 24 months, thousands of travel professionals attended numerous training sessions to better educate themselves on travel insurance options during the pandemic and moving forward.
Koene (Allianz): COVID-19 remains a known event for Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption. For policies with Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption benefits that were purchased on or after March 11, 2020, any Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption claims related to previous or future Government of Canada travel advisories connected to COVID-19 will continue to not be payable.
As the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve, we recommend everyone follow Government of Canada travel advisories and regularly review COVID-19 requirements for their departure, arrival at their destination, and return to Canada.
Dance (TuGo): The Canadian Government provides advice to help travellers make informed decisions about whether the destination is safe to travel to or not. There will always be some level of risk in travel; travellers should do their due diligence to prepare for the unexpected.
One thing I think is always a good reminder is to follow THIA’s Travel Insurance Bill of Rights & Responsibilities, which acknowledge that the traveller has a responsibility to understand their policy; and if they don’t, to seek assistance.
In terms of travel agents, it’s important to know the value of offering Trip Cancellation & Trip Interruption Insurance, particularly during uncertain times.
Trip Cancellation covers the non-refundable costs of a trip if something happens before the departure date, causing the traveller to cancel the trip. Trip Interruption covers events that happen after departure, causing the traveller to interrupt the trip, or to return earlier or later than their original return date.
Plus, TuGo offers an add-on option called ‘Cancel For Any Reason.’ The traveller can cancel their trip for any reason (that isn’t already listed as a covered risk in the policy), and be reimbursed up to 50% of pre-paid travel costs that are non-refundable, and non-transferable, if they cancel more than 5 days before the scheduled departure date. What’s often misunderstood with this coverage is that it must be purchased in the 5 days of paying for, or making a deposit on, the booking or any time before a cancellation penalty from the travel supplier applies.
Lastly, it’s always essential to ensure that the traveller is adequately eligible for coverage; reviewing eligibility requirements, confirming pre-existing medical conditions and accurately completing a Medical Questionnaire are all applicable factors. None of these variables have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.