Digitalization in the travel assistance industry

Corporate and organizational travel has been evolving for some years, but the advent of digital technology is accelerating the change multi-fold. The travel assistance industry itself is not immune to these changes and is undergoing a digital revolution within each respective assistance companies’ internal operations and the manner via which the services are offered to customers and clients alike.


The introduction of new technologies and digital services are making it easier for travelers and assistance providers to navigate potentially complex emergency incidents and to get appropriate and timely assistance during a constituent’s respective travel. For example, a travel assistance company can more readily provide appropriate care, information, and exchange communications through a common digital platform shared with a customer in need of immediate aid, instead of having to resort to more traditional e-mail, phone calls, and one-sided client management system platforms.


While these developing technologies have allowed companies to increase efficiency and ability to perform their duty of care obligations, the question does arise at times if the travel assistance industry is integrating and adapting rapidly enough within this space to keep up with realistic expectations by travelling populations?


Digital travel assistance makes journeys safer, less stressful, and more convenient


Digital travel assistance products can attest to making journeys safer, less stressful, and more convenient. The benefits of the digital travel revolution are numerous – you can get immediate assistance with tasks such as booking a flight, finding the most appropriate and secure hotels in a city, reserve vetted rental or taxi services during stays, as well as access any latest travel restrictions or alerts of note within a designated geolocation – all at one’s fingertips.


Often, digital travel platforms used by travelers and assistance companies have aggregated varying services and vendors within a specific location – that are considered safe – for travellers to utilize. A robust digital travel platform will also have the preferred hospitals/medicals clinics one can access during their travels, if necessary, while also providing options of where the recommended places to eat or entertainment venues one can visit makes it a less stressful experience. Digital travel platforms can further be customized based on a user’s inputs prior to a trip, or be aggregated over time, to understand the user’s needs and personal preferences. Neeraj Verma, Business Head of Across Assist, a core partner of the IAG in India, indicates that they are leveraging technology to sift through travel claims data in order to create trends analysis that can improve product offerings and services rendered to customers.


A comprehensive digital travel platform should make it convenient for the user to navigate a new locale if users are travelling to a destination for the first time. Digital travel assistance is more convenient than traditional methods because it allows a user to also access information online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in many parts of the world. Airlines have introduced new features such as pre-boarding check-ins and self-service kiosks that allow passengers to print their own boarding passes before departure. Furthermore, travel platforms are being developed to allow for overall integration of a person’s needs while traveling, from having their boarding passes as QR codes on their phones – to imminently – being able to have all of one’s personal bio-information and visa status within a digital locker online, doing away with physical passports/tickets/immigration paperwork.


These types of innovations will only become more common as technology advances further into our lives and becomes even more integral to our daily lives – we’ve seen this also happen with mobile payments such as Google Pay/Apple Pay or varying iterations based on the domestic markets, which allows users to pay for goods at shops using their phones rather than using physical cash or credit cards. We’re only going to see more developments like this occur over time because they make life simpler for consumers while reducing costs associated with the time and resources for physical items (e.g., printing out boarding passes, bag tags, receipts, etc.).


Duty of care considerations


Put simply, duty of care is the obligation on the business or government agency to ensure employees and visitors are safe while in their care. This includes ensuring they have access to appropriate equipment and facilities for equipment maintenance, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers and first aid training (if required). It also applies when you arrange transport for your staff as part of their employment contract with you/your company; this includes arranging suitable vehicles which fit within your budget constraints while still providing adequate protection from risk factors such as adverse weather and road conditions as well as health and security risks.


Are corporate travel policy and travel assistance technology advancing fast enough to meet evolving traveller needs?


As part of duty of care considerations and the leverage of technology solutions towards this end, in an interview with a regional security manager for a multinational organization with operations across the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, the following comments were made.


Within their operational footprint, at any given time there are more than 6,000 employees in the region and pre-Covid there could be more than 1,000 employees traveling for work purposes. There is a wide variety of risks that can impact travelers and requires a comprehensive mitigation framework to bring the risks down to tolerable levels.


