Travel lover and Allianz Partners New Zealand chief executive Kevin Blyth (pictured) has finally gone on his first business trip in more than two years, flying to Brisbane earlier this month as the sector he holds dear begins to bounce back.
In NZ, where global assistance provider Allianz Partners employs around 70 to 80 people, the company specialises in travel insurance – an area of coverage that Blyth said is going through four main changes.
Speaking with Insurance Business after he got back to the land of the long white cloud, the CEO noted: “The first is, obviously, the cover for epidemics and pandemics that wasn’t there before. I think by insurers providing that, it’s giving customers and partners more confidence to travel.
“The second is, people are seeing travel insurance now as less of a grudge purchase. They’re seeing it as something they need, and I think there’s a number of things that are driving that.”
These drivers, said Blyth, include the cost of medical treatment overseas and the inflation that goes with it, as well as “all the things that could go wrong” like cancellations and bags getting lost or damaged.
A third change is something that other travel insurers in New Zealand have also pointed to before.
“People do want to talk to you more these days,” highlighted Blyth, who previously worked in life insurance and wealth protection before he took the opportunity to switch to travel insurance in 2017. “They want to phone you up. So, as well as getting that travel insurance, they want to speak to somebody about it to understand more about what’s included and what’s not included.
“We’re seeing an awful lot more calls and a longer average handling time for those calls. COVID and travel are still quite new, so there’s that apprehensiveness, and that’ll probably take a while for that to dissipate.”
The fourth change, according to the chief executive, has got to do with the volume surge at present.
Blyth – who is originally from Scotland and moved to Auckland in 1997 with his Kiwi spouse – told Insurance Business: “We’re obviously seeing there’s a big pent-up demand from Kiwis just now, and we’re seeing almost a hockey stick curve in the increase in travel.
“There’s only five million New Zealanders; at some point they’ll all have travelled and it will go back to normal, so we know it can’t stay like this forever… The hockey stick increase in travel can’t remain indefinitely. That’ll have to flatten out and level out at some point.”
He continued: “There’s a couple of other things that will happen that will influence travel. One is the end of the current testing regime that will make it easier for people to travel. And then the final part are the airlines. We don’t have a whole lot of airlines back in New Zealand yet. They’re starting to progressively return now, but some of the bigger international ones are talking about coming back in October.”
For the insurance boss, the current volume of New Zealanders who are looking to travel is “all the more admirable,” given the still limited number of flights and locations they can go to.
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Moving forward, Blyth is thrilled not only for the industry but also on a personal level.
The Allianz Partners leader said: “From an industry perspective, I’m really pleased and excited, because this industry has done it really hard. Our competitors, our partners, our customers, retail travel agents – everybody’s done it really hard over the last two years.
“I think for those who work anywhere in the tourism and travel industry, both inbound and outbound, it’s great to see partners starting to smile again and be excited about what’s happening. I think there’s a real sense of optimism in the market just now, and that’s great to see. It’s a welcome sight, especially from how hard it’s been.”
“For me, personally,” Blyth went on to share, “I love to travel. I took my first work trip last week since February 2020, and that’s a long time between trips. It’s exciting to know that business travel will start but also personal travel. My wife and I can start planning where we are going next and what our next holiday is.”
The chief executive added that he is “genuinely excited” to witness travel beginning to rebound.
“I think all of those in the industry will have told you it was probably two of the toughest years of their lives of working through this,” declared Blyth. “And now we’re all getting our smiles back as we see people starting to travel again.”