In ITIC’s latest Industry Insights interview, we speak with Amy Villalobos, Head of Case Management & Assistance Services at nib Assist, part of nib Group in Australia, and a member of the ITIC APAC committee, who shared how her company has adapted its international assistance operations and her thoughts on the importance of maintaining relationships with global partners.
At a time when connecting face-to-face isn’t as simple as we are used to, we have been taking the opportunity to catch up with members of our ITIC community, to find out how they are navigating the current crisis. You can read our previous interviews with Eva Kluge, Dexter Tan, Carlos Salinas, Bettina Vadera, Women in Travel Insurance (WITI) and Manjit Rana
Q: How have you adapted to WFH? Where are you today?
Hi, it’s Amy Villalobos from nib Assist, part of the nib Group in Australia. I am at home today in the Hunter Valley, which is a beautiful wine region, about two and a half hours north of Sydney on the Australian East Coast. Being someone who travels a lot for work, working from home has certainly been an adjustment. But we’ve been really fortunate at nib in that we’ve been able to move our entire workforce to a 100-per-cent work-from-home arrangement very quickly after the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Q: What are the major issues pertaining to your country as a result of the virus?
Being an island and having access to a quality healthcare system has been a huge benefit for Australia when dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. We have had a number of cases in the country and, really tragically, some people have lost their lives. But we certainly haven’t seen the impact that many other countries around the globe have.
Q: How have Australian travellers responded to travel restrictions as a result of Covid-19?
As a nation, we are people that love to be on the move, both internationally and domestically, and restricted travel has definitely been a challenge for all of us. Overall, though, the population have responded extremely well to the government direction to stay at home. And as a result, we have successfully assisted in reducing the spread of the virus.
Q: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your products and services to date?
From an international assistance perspective, like the industry as a whole, we were immediately inundated with our travellers requiring direction and support in what was an ever-changing environment. Key for our team was maintaining relationships with our global partners to keep abreast of any changes in countries to travel requirements, border closures and access to healthcare so that we could ensure we were consistently able to provide support to our travellers wherever they were in the world. With travel almost at a standstill now, our case volumes have dropped dramatically. But we still do have travellers around the world who we’re continuing to assist each and every day. Probably for me, the most heartwarming part of the pandemic is how we’ve seen the industry pull together to support each other. You know, one clear example of that for us is we had a traveller overseas in Thailand and we had another insurer agree to sharing an air ambulance. And without the collaboration of both parties on that case, both of our travellers could have been stranded overseas for quite some time.
Q: What do you think the future of the travel industry will look like?
We love to travel and love to experience new cultures and learn about incredible parts of the world. And that curiosity hasn’t changed and it won’t change. And while we don’t currently have the luxury of moving around safely and freely, over time we know that that will return and probably at a slower pace and possibly more locally to begin with. So I think we’ll likely see more inter-region travel and probably initially more caution when travelling
Q: What has been your focus as a travel insurer during the pandemic?
The prime focus for all insurers and assistance providers remains the safety and wellbeing of our travellers, whether they are currently away from home or will be heading away in the future. Identifying ways to continuously improve the traveller experience is a really key opportunity now, and I don’t think it’s ever been more important than to establish and grow our key global relationships. And also, thinking a little closer to home, it’s key for us to focus on our people, our staff. They are tirelessly providing support to our travellers. So for us, in essence, it’s understanding the needs of our travellers, ensuring that we have the capability and resources to support those needs, and building a bigger and stronger service capability for the future.
Q: Looking ahead to a time when we can meet face-to-face once again, can you tell us what you enjoy most about the International Travel & Health Insurance Conferences?
As I mentioned, key to operating successfully is the key relationships that we have and have developed globally. And for us, there’s been no greater place to connect with our network, meet new people and develop lasting relationships than through the ITIC conferences.
Amy Villalobos – Head of Case Management & Assistance Services, nib Assist, a part of nib Group
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