With about a quarter of its workforce on a development team in Fort Wayne, a travel insurance comparison website is working on the domestic side of its business to deal with COVID-19’s impact on international travel.
St. Petersburg, Florida-based Squaremouth, Inc. announced plans this spring to keep its workforce of about 40 working full hours at full pay without any layoffs despite a 90% sales drop.
When airlines lost passengers in March to lockdowns that states imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus, Squaremouth.com saw its business volume plunge from upwards of 500 sales a day to as little as a dozen sales on some days.
Many international flights disappeared. “As COVID-19 caused many trips to be … canceled and refunded outright, customers no longer needed their travel insurance coverage,” Kasara Barto, public relations manager, said in an email.
In June, the company reported its website sales were down 90% for international travel insurance but only 5% for domestic travel insurance.
Travelers were insuring more domestic trips than international trips for the first time at Squaremouth.com, with domestic comprising 57% of all insured travel, compared to only 12% a year earlier.
Late last month, Squaremouth reported a 19% increase over 2019 for travel insurance sold for domestic travel taking place during the second half this year, highlighting pent up demand for travel as border closures and other restrictions continued to limit the international side of the business.
Travelers buying insurance for domestic trips are spending close to the same on those vacations as they spent last year, averaging about $3,950.
The most popular vacation destination is the beach, at 51%, followed by camping or adventure trips, at 35%.
Of people buying travel insurance for trips through Squaremouth, only 4% stayed in tents or recreational vehicles, 12% stayed with family and friends, 37% stayed in hotels and 47% stayed in vacation rentals.
Flights were booked by 62% of the individuals buying travel insurance through Squaremouth, and the rest drove.
The Transportation Security Administration has become a little busier lately, checking about 832,000 airline passengers Aug. 9, which was well below the 2.6 million checked a year earlier but still the largest number checked since March 17.
At Fort Wayne International Airport, about 109,200 boarded planes during the first half of this year, which was down from about 197,960 for the same period last year.
Half the travelers buying insurance on trips through Squaremouth said isolation recommendations did not change the type of trip they chose to take. Many countries require U.S. residents to provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test upon arrival.
“We have seen a shift in traveler behavior post-COVID-19, as the number of domestic travelers has increased … while COVID-19 has caused a drastic decrease of 70% in the number of travelers visiting international destinations,” Barto said.
“We expect this new traveler behavior will continue for the foreseeable future, with a shift to road trips and vacation rentals over flights and hotels. As such, we’re seeing travel insurance providers are creating more products geared toward the domestic traveler, which includes cancellation coverage to protect their trip investment,” she said.
“Following the unprecedented impact COVID-19 had on the travel industry, we anticipate travelers will remain concerned about future pandemics causing travel to halt. In response, some providers have already begun developing policies that will offer more coverage for some of the impacts of a future pandemic, such as travel warnings related to viral outbreaks and CDC alerts.”
To help Squaremouth adjust to the new travel environment, Barto said its development team is working on projects for the website such as sitemap and search engine optimization improvements, enhanced reporting for its partners and affiliates, and improvements to its partner and agent program.
Work she said the local development team has accomplished for the website during the past year has included:
• Mobile improvements to Squaremouth
• Agent system improvements for Squaremouth’s proprietary provider, Tin Leg
• Increased diversity of Tin Leg’s product line and underwriter relationships
• Enhancements for working with several marketing partnerships including the creation of new quote form widgets and enhanced filtering from affiliate links
“Our development team implemented a new voucher system for Squaremouth’s own proprietary provider, Tin Leg, in order to accommodate travelers whose trips were impacted by the COVID-19,” Barto said.
“This enhanced system allows for the changes COVID-19 has brought about, including offering vouchers and permitting policy modifications,” she said.
As far as workplace adjustments the team has made for operating in the pandemic, “even prior to COVID-19, Squaremouth’s Fort Wayne employees worked remotely,” she said. “Since 2016 they have been working from home, with the option for in-office days on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Read the full Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly article here: https://www.fwbusiness.com/news/article_77c524a4-9c99-5c82-b84b-dfb184f88b3c.html