November 2, 2021

COVID-19: The Silver Lining

COVID-19: The Silver Lining
Photo by Laura Chouette / Unsplash

International Assistance Group assesses the ways in which the COVID pandemic has had a positive impact on the global assistance industry

In every situation, there are winners and losers, and COVID was no different...

With travel grinding to a halt almost overnight, the assistance industry, like countless others, faced doom and gloom. Indeed, many jobs were sadly lost, and many more would likely have met the same fate without some of the government protection that came into effect...

A survey conducted by the International Assistance Group early in 2021 highlighted that 29 per cent of member organisations reported no decreased income during the pandemic, and one third of these increased their revenue as a result of the pandemic...

“Resilience and innovation shone through as several of our members were able to quickly pivot their organisations to harness new opportunities,” said Louise Heywood, General Manager. “Some even entered a period of growth by being able to collaborate with governments for vital services, such as track and trace systems or vaccination helplines. Instead of hiring a few new recruits to get through a busy summer holiday season or the usual six-to-12-week onboarding process necessary to be effective in this industry, thousands of new personnel were recruited and trained, all remotely, within a few weeks.” she added.

Organisations that already offered corporate health and wellbeing services saw demand skyrocket...

As people struggled to adjust to the lockdowns, facing new challenges such as working in isolation and operating more digitally than ever before. With implications for both mental health and the changed physical demands of working from home, our Core Partner Remed Assistance in Turkey saw a 100-per-cent increase in demand for such services. “Especially the number of callers experiencing back and neck issues as a result of not being set up correctly to work from home was dramatic, indicating a 500-per-cent increase compared with the pre-pandemic period,” said Faruk Ertug, General Manager. “Also, demand for online counselling services (secure video calls) increased sharply because of lockdowns and travel restrictions. In 2019, only two to three per cent of all counselling sessions were conducted online; currently, the weight of online sessions represents 45 per cent of all sessions.”

Members who offer assistance for the elderly and those with chronic conditions also saw an increase in demand as the vulnerable were advised to stay at home and shield...

Video consultations and telemedicine were already a rising trend prior to the pandemic, offering increased convenience for travelers and reduced claims costs for insurers, but the pandemic has accelerated this further. We now expect this to be a permanent shift, to reflect advancements in technology and changes to human behavior.

Beyond medical assistance, as countries slowly re-opened and staycations were promoted the world over...

Many who could travel chose to go by car; campervan sales in many countries exploded, and even as land borders opened, many felt more comfortable travelling in the comfort of their own vehicle than on a crowded plane, bus or train. This meant that the International Assistance Group companies providing roadside assistance saw increased demand for their services, with many drivers having a new-found appreciation for their freedom to travel but, more importantly, the safety net provided by having good roadside assistance cover in place.

On a consumer level, the pandemic has certainly highlighted the benefits and pitfalls of travel insurance policies...

It can only be good for the industry if more people purchase travel insurance in the future and take more care to understand the cover. Like many other businesses, insurance providers have also had to pivot to meet the new demands of travel and play a role in supporting the consumer to choose the appropriate level of cover for their travel arrangements.

Overall, while we all undoubtedly would have preferred not to have had the world shaken by the pandemic, including the tragic loss of life, it has given many businesses the time to sit back and reflect on what they do and how they do it...

In many corners of our industry, we have seen a lot of investment in new technology, systems and training, which we can only hope ensures that our industry will be more efficient and effective as travel slowly resumes and makes its way back to pre-pandemic levels.

“In the future, I think we will certainly see assistance companies providing an even greater range of services and diversifying to be better prepared for the unexpected,” said Louise Heywood...

“Online and satisfaction and retention remained high, and after almost 30 years of building the most widespread, high-quality assistance network, we are more robust, resilient and ready to support travelers in need than ever before.”