The company utilizes a travel assistance app for employees, but it also essentially serves as an information portal where travelers can improve their awareness on the health risks and security environment of their designated locations. However, the technology is there to make it a lot more versatile and automated. Every traveler should have a personal profile that they complete before their first trip with any health conditions and vaccination status. The app should also be linked to the company’s travel booking system, so any upcoming travel should automatically flag if any extra vaccinations are required or if for example if the area is prone to infectious diseases, and extra precautions are required.


Similarly with security risks, many providers have some areas of India rated as LOW risk, others as MODERATE and some as HIGH. It is one of the few countries that have the full risk spectrum. Again, the app should be automated so if an upcoming trip is going to a HIGH-risk zone, it is flagged. Even better, with GPS capabilities the app could send a push notification if in close proximity to a designated HIGH-risk zone.


The travel assistance industry could go further and provide safety managers with ways to track travel of employees and cross reference this with real-time incidents. While this is the need of the current times, there is currently a mismatch between capabilities and costs across most travel assistance platforms. An enablement in this regard would allow companies to account for personnel and dedicate resources to those that are in need of assistance. Again, this could be


automated so the if there is a significant event, it sends out a notification to all in the proximity and the travelers can either mark themselves as safe or needing assistance. The app can also generate a notification to all the right parties in a company on employees who are unaccounted and possibly need assistance. Overall therefore, while on the right path, corporates still need to ensure that they are continually aiming to enhance and integrate new travel assistance tech solutions for their constituents and the services offered to employees via these programs.


Room for improvement


Travel assistance is an essential service that has been around for decades, but it’s now being further revolutionized by technology. Though the service has come a long way, there is ample room for further innovations and improvements. Assistance providers that can provide the technology that can reduce the bureaucracy of internal travel approvals with more automated services will certainly be in high demand with companies that have high volumes of travelers and take their duty of care responsibility for travelers seriously.


There are also still practical issues that need to be address in order to see the potential of technology leverage in the travel assistance space. Even in developed countries, there are still several areas that are underserved by internet connectivity. This could hinder the process by which travel technology solutions can be of benefit to even constituents in such countries. Connectivity matters becomes more of an issue as companies have constituents who regularly travel to countries that might have drastically reduced communication infrastructure. Organizations could become overly complacent with using new travel tech systems in connected areas, they forget that in times of crisis (either man made or natural) – communication and technology could be one of the first segments to be adversely impacted. Contingency measures and training should be thought about, particularly for corporate travelling employees where duty of care considerations are to be considered.


Travel Assistance companies that leverage technology solution need to ensure their vendors are capable and data storage of clients information is secure. With so many options out in the market, constituents need the right travel assistance tools and employers must provide the right technology to meet Duty of Care considerations. A due diligence and practical run-through of travel assistance solutions should be carried out continually to ensure that the products and services not only match what is being advertised but can also perform under their intended use case. If a travel tracking app and emergency button is being offered for traveling employee, the organization and assistance provider must ensure or give reasonable expectations to employee on how said emergency button will perform in-country or while traveling. Several companies are now touting software and risk management systems able of identifying and notifying real-time incidents of matter as they occur, however it still falls upon respective travel assistance companies to ensure that the use case of such solutions actually is practical for their traveling clients and destinations.


Despite the challenges thrown upon the travel industry over the Covid-19 pandemic, the future of corporate travel and the travel assistance industry remains sound. We’ve seen technology change the way we work, and how it’s quickly changing the way we travel and the wide capabilities travelers have to interact with their destination offerings. The key for the travel assistance sector is to stay ahead of the curve, keep up with new developments in digitalisation, compliance and automation.


Neeraj Verma of Across Assist concludes this piece well by commenting on the opportunities for travel assistance companies, through evolving travel technologies, particularly in a geographic area like South Asia. Post Covid that has been a surge in travel across places like South Asia and in India alone domestic travel insurance companies are already forecasting over $200 million USD in written premiums alone for the upcoming fiscal year, depicting the bright future for travel assistance services. Thereby in order to provide a seamless experience for the consumer, assistance companies need to ensure they consider technology solutions that provide end-to-end integration of insurance partners, products offered, and services rendered. This is still the biggest challenge to most travel assistance partners, but a worthwhile endeavour to pursue and account for in order to stay relevant in the evolving digital travel assistance sector.


