As we finalise preparations for the upcoming ITIC MENA conference in Dubai, we have been catching up with the ITIC MENA committee who have helped develop this new regional event for the travel and health insurance community. We recently spoke with Eva Kluge, Chief Commerical Officer at UNICAIR about her views on the industry and the importance of region-specific insight to successful operations.
How long have you worked in the industry, and what do most enjoy about it?
It was in 1993 when I returned from several years of work and study spell in the Middle East. I rather accidentally started a job as a medical assistance coordinator at Europ Assistance Munich. Since then, I have had many different roles in the assistance and air ambulance industry, among other Head of Medical Assistance and Global Provider Management, Key Account Manager and Director of Sales and Marketing. From the very beginning, I really liked to work in an international environment with people of various cultural backgrounds and sometimes odd CVs who spoke a lot of languages. That was refreshing and quite different from an average office job. Another really important point was to do something meaningful and help people in very difficult situations in their life. Throughout my 20 years in medical assistance and travel insurance and my past 10 years in the air ambulance industry, this has not changed. Working with a major air ambulance operator like UNICAIR is particularly exciting as you are actually even closer to the “real” cases: you interact with actual medics and pilots on a daily basis, it becomes very natural to step in and out of an air ambulance aircraft in the hangar and infectious patient transport or war risk regions all of a sudden become a tangible reality.
How long have you been attending ITIC? What do you value about the event? What do you think ITIC MENA will offer the travel and health insurance community?
My first ITIC was in Venice in the early 2000s. Ever since I have attended ITIC Global and the regional editions regularly and I still think that ITIC offers excellent networking and personal interaction in one single setting. The conferences are attracting more and more people every year. This is, on the one hand, owing to the fact that it is impossible to visit every client or provider on the globe in their own office. On the other hand, the ITIC team have been working hard to make the conferences a great value experience.
I am excited for the launch of ITIC MENA as it closes a geographical blank spot and MENA is one of the most dynamic, globalized regions on earth, especially the GCC. With top-notch speakers and region-specific content on travel health insurance and assistance, I am confident that ITIC MENA will be an excellent networking and learning experience. On the other hand, with some 150 attendees, it is a “boutique” sized conference which will encourage a bit more sustainable interaction rather than “speed dating” in a conference with thousands of participants.
What are the most important obstacles still facing the travel and international health insurance sector from your perspective?
The industry is still heavily affected by COVID-19 and travel restrictions, but it seems that business is picking up again and the outlook is rather positive unless another virus (hopefully not) will emerge. The Ukraine conflict is also causing a feeling of uncertainty and has affected travel, though to a lesser extent. Generally speaking, however, I believe that the biggest challenge for insurers (not only travel insurers) is digital transformation. This means to be able to provide complete customer-centric services, based upon data and to fully understand their customers’ journey and the touchpoints. Modern customers expect to receive an immediate, personalized reply for a problem as this is what they know from Amazon, Google & Co. For the insurance industry, there are already strong developments, for example in claims automation, in the dominant use of cloud-based CRMs and in app development. Nonetheless, neither insurance nor healthcare providers traditionally move as fast as, say, retail organizations. Personally, I believe that COVID-19 has been a real game-changer and has pushed digital development, so it would be good to catch this momentum.
Which sessions are you most looking forward to attending at ITIC MENA?
The lineup of the speakers is quite impressive. I think it would be unfair to name specific speakers, but for sure I am very excited to gain region-specific insights. Cross border healthcare and duty of care are very hot topics, but also trends in insurance and the challenge to establish an international hospital accreditation in a multi-cultural environment like the GCC with a very high portion of expatriates from around the globe. Few people even think how difficult things can be in a hospital ward or surgery room if you work with multinational teams who have mixed educational and cultural backgrounds, ranging from the US and Europe to India and South-East Asia. But this challenge is also a great learning experience and pushes innovation.
Are you confident in the ability of suppliers to the travel insurance sector to meet the changing and increasing demands from customers around the world?
I am quite confident that suppliers and insurers will meet the increasing demands from their customers: competition fosters innovation and our industry is very competition-driven. Modern customers will choose those suppliers and insurers who provide easy, fast and unbureaucratic solutions to their needs. I still believe that, despite the massive trend to digitization, travel health insurance, medical assistance and related services have a strong human element and customers will always require personal interaction, especially in complex situations. Whilst most travellers can well imagine using a chatbot when booking a ticket or buying a travel insurance policy, he or she may not be amused to talk to a chatbot when having to deal with a severe illness or even the death of a beloved during travel. So, it is the fine balance between digital and personal services which will separate the wheat from the chaff.
What business development opportunities are there in your region for the travel and international health insurance industry?
Despite new challenges arising from an increasingly complex, volatile and competitive environment, the insurance industry has immense potential for innovation. For sure, covering COVID19 coverage has been a very important development helping to make people travel again. As I said before, another considerable trend and therefore an excellent business opportunity is ESG (environmental, social and governance): travellers, especially younger ones, increasingly prefer insurers and suppliers who have established policies regarding their relationships with employees, suppliers and customers and who are committed to human rights and anti-corruption practices. Last not least, insurers should be aiming at so-called omnichannel ecosystems, combining virtual and physical communication in a unified data platform to help provide customers with fast, precise and personalized solutions to their needs.
Eva Kluge – Chief Commercial Officer, UNICAIR
Eva is an expert in aeromedical repatriation, healthcare insurance and medical assistance. Following a seven-year work and study spell in the Middle East, she started her career in international medical assistance and healthcare services, working in various roles for Europ Assistance and the Munich Re/ERGO Group. Some of her responsibilities included Head of Global Medical Provider Network and Key Account Manager for cutting edge projects in the fields of travel health insurance and government. Since 2013, she has been acting in executive roles in the air ambulance industry. She holds a BA in Healthcare and Social Management and an MBA in Digital Transformation. Eva speaks five languages, among them Arabic and she has won several awards for pioneering achievements in the aeromedical industry.
ITIC MENA is a regional gathering of the travel and health insurance community. It’s where you can connect with like-minded strategic partners and catch up with colleagues, hear from insightful speakers and join discussions that shape the future of our industry. ITIC MENA 2022 is taking place in Dubai, UAE 8-10 May at The Oberoi, Dubai.
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