Are Canadian Travel Insurers Neglecting Cruisers?

Sometimes I wonder if Canadian travel insurers are really aggressive enough when it comes to sizing up tomorrow’s clients and developing new products for emerging travel trends, such as cruising.

This past September, Alex Bittner, newly elected president of THIA (the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada), wrote in an industry publication: “My premise for business has always been that if we can give consumers what they want, rather than what we want, we will all be the beneficiaries.”

If that is to be a guiding principle—and it’s a good one—let’s take a look at the world’s fastest-growing travel activity: cruising the world’s oceans and rivers. According to a recent survey by the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC), more than 780,000 Canadians will be taking cruise trips this year, and a projected 815,000 next year. But where are the seminars, brochures, commercials, and promotions specifically targeted by Canadian travel insurers to this sector of leisure travel? Ironically, the single-trip, or even annual multi-trip plan currently sold to Canadian land-based vacationers can already fill the needs of most emerging sailors. It wouldn’t take much to target them with specialized products labelled and promoted as seaworthy.

Related: Going Cruising? Be Prepared if the Seas Get Rough

Though travel agents are the primary portals for cruise bookings, the number of cruise shoppers making their own bookings online is growing, while the number working through agents is shrinking. Booking online may be convenient, but when buying, purchasers may be offered “in-house” travel insurance as just another add-on, like port charges, without realizing that the coverage they are buying is designed for Americans and is quite inadequate for Canadians. The plans offered by cruise lines—or their affiliated insurance providers—are skimpy when compared to the multi-million dollar medical coverage offered by Canadian plans. But they serve different needs: they don’t make direct payments to providers, or offer ambulance repatriations to hospitals at home, or secure hospital beds in Canada. American plans may provide $10,000 or possibly $25,000 of medical coverage—and you pay your way home.

Furthermore, targeting the cruise market would not require a lot of exotic exploration. It’s already defined. Here’s an interesting demographic from the CBoC:

  • Canadians age 50–64 are 20 per cent more likely to have taken a cruise than Canadians under 50
  • Canadians age 65 and older are 57 per cent more likely to have taken a cruise than those under 65
  • Empty-nesters, adults living alone, and couples without children are most likely to have taken a cruise in the past three years

Over the last decade the world demand for cruising has risen 77 per cent—from 12 million trips in 2003 to 21.3 million in 2013. This is a piece of business that won’t sail away.

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