I am a big fan of trip insurance, and its from a personal experience where myself and my employer were out thousands of dollars because we did not have a policy.
I was paid up and ready to go on a trip to the Galapagos Island. As a conservation biologist, these islands are on the short list of places to visit.
Unfortunately, I had an emergency gall bladder surgery on the eve of the trip and was unable to go.
No big deal, right?
Well….my employer nor I were afforded any sort of refund on the plane tickets, hotels, transportation, visas, food, etc., because we did not have a trip insurance policy to cover an unplanned cancellation.
Since then, I’ve always taken out a policy when I’ve traveled internationally, and, depending on the trip, domestically. I always take one out when I travel in a road-less or remote area where vehicle access is minimal or non-existent, like my recent trips to hike the Kekekabic & Border Route Trails.
An Outfitters Perspective
Owning an outfitting business, we pre-sell many of our programs and services. We plan our staff, vehicles, and equipment based on advance reservations. We even combine groups to help lower the price for those travelling/participating together.
We release our employees schedules to them 2-3 weeks before they are scheduled to work. Our employees are depending on these opportunities to earn income. Their schedules are driven by advance reservations.
We do understand that things happen. Injuries, family emergencies, job changes, etc., may cause you to cancel your trip. Our current policy for outfitting services has been if you notify us 14 or more days in advance, we gladly give you a full refund. Less than 14 days, its been a sliding scale, and, we’ve even offered to credit your account if you cancel up to 48 hours before your program/service.
Our policy for lodging is more restrictive, if you cancel two months before your start date, we offer a full refund. Less than two months, we will only refund your money if we find someone to take your place.
Another circumstance is customers and non-customers alike needing a non-emergency rescue from the trail. We used to sell our own trip insurance for a measly $5 and we would come and get you off the trail “no questions asked”. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day we had someone on call 24/7 to retrieve hikers off the trail.
In the case of cancellation, we have expended funds based on the advance reservations and are depending on the revenue to fund business operations, including paying our employees. By cancelling and us refunding, we are now in a situation where we are losing money on a cancelled reservation.
In the case of a rescue, our “no questions asked” rescues are quite expensive as we are expending labor and gas at the drop of a hat. The cost of rescuing folks with policies far exceeded the revenue we took in.
We have been kicking around the idea of firming up our rescue policies and rates for customers and non-customers.
The way forward
In a world where trip insurance exists, we are no longer going to offer our own trip insurance. We are going to have a fixed rate for rescues and day-of reservations. We will provide information to our customers about trip insurance policies they can take out. If a situation arises, we can complete the rescue, bill them the appropriate amount, and the customer can submit a claim.
As for cancellations, we will either keep our 14 day cancellation policy or bump it out to 21 days.. However, less than 14 days, there are no refunds. Customers with trip cancellation insurance can submit a claim. This is a win-win as the customer will get back most/all of their fees and we still get paid and not be out the funds we’ve already expended preparing for our customers.
What is trip insurance?
For those who are unfamiliar with trip insurance, there are four basic kinds of policies:
Trip Cancellation insurance is insurance that will refund your non-refundable fees if you need to cancel a trip. Plane tickets, hotel rooms, program fees, etc. This would cover your program and shuttle fees. There are “cancel for any resason” policies out there.
Trip Interruption Insurance is insurance that will pay your costs in the case you need to end your vacation and pay for associated costs of getting out of where you are and home. This is what you’d take out to cover a non-emergency rescue.
Medical Evacuation Insurance is insurance that, in the case of a medical emergency, will pay above and beyond what your normal health insurance would to evacauate you off the trail and to a hospital.
Supplemental Medical Insurance is insurance that covers costs not normally covered by your medical insurance due to the nature of your activities. This is usually taken out for high risk activities like white water rafting, mountaineering, etc.
In 2019, we will include with every reservation a link to a preferred provider of Trip Insurance. We will make it clear during the reservation process and in confirmations the importance of trip insurance and our policies about cancellations and rescues, and their costs. You can find quotes by visiting the link below.
Need for change
Leave no Trace principle #1 is “plan and prepare”. Make your logistics arrangements with us more than a month in advance and we usually offer some sort of discount or reward for doing so. Waiting until the day of you may be learning a hard lesson on why its important to prepare in advance.
Emergencies happen, we understand that. However, we should not be on the financial hook. That is why you take out insurance.
Thomas Funke, Trailspotters
Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.