As Covid-19 Infections Fall, It’s Time For ‘Responsible’ Travel

If you hear the phrase “responsible travel,” there’s a good chance you’re talking to Anna Gladman. She’s the CEO of travel insurance company World Nomads — and a champion of traveling in a mindful way. Now, as Covid-19 begins to fade, her message is resonating with a wider audience. I asked her why.

You’re often quoted on the subject of responsible travel. So I have to ask you, is it responsible to travel right now? Or should people be staying home but maybe planning a future trip?

Responsible travel has many aspects, including public health. How can each of us reduce the risk of catching Covid-19 and spreading infection to others? This means following testing, screening and masking guidelines set out by the CDC, travel operators, and the countries you’re visiting, even as a fully vaccinated traveler.  

It means not traveling while unvaccinated, while you’re sick, or after a known exposure, all of which can put others at risk, especially if you’re traveling to a place with low vaccination rates. We all want to make individual choices but these need to be balanced with the risk to others. 

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Do you think that as the pandemic fades, people will again start focusing on responsible travel? And if so, how has the pandemic changed that discussion?

We’re finding that many people are already focused on responsible travel – even if they’re traveling less than they would during a non-pandemic year. In a survey we conducted during our Travel Better campaign, before vaccinations were introduced, we found that more than half wanted to see more sustainable, ethical, and responsible travel information and 90% want to travel more responsibly once travel restrictions were lifted.

Some of this interest has stemmed from getting a glimpse of what the world is like without the burdens of overtourism during the height of the pandemic. We got to see sights of rare and eerily calm beauty as the world was put on pause. It’s something that inspired appreciation at a time where we couldn’t take anything for granted — and a desire to preserve these places.

Late last summer, you released a survey that said U.S. travelers are forging ahead with their vacation plans. More than half of the respondents had already taken a trip, and 15% planned to do so by the end of the year. How did the year turn out?

Our numbers match up with the survey data. There has been a continuous rise in our policy sales since around March of last year; with the various outbreaks, policy sales have held steady. I think this shows optimism among travelers, and also resilience.

People are getting used to riding the waves of the pandemic. And because it’s hard to tell when this will fade away or end completely, people are not as willing to put their lives — including their travels — on hold any longer. And vaccines and boosters, though not completely foolproof, have provided travelers with a cushion of protection

Who needs travel insurance in 2022? 

Everyone who’s planning a trip should consider travel insurance. Though fear of catching Covid-19 and quarantines are among the top reasons why people are interested in travel insurance right now, just about anything could happen when you’re on the road.

You may sprain your ankle while on a ski trip or get stuck at the airport because a snowstorm has canceled your flight. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a plan that has a variety of coverages so that you can cover all your bases — and not just for Covid-19 emergencies.

Who doesn’t?

Anyone who’s willing to take on the risks of traveling and absorb the costs of any losses. This may not be the end of the world for minor mishaps, but medical emergencies and evacuations can really put a dent in your wallet. While it’s every traveler’s choice whether or not to buy travel insurance, you don’t want to wait until you’re at your worst moment to discover you don’t have coverage you need.

What’s the most common question you get from people inquiring about travel insurance, other than whether your policies cover Covid? How do you answer them?

We get a lot of questions in three main categories: adventure travel (does their plan cover a specific activity?); evacuations (are helicopter evacuations covered?) and medical/secondary medical coverage (is a primary medical plan needed in order to be covered?).

We answer these honestly and explain any conditions they need to meet. We want people to pick an insurance policy that’s right for them, and we’re happy that travelers are engaging in getting to know their insurance products better before they make a purchase.

I wanted to ask you about adventure travel, since that’s also one of your specialties. How have the needs of adventure travelers changed during the pandemic? What kind of changes do you foresee in 2022, and how can adventure travelers prepare for those changes as they plan their trips?

Because more countries are mandating travel insurance as an entry requirement, adventure travelers are going to have to pack a travel insurance plan along with their sporting equipment. Right now, there’s no stopping adventure travelers—the pent-up demand that we saw last year has trickled over to 2022 even with the high infection rates of omicron.

This year, we’re seeing a shift from domestic to international destinations, with a rising number of policy sales to people traveling to Mexico and South America, after an initial increase in sales of people traveling to European countries. Change will continue to be the norm in 2022; the weird paradox about traveling right now is that it requires a lot of advance planning, but also a lot of last-minute maneuvering — travel restriction updates, testing and entry requirements, flight cancellations, eleventh-hour bookings, unexpected quarantines.

Mapping out the case scenarios and alternative plans, booking with travel operators who have flexible cancellation policies, getting emergency contacts in place, keeping up to date with the news, buying travel insurance, and constantly assessing the public health situation and sticking to health protocols — that’s really all that any of us can do in a time where we may have to pivot at a moment’s notice.

A lot of Americans are thinking about their summer travel plans, and they don’t like what they see. There’s the BA.2 variant and more uncertainty. How can insurance address those fears? And what, if anything, should they still worry about?

For one thing, travel insurance plans — such as World Nomads — offer a bundle of benefits that cover the bases for a variety of circumstances. Even before Covid-19, many of these products were designed with unexpected events in mind. So, when the pandemic hit, we didn’t have to alter our U.S. product too much since we had already made those considerations beforehand.

For those big emergencies such as hospitalizations and evacuations, we like to think of travel insurance as a trusty roadside companion that can give you a helping hand when you need it the most. Even just a call to the emergency assistance provider can be reassuring — just knowing that somebody is there to help you navigate any difficulties.

People shouldn’t expect to buy travel insurance and think, “Okay, now I’m all set and don’t have to worry about anything.” Travel insurance isn’t designed to cover everything, nor does it free people from acting responsibly. The best reassurance is to arm yourself with information; our customer service reps are happy to answer any questions, clarify coverage and go into the specifics of your situation.

I just interviewed another travel insurance CEO who said travel insurance was confusing and getting more confusing. How do you fix that?

Well, it’s a commitment to consumer education that can help solve the problem. Understandably, nobody wants to dig into the weeds of a policy to decipher legal language. It’s not quite beach reading.

But here at World Nomads, insurance education is one of the things we pride ourselves on. We put a lot of effort in developing our travel insurance content, with the aim of explaining hard concepts in plain, easy-to-understand language. And transparency is key—we want to be forthright about our coverage. We don’t want to have people experience any “Gotchas!” This creates a problem on the customer service end, so we believe it’s better to be open up front.

Other than buying travel insurance, what is your advice for people planning a trip in 2022?

Keep an open mind and be flexible, as circumstances are subject to change at any moment. Be sure to understand the entry and testing requirements of your destination. What’s considered fully vaccinated in one country may mean something else in another.

We’ve had a lot of customers who’ve been turned away at the border or weren’t allowed to board their plane because they didn’t check requirements in advance (which travel insurance doesn’t cover). The timing of testing isn’t perfect — so keep following health protocols to reduce your risk of exposure (or exposing others).