Canadian Underwriter

How Canada’s tourist boom creates a big opportunity for brokers

June 25, 2018   by David Gambrill

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Insurance brokers seeking to grow their travel line of business should ask their clients if they are expecting friends or family to visit Canada in the future and, if so, whether they would be interested in purchasing “visitors to Canada” insurance on behalf of their guests.

“Visitors to Canada” insurance is not a new segment of travel insurance – it has been around for a few years – but it’s fast becoming more popular as tourism to Canada increases. Last year, 20.8 million tourists visited Canada as a destination, according to Statistics Canada — a new record.

The influx of tourists to Canada last year is partially explained by events celebrating the country’s 150th birthday. But the Canadian government has declared 2018 as ‘The Year of Tourism,’ with the aim of doubling tourism from China by 2021. Plus, with additional factors such as relaxed visa requirements, more direct flights to Canada, as well as travel publications like the Lonely Planet Guide declaring Canada to be a top tourist destination, the country has seen substantial increases of tourists visiting from Mexico, Brazil and India, among other countries.

Why do all of these visitors need to buy travel insurance? There is a common misconception that the country’s universal health care system applies to people visiting Canada from abroad — it does not. Unlike Canadian residents with health care coverage, visitors to Canada will receive a direct bill for medical services rendered, and these bills can be quite high.

A one-day stay at a Canadian hospital can cost up to $4,000 a day, for example. Or an emergency room visit can leave a visitor to Canada up to $1,000 out of pocket.

Brokers now have a golden opportunity to educate their clients about the need for “visitors to Canada” insurance, says Dan Keon, director of marketing and communications at Allianz Global Assistance in Canada.

“Brokers should take advantage of opportunities to ask their clients whether or not they have any friends or family travelling from abroad,” Keon told Canadian Underwriter Friday. “In the same way that [visiting tourists] are planning what they are going to do and see [in Canada], a question they should be asking is: ‘Do we have travel insurance in place when we are coming over?’ If they don’t, then the good thing about ‘visitors to Canada’ insurance is that it is available in Canada for the host to purchase on behalf of their visiting family.”

The broker takes down the name of the actual insureds, who receive a copy of the policy. But this can be arranged on the visitor’s behalf by the host family that here in Canada. “Whether due to a language barrier, or the difficulty of calling into a broker from abroad, sometimes it’s just easier for the host family or friend to book [the insurance] on [the visitor’s] behalf,” Keon said.

Visitors to Canada insurance is intended to cover unforeseen or unexpected medical costs. Coverage could be for something as minor as an ear infection or a walk-in clinic visit, up to more serious conditions such as appendicitis, a hip fracture, or something requiring hospital admission as an in-patient for a couple of days.

“Depending on the policy purchased, sometimes you will receive an actual card that you will show [at the health care facility],” Keon said. “We typically ask that the patient call us before seeking treatment; that is, if it’s not something too serious that requires them to be taken by ambulance.

“By calling us in advance, that allows us to contact the hospital or clinic on their behalf before they go in. Many times, we try and arrange direct billing on their behalf, so that the patient doesn’t have to pay anything out of pocket. It also allows us to provide a referral to a qualified provider. If anything needs approval as far as treatment goes, we are able to relay that to the hospital and make sure that communication is established.”

Those buying the insurance should be aware of standard policy language around exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions. Typically, an insurer will not cover medical costs related to conditions for which the insured may be receiving ongoing care —a heart condition, for example.

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