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Insurance Data Reveals Changing Travel Patterns

An analysis of policy purchases highlights domestic and international travel trends during the COVID-19 crisis

The world is still in a state of flux due to COVID-19, and patterns of both domestic and international travel – who is currently traveling and where – are markedly different compared to pre-pandemic years. And those changes have been marked by significant shifts in travel insurance purchases between 2019 and today.

An analysis of travel insurance purchases conducted by Seven Corners, a travel insurance and specialty benefits company, reveals a 90 percent increase in domestic travel in 2021 compared to 2019. The shift, according to the Carmel, IN-based company, is due in large part to the lingering cross-border restrictions currently in place for international travel.

Overall so far in 2021, there has been less travel compared to pre-pandemic years. In the first quarter of 2021, Seven Corners saw only 88 percent of the travel start dates for the same time period in 2019. A travel start date is the day a traveler physically leaves for a trip.

This trend remained consistent for the second quarter of 2021, when the travel start dates were only 89 percent of those posted in Q2 of 2019.

However, trends are improving for the third and fourth quarters of 2021. As of mid-July, Seven Corners was already seeing travel start dates at the same level as the same time period in 2019. Looking ahead to Q4, there are over 30 percent more travel start dates than the total seen in fourth quarter 2019.

Trends suggest international travel is increasing when and where travel restrictions are lifted. For example, looking ahead to 2022, international coverage plans are being insured eight times more often than domestic travel plans.

Timing Is Everything

International travel requires planning ahead now more than ever due to the many unknowns that come with the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an increase in the amount of time between the point travel insurance is purchased and the trip departure date.

Pre-pandemic, the average time elapsed from insurance purchase to international trip departure was just over two months. So far in 2021, that time period has increased to three months and six days. 

Time between travel protection purchase and trip departure has also increased for domestic travel. In 2019, this length of time was two months, and in 2021, it increased to two months and 20 days. 

However, the opposite trend is occurring for medical-only travel coverage or travel medical plans. In 2019, customers typically purchased travel medical plans 19 days ahead of their trip. In 2021, the buying cycle shortened to only nine days before departure date.

This shift is likely partially due to the nature of travel medical plans, which don’t include a trip cancellation component that begins protecting the consumer the day after a plan is purchased. 

Where Next?

Seven Corners’ data shows that people who are buying travel medical plans for international trips are most commonly departing from the US, India, China, Canada and Brazil.

In 2019’s pre-pandemic travel, Turks and Caicos was not in the top 100 travel destinations but has now skyrocketed to the No. 1 destination choice. While Mexico has always been a popular destination, Costa Rica and Thailand also increased in popularity during the pandemic.

Conversely, European destinations decreased in popularity. France, which was the No. 1 travel destination in 2019, fell to the seventh most popular travel spot in 2021. Spain and the United Kingdom also declined as desired locations. 

The large majority (80 percent) of travelers who select a medical only type of plan continue to prefer one with COVID-19 coverage included. This popularity holds true for both US travelers and travelers from outside the US