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COVID-19 rekindles travel insurance business, call center inquiries

Kampala, Uganda | ISAAC KHISA | Long before the outbreak of coronavirus, one thing that most local travelers never spent time on was to buy a travel insurance cover.

Planning and making arrangements for visas, flights and accommodations, researching tourist’s attractions and perhaps buying new clothes was all they needed. Little did they imagine of falling ill or injured in a foreign nation.

However, this is changing, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Most travelers are now seeking for travel insurance especially with COVID-19 medical cover extension as insurers became more equipped with information on the virus, treatments available, mortality rates and average time to recover, to mitigate any risks such as flight cancellations, contracting COVID-19 or any medical emergencies, repatriation and evacuation, local burial or cremation during the trip.

This has been augmented with some countries imposing mandated travel insurance covers for incoming visitors – either by including it in the visa fees or by requiring proof of coverage to cater for any possible illness including from COVID-19; creating more opportunities for insurers.

Richard Mwebesa, the business development manager, Britam Uganda, said whereas the pandemic has battered travels, it has also created an opportunity for the insurers to develop the much needed niche products that meets the traveler’s needs.

“…Over 95% of the population that is travelling (from Uganda) now is seeking for a COVID-19 extension on their travel insurance policies,” he said.

“As such, we as Britam Uganda managed to source through our partners, insurance cover for the extension covering COVID-19 for travelers.”

Latest data from Civil Aviation Authority shows that Entebbe International Airport, which had over the years recorded a faster growth in air passenger traffic hitting 1.98million in 2019, fell to 565,666 passengers in 2020 as COVID-19 restricted travels.

Mwebesa, however, said the cover has conditions: prior to the travel, the prospective customer should have tested and confirmed to be free from COVD-19; and following the Standard Operating Procedures such as wearing masks and hand washing or sanitization as guided by the government before issuance of the insurance cover.

He also said the increasing number of countries requiring travelers to have travel insurance policies that covers COVID-19 to minimize on the financial burden of medical bills that could be left unpaid in the unfortunate event of contracting the disease, has also raised the travel insurance’s status in Uganda, Africa and beyond.

Compulsory travel insurance cover

Presently, some of the countries requiring travelers to have mandatory travel insurance cover of up to US$100,000 in health care costs, which may include hospital costs, intensive care unit costs, medical transportation costs, doctor consultations, isolation costs, and COVID-19 testing includes; Bahamas, Aruba, Antarctica, Anguilla, Bahamas, Bermuda, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Others are; Egypt, Israel, French Polynesia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Turkey, Russia, Qatar, New Zealand, Nepal, Mexico, Lebanon, Jordan, Japan, Jamaica, Cambodia, Cayman Islands.

In addition, 26 Schengen countries, too, insists that visitors secure a travel insurance cover with the benefits of more than US$50,000 of medical emergency coverage and $300,000 of medical evacuation and repatriation coverage, to be granted entry into any of their territories.

“There’s a great awakening of travel insurance because of COVID-19 to the masses,” Mwebesa said. “We therefore feel that when this pandemic passes, more people will be much more aware that in traveling abroad, you are better off taking an insurance cover not just for COVID-19 but for mitigating any other risk.”

Stephen Chikovore, the Managing Director, UAP Old Mutual General Insurance Uganda, said the new demand for COVID-19 related insurance covers prompted the insurance firm to review its products to cover COVID-19.

“This pandemic has actually emphasized the need for travel insurance for any traveler because you do not know what can befall you along the way. It can be covid-19 related or something else,” he said.

“You can go to South Africa now and you get locked up. Now, if you don’t have a policy that covers alternative costs and all those incremental costs, then, you will get stuck.”

Chikovore hopes that once the COVID-19 situation normalizes, insurers are likely to see an increase in the uptake of a number of insurance products especially those related to health.

Chikovore cites the increase in travel insurance products amidst low travelers to increased awareness to the population about the importance of insurance to any economy.

“We have even gone further, in that, customer can buy this product (travel insurance with COVID-19 cover) online in the comfort of their homes,” he said.

Similarly, Maurice Amogola, the chief executive officer at an insurance broker, Minet, says the purchase of travel insurance is on the increase as a result of COVID-19 and increased communication in electronic and print media about the importance of travel insurance during this COVID-19 period.

“This is the period that no one would like to travel out of the country without a travel health insurance,” he said.

“Imagine traveling abroad and you die from there. The cost of bringing the body is so huge. It can go as high as US$10,000 and travel insurance can help solve that challenge.”

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