Travel is back on the agenda with the number of overseas trips made by university and college staff, and in some circumstances students, expected to return close to pre-pandemic levels this October. But, with COVID-19 transforming risks and insurer appetite, Matt James, client director – head of education at Aon, says a responsible approach to booking travel is essential
Overseas travel is an important part of education, with new relationships, experiences and the exchange of ideas helping to advance learning. While it’s good to see travel return to timetables, the post-pandemic world requires a much more considered and proactive approach to booking and insuring trips.
Although universities and colleges can still enjoy the benefits of a rolling annual travel insurance policy covering a variety of risks and potential destinations, insurers are highlighting the importance of understanding what is and isn’t covered on their policies before and after booking trips.
The travel destination can affect plans too. Different experiences of and attitudes towards the pandemic mean that rules and requirements vary from country to country.
Similarly, those booking travel need to be aware of any sanctions that may be in place for the destination: cover for travel to countries that may be off-limits for tourists is possible, providing the insurer approves the trip before travel takes place. However, the time to make referrals and await approval needs to be considered and factored in.
Responsible booking, with a full appreciation of the risks associated with any trip, is a must. The following checklist runs through some of the key checks that institutions should undertake before and during any travel.
- Understand what cover, terms and conditions are applicable under the travel insurance. It does vary from insurer to insurer, especially around COVID-19 cover.
- Be aware of any entry requirements, especially around COVID-19. These requirements may include typical documentation (visas, passports etc) but also evidence of COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, and/or that travel insurance is in place. Restrictions vary so make sure you know whether travel to that country or region is even possible before booking a trip. If there were restrictions or entry requirements in place at the time of booking that you will not comply with, it may be regarded as a foreseeable risk. Failing to successfully enter a country due to non-compliance with entry requirements, and the money lost as a result, is unlikely to be covered by travel insurance.
- Check whether travel is to a sanctioned country. If it is, it may be possible to be covered but check with your travel insurer before booking. It can take a few weeks for approval to be granted and the insurer will want to know who is travelling, who they are meeting, where, and potentially even why. Without approval from the insurer, there’s no travel insurance cover for travelling to sanctioned countries, even if the trip would have been approved had a referral been made.
- Where travel is to a sanctioned country, consider how you might support the traveller(s) if they get into difficulty or are injured. Sanctions can make it illegal for a travel insurer to send money into the country, so it might be necessary for the institution to make alternative plans such as covering costs incurred, for medical treatment or evacuation for instance, and then claiming these back directly from the insurer, subject to policy terms and conditions.
- Pre-travel risk checks are considered best practice before booking any travel, especially where someone is travelling to a high-risk area. As a minimum, it’s essential that staff engage with the university or college insurance team before arranging any travel to ensure there are no issues around cover.
At point of booking
- Check the travel company’s policy if the trip has to be cancelled due to COVID-19 and understand your options. Ideally, the deposit or costs incurred should be refundable by the travel company, or there should be an option to rearrange the trip. Travel insurers require you to have requested a refund from the travel company, airline etc first before submitting a claim for non-recoverable expenses.
- Double check it’s ok to travel. Restrictions and entry requirements can change so make sure everyone is prepared before they head to the airport. Although travel insurers may cover the trip if it has to be cancelled due to causes outside the control of the traveller, any additional costs incurred because someone didn’t check the requirements and was subsequently turned away at the border, are unlikely to be valid grounds for a claim.
- Be aware of all the travel insurance support that’s available. Most insurers have useful apps for smartphones or devices to help travellers while they’re away so make sure these are downloaded and configured before they travel. Make sure all travellers have contact numbers for both the insurance company and the university/college if there’s an issue or emergency while they’re away.
- If the traveller requires support for either a medical, security or other reason while overseas, encourage them to use the emergency numbers provided by the travel insurer.
- Travel insurers, and any third party travel assist companies they engage, can arrange hospital treatment, accommodation or advice on dealing with local matters. Utilising partner hospitals/emergency medical centres, can drastically reduce the costs incurred, and allows for matters such as repatriation or transport to be managed more effectively.
- Ensure travellers have an understanding of travel insurance or other insurance policy terms and conditions. There are often conditions around security of items that are taken on trips and sometimes property or equipment taken away can be of very high value.
As the world starts to reopen again, university and college insurance managers need to work closely with staff to ensure their travel plans are possible. Encouraging them to book responsibly, using pre-travel risk checks and liaising with brokers and insurers as early as possible for high risk or sanctioned countries, will help to ensure the smooth return of travel to the education timetables.
For further information or to discuss anything raised in this article, speak to your account manager or contact Matt James at [email protected].