“It’s a little embarrassing,” said Debra Harvey (pictured above). “It’s my longest relationship and outdates my partner and my kids.”
Harvey was referring to her relationship with World Travel Protection. The company’s operations manager for clinical services started work with the firm more than two decades ago, which puts her in a strong position to explain how travel risk management has changed over the last 20 years.
Harvey said during that time her firm has moved from focusing on medical assistance to managing a wide range of travel risks.
“When I first started people would call up for policy advice but the cases were medical,” she said. “We’re now doing travel risk management, security assistance and pre-travel briefs.”
Harvey said the world has changed and, with it, how people travel.
“I have seen that whole concept of travel change in my 20 years,” she said. “People are still travelling but our role [today] is about how do you make it safer to travel and if something goes wrong, how do you support them to either keep travelling or to get them home safely?”
Insurance Business asked Harvey what’s changed most about how she does her job in 2023 compared to when she started in 2001?
“Technology,” she said. “We’ve struggled to keep up with it, it’s been a bit ahead of us and like many businesses, we’ve been slow to catch on.”
Today, she said, rather than communicate by phone, lots of travellers prefer to send a text or email.
She suggested that World Travel Protection’s adaptation to this growing demand was one positive result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During COVID we still had to run a business and we didn’t just close and turn the lights out,” she said. “We did a lot of work on our app.”
The result, she said, is more guidance and help for travellers, like risk alerts.
Today’s travellers still face a range of risks, she said, many of them unchanged from past years.
“We still see a lot of COVID and also a lot of fractures,” said Harvey. “I don’t know if Australians have weak ankles, but we’ve been seeing a lot of fractured ankles.”
She suggested, only half seriously, that this could be a result of long flights from Australia causing swollen ankles. Some of the slips and falls that cause these breaks, she said, are a result of walking on uneven streets.
“Those cobblestones are a bit of a killer,” said Harvey.
The types of cases she is dealing with are strongly linked to the time of year.
The ski season brings knee, shoulder and wrist injuries.
“January’s our next big ski season in North America and Europe - so we’re getting prepared for that,” she said.
Stomach infections are also common.
“Gastro is a big one,” said Harvey. “Especially in tropical areas where Australians like to travel, like the old Bali belly.”
She said Dengue fever is also coming back in Thailand and Bali.
“We see a lot of dental stuff,” said Harvey. “It’s surprising that people get dental issues when they travel.”
School holidays and overseas travel with children tend to produce ear infection cases.
Another part of Harvey’s job is repatriating the bodies of unfortunate people who die during overseas travels.
“Last week we had 15 death cases,” she said. “It’s complicated to bring someone home and it’s very, very traumatic.”
The cases can include, she said, deaths by natural causes like heart attacks, but also car accidents and drownings.
“They’re quite challenging,” said Harvey. “We liaise with DFAT and local consular authorities.”
She said the process of repatriating a body can take up to 10 weeks.
“We need specialized funeral directors who know how to bring someone home because there are certain regulations and the embalming and special coffins,” she said. “So that’s part of what we do as well.”
There’s a lot of variety in Harvey’s role.
“We’ll see a whole range of stuff,” she said. “It’s interesting, challenging work and it’s kind of addictive.”
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