The Russian intrusion into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula has dramatically shown how quickly the map can be changed and travellers put in peril. To say “the world is a dangerous place” is a truism few would challenge.
Since the advent of the jet age, no country has remained inaccessible, unless it wishes. But for international travel insurers, this expansion of travel choices into potential danger zones is creating a dilemma: keeping their clients safe, while not suppressing their urge to travel.
Three years ago we saw how thousands of tourists in Egypt went from wonderment to virtual captivity in just a matter of hours. Thankfully, many had travel insurance and benefitted from the expertise of emergency assistance professionals who had been through similar situations before and who got their clients home safely, and for the most part, with some interesting stories to tell. Ironically, Egypt has again lapsed into dangerous instability and Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) has issued an official warning for tourists and all other travellers to “Avoid All Non-Essential Travel” to that troubled country.
And now we have the crisis in Crimea, a flashpoint for wars going back hundreds of years. DFATD has issued an Avoid All Travel warning for travellers already in Crimea: “If you are present in Crimea, you should consider leaving while it is still safe to do so.” It has also issued a High Degree of Caution warning for the remainder of the Ukraine.
For travel insurers, and agents selling their products, a more intimate knowledge and use of DFATD alerts may become a reasonable priority as their clients increase travel to countries and regions that might become problematic. Most travel insurance policies warn consumers that if DFATD issues Avoid All Travel or Avoid All Non-Essential Travel warnings prior to the effective dates of coverage, benefits might be limited or invalidated. Whereas if the official warnings are raised only after coverage kicks in, benefits will likely be retained, but travellers best get out of the region or country as quickly as they can. Insurers differ in how their policies address these warnings, or how they address wars, acts of terrorism, or civil unrest.
As the world becomes more dangerous and as the safety perimeter shrinks, insurers may have to be more transparent in explaining what they will and will not cover in the danger zones. That is no small task.
As of March, 2014, The Canadian government official Travel Alerts and Warnings website issued its risk-level advisories on all 229 countries it routinely surveys: There are four risk levels:
- Exercise Normal Security Precautions (e.g. U.S., U.K, France, Australia, etc.)
- Exercise High Degree of Caution (e.g. Mexico, India, Brazil, Bangladesh, etc.)
- Avoid Non-Essential Travel (e.g. Nigeria, Libya, Lebanon. etc.)
- Avoid All Travel (Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, etc.)
The website also issues an overall rating for the country as a whole, and flags certain regions within for special attention. In the case of Mexico, for example, the country as a whole is rated as requiring A High Degree of Caution, but for certain regions such as the northern states abutting Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and much of the Pacific coastal areas, DFATD posts an Avoid All Non-Essential travel warning.
And of the 229 countries surveyed by DFATD, almost one third (69) were rated Avoid All Travel, or Avoid Non-Essential Travel or had regional warnings of either of those two risk levels within their national boundaries. True enough, most travel insurance policies are already overloaded with fine print and could use some strict editing. But with global tensions rising as they are, it might not be a bad idea for insurers to put personal safety on their radar, and be crystal clear about the consequences of travelling in an increasingly dangerous world.