Ray Lyngdoh
Regional Consultant – India & South Asia
International Assistance Group

A 30-year reflection on international assistance. Gualtiero Ventura, founder of the International Assistance Group, shared how the group has evolved over the years

The International Assistance Group (IAG) was founded by three small companies in 1992, who sought to provide high-quality services to travellers by building a global network that leveraged the strength of local provider knowledge and resources.

Thirty years on, it is the world’s largest alliance of independent assistance companies, with over 160 partners in 120 countries across five continents. The IAG network delivers roadside, medical, travel, corporate and home assistance for business and leisure travellers, expatriate workers and corporate clients.

To mark the company’s 30th anniversary, we spoke with one of the Group’s founding partners, Gualtiero Ventura from the International Care Company in Italy (originally Filo Diretto). Gualtiero reflects on the past three decades, how it all started, and what he thinks the future looks like for IAG.


What prompted the establishment of IAG 30 years ago?


We [International Care Company] were a small company in Italy and had to compete with the large assistance companies. So, we came up with the idea of setting up an international network that gave us the potential to work better alongside larger companies – and extend our reach to ultimately deliver better value to customers. Fundamentally, it was about local partnerships and global solutions.



Was there a particular moment, conversation or event where your story began?

Yes. I had sent a team to an Egyptian hospital and at the same time a French assistance company, CGS, had sent a team as well. During this mission, the doctors of course met each other. After learning this, I thought it seemed impractical to send two medical teams, from different organisations with the same purpose, to the same hospital. I called the President of CGS and asked him: ‘Why don’t we send one talented team on
behalf of both our companies and increase our efficiencies?’ From there, IAG began.



What was the industry need/driving factor from partners?

A quality, international network was our priority. The idea was to have one network for smaller assistance companies that didn’t have international branches, and who weren’t already connected to larger insurance companies. We met our first partner, CGS in France, and shared our idea to create our own network that would be able to send assistance teams around the world. A single mission for both companies was the initial idea.



What organisations were instrumental in founding the IAG?

In the beginning, the group was made up of ADA in Spain, CGS in France, and Filo Diretto in Italy, followed by partnerships with assistance companies in the UK, Switzerland and Amsterdam. After a year or so of operating, we appointed a General Manager to oversee operations and drive the group’s advancement. After that, our network grew very fast.



What was the original vision and core purpose for the IAG? How has this changed over time?

What we envisioned in 1992 has led us to create the IAG that is today. There haven’t been many changes in terms of purpose and vision. We have always focused on a quality, international network that draws upon the strength and knowledge of local providers. That’s very important to us and has remained so for 30


In the early years, what do you believe most attracted partners to join IAG – and has this changed over time?

What attracted organisations was the ability to be part of an international group and access to a broader
clientele. For example, International Care Company in Italy, that I’m very proud to have set up, doesn’t have any other branches outside of Italy. So, for our company to be part of IAG allows us to compete on international tenders alongside large assistance companies. As a smaller sized company, we also benefit from the marketing of our business and services by IAG to a global audience.



As a founding partner, what moments or achievements are you most proud of?

When I was young and IAG only had three member companies, I couldn’t imagine we’d see over 100 different assistance companies being part of the group as there are today. In the beginning, our goal was to create a small association to attend locally to clients. Now we bring together many different cultures and can compete with large assistance companies and participate in international tenders for companies like Tesla. I’m very proud of this.


Where and how do you see the International Assistance Group in another 30 years’ time?

The market is changing, and this includes the needs of our clients and the way people travel. The pandemic has been traumatic and the assistance industry has changed. Now there’s client demand for technology rather than traditional assistance, meaning that digital or telehealth services are needed even more in the future. We’re putting all our ideas and information together to make sure we continue to offer relevant and vital services to our clients in the long term.