||There are several reasons why language travel agents should offer their clients insurance products, says David Wood, Travel Account Manager at Endsleigh Insurance Services in the UK, including to “protect their students, create an additional revenue source for your organisation, and enhance the services you provide”.
Paula Johnson, Director of Cypress Intercâmbio Cultural & Cypress Homestays, who is based in Canada, views their insurance products as a valuable additional service for their clients. “Most of our students aren’t aware that the medical systems overseas aren’t free for tourists [and] students and once this is explained it is easier to convince them to acquire insurance,” she asserts.
Paola Zulian from Obiettivo Lingua in Italy agrees that not many of their students realise the dangers of inadequate insurance, particularly when travelling to North America. “We tell them that it is very important to have good cover when they go, for example, to the USA, where the health system is all private,” she adds.
Mónica Aguirre, Marketing Coordinator at Ingle International in Canada also highlights the importance of adequate cover, especially in North America. “When looking for travel medical insurance, it is important to look at the overall coverage, exclusions and limitations,” she advises. “Remember that a night at a North American hospital can cost US$3,000 or more.”
At Obiettivo Lingua, Zulian says that insurance is compulsory for those booking through their agency, whereas at other agencies, for example, StudyGlobal in Germany, it is an additional option. “Currently over 40 per cent of our overall clients book an insurance package,” relates Ramona Biehn at the agency. “These numbers have increased since 2007 when 31 per cent of all clients booked an insurance package. One reason for that increase is certainly a higher awareness of the necessity of sufficient insurance coverage amongst clients as well as an increased marketing effort with respect to insurance products by StudyGlobal. In addition, a more unstable economic situation may also have increased sales numbers of the cancellation insurance in particular as clients are looking for some kind of protection against unforeseen circumstances.”
StudyGlobal offers two different types of insurance products: international health and travel insurance and cancellation insurance, and they ensure their clients are thoroughly aware of the options. “Our clients can inform themselves about [the insurance] products on our website,” says Biehn. “Any client receiving a quote from StudyGlobal is also informed about the possibility to book international health & travel insurance as well as cancellation insurance as an additional optional service. Finally, after reservation, when sending out a pre-booking confirmation StudyGlobal again points out that students have to have sufficient health insurance in the destination country and provides them with information once again.”
For students, buying insurance through their language travel agency can offer them peace of mind, as they are already entrusting that agency with their education travel booking, as Biehn points out. She also underlines the fact that it saves clients time as they do not have to search for a different provider on their own. “Furthermore,” she says, “they can be sure to have an insurance product adapted to their needs and can always re-contact StudyGlobal if any doubts arise or in case of an insurance claim.”
For StudyGlobal the benefits of offering insurance plans are also clear. “Except from the fact that the offer of insurance products is an add-on to our main product which gives clients the possibility to buy a complete package, the company itself makes a commission of about 15-to-20 per cent on different insurance products,” relates Biehn.
But not all agencies offer insurance products. Panos Nikoloutsopoulos from Pan Educational in Greece says that from his experience, “Trying to arrange in the middle of the high season insurance is an arduous and time-consuming process. Another problem is that when I negotiated to arrange insurance with a company, terms and regulations were so complex that I gave up.” Instead, Nikoloutsopoulos generally arranges the insurance through the school the client is going to attend.
Trinh Nguyen at Overseas Employment & Overseas Study Services in Vietnam says they do the same as Pan Educational in Greece. “Usually we ask the schools or universities to arrange insurance for our students. They send us the invoice and students pay directly to them,” she relates.
Johnson acknowledges that there may be pitfalls with working with some insurance companies. “We’ve been fortunate with our insurance partners and we realise this may be a challenge if you are not working with the right insurance provider,” she says.
But many insurance companies are more than willing to partner with agencies, and work hard to ensure their products meet the needs of agency clients. According to Wood, they work in partnership with agencies, schools and universities “to identify the most appropriate way to offer insurance to their students and then provide them with a suitable solution”.
He continues, “We regularly review all of our travel insurance policies. We tailor them following feedback from our partners that use these products, as well as existing students, via student surveys. Using this regular process we are assured that adequate cover is provided to these students in the ways they most want it.”
Similarly, Aguirre at Ingle International says, “We continually update and improve our products to ensure they are the most competitive, robust offer on the market for international students.”
Insurance is certainly an area in which agents can do business. The key is to find the right insurance partner, and discuss your clients’ needs with them. As Wood says, “Providing insurance is more than just an additional revenue source, particularly within the education environment. It’s an important extension to the level of care that [agents] can provide to their students.”
Most students travelling overseas to study will need a health insurance plan, although those going to European Union (EU) countries from within the EU already have some cover. There are many products available that roughly cover the same main aspects but there are often differences in the detail.
For example, International Student Insurance in the USA provides a range of international student health and travel insurance plans to both students and non-students who are travelling, studying or living outside of their home country. Ross Mason, International Director at International Student Insurance, explains further: “For international students studying full- or part-time at a college or university we offer the Student Secure plan which was launched five years ago to provide students with a high quality health insurance plan that covers things like hospitalisation, doctors’ visits, prescription medication, pre-existing conditions after 12 months coverage, mental health, maternity, physical therapy, sports coverage, evacuation, repatriation and much more. It was created to fill a gap in the market where students were not able to find a competitively priced insurance plan that met the requirements of schools and governments around the world. For international students who are studying in short-term ESL programmes or simply travelling and need coverage, we offer the Atlas Travel plan which covers hospitalisation, doctors’ visits, trip interruption, political evacuation, evacuation, repatriation and much more.”
Similarly, Ingle International provides comprehensive insurance packages for “international students in Canada, Canadian students going abroad, and any student travelling from and to anywhere in the world”, says Mónica Aguirre, Marketing Coordinator at Ingle International. “Our plans cover students for any unexpected illness, sickness or accidents up to US$5 million. Benefits include hospital accommodation, physician charges, prescription drugs, surgery, lab tests and diagnostics, ambulance services, emergency evacuation services, paramedical practitioners, emergency and accident dental treatment, emergency return home, family transportation, burial or repatriation of remains, among other benefits.”
Meanwhile in the UK, Endsleigh Insurance Services offers two insurance policies, designed specifically for international students studying in the UK and for UK students studying overseas, that encompass both medical and travel cover. Each of these policies include medical expenses, cancellation and curtailment cover; baggage, passport and documents cover; recreational travel that covers the client for any trips to other European Union countries for up to 21 days; and liability.
Mason emphasises the importance of having an insurance package designed especially for students. “It is important that international students have a specific health insurance plan as their requirements and needs are different from general travellers. Students who are studying abroad for either a semester, or longer, for three or four years, will need something more substantial in coverage such as mental health benefits, maternity benefits for females, pre-existing condition coverage for longer-term applicants and scholastic/intramural sports coverage. These are just a few of the benefits that make an international student insurance plan different.”
Paula Johnson, Director of Cypress Intercâmbio Cultural & Cypress Homestays says that the insurance packages they offer their clients cover “basically everything that’s considered an emergency”. She adds, “If you did not see that emergency coming it is covered!”