The Covid-19 health crisis has dramatically changed our lifestyles and consumption habits. Whole industries had to adapt, find solutions and take a new direction in a very short time to deal with the consequences of the crisis, including the tourism sector which was among the most affected. Aviation and insurance stakeholders had to work together to restore traveller confidence and provide new coverage to address changing travel behaviours. It was with that in mind that Lufthansa, Albatros and AXA Partners created a special cover, enabling the tourism industry to bounce back and people to travel worry-free.
Summer 2020 characterized by the lack of reservations
For Lufthansa, the Corona crisis began as early as January 2020. Although a lockdown was not yet in the cards in Germany, it was already clear to airline employees that Covid-19 was going to change everything.
"China was the first market to close for us," says Kai Peters. As Head of Passenger Experience at Lufthansa, he is responsible for viewing, adapting or redeveloping all of the airline's products from the customer's perspective. China is one of the most strategically important markets for Lufthansa. "The trend then slowly caught up with us in Europe and Germany," Peters recalls. Almost overnight, the epidemic became a pandemic, countries closed their borders, airplanes were grounded, and the lockdown began.
At times, Lufthansa's load factor was only three to five percent compared with the same period last year. "We basically flew during the worst of it just to ensure basic connectivity and worked with the federal government to bring holiday-makers back home," Peters says.
By the end of summer 2020, the worst phase was over for a while, and holidays were possible again to a limited extent, at least within Europe, but many still did not want to get on an aeroplane anyway. This was due on the one hand to the fear of infection on the flight, and on the other hand to many uncertainties about the situation in the destination country and what to do in the event of an emergency. "People basically like to travel a lot," Peters says. "So our challenge was to offer them something that would address their insecurities."
Design a product to meet changing needs in today’s unprecedented context
In the end, "Bring me Home" was developed, a product never before seen in aviation. Starting in late June, all travellers who choose the Economy Classic, Business Saver, Economy Flex or Business Flex fare will receive the promise of a return flight and medical assistance. This is integrated into the tickets free of charge. For example, anyone who falls ill while on holiday can speak to a doctor free of charge by phone or app. "In addition to local care, we offer patients an additional discretionary service to maintain safety and orientation while traveling. In an emergency, however, the patient should always go to the local health care provider," explains Helmut Olfert, Sales Director at AXA Partners Germany.
Those who have to go into quarantine will be reimbursed, and those who, in the worst case scenario, have to go home because of illness, will be evacuated by specially equipped aircraft. “However, someone having to be flown back individually for medical reasons has fortunately not yet happened in the first few months," says Peters.
Lufthansa set up the offer together with its own insurance broker Albatros and with AXA Partners as insurer and service provider. The airline was the first to offer such a service to its passengers. The first imitators of the product appeared immediately.
In the end, it took only two weeks for those involved to launch the programme. "Normally, a process like this takes at least six months," says Martin Gary, managing director at Albatros. As Lufthansa's internal insurance broker, his company was given the task of searching for a suitable insurer to work with. "We've approached quite a few insurers and reinsurers," Gary says. In the end, just two were shortlisted. Many bailed out in advance. "Calculating the cost of risk in the event of an emergency was impossible for many insurers," he explains.
Reacting to the crisis: a finished product in two weeks only
It was AXA Partners who were willing to take the risk. At that time, the request came to the attention of Helmut Olfert. "To put together the exact product, we imagined a fictional holidaying couple who would like to fly to Spain, for example," he recalls. For more than two weeks, the teams sat on the project day and night, working through different possibilities and trying to assess all the risks.
It was only possible to create a completely new product in such a short time because AXA Partners, on the one hand, immediately provided a team that worked tirelessly to make it happen and, on the other hand, was able to draw on a large international network and extensive experience in travel insurance. "We came to the conclusion that many travellers are simply overwhelmed with this new situation," Olfert says. What is the exact current situation in the holiday country? How quickly can I fly back in an emergency? How do I organize quarantine, if necessary? What can I do if I experience symptoms? The companies tried to find an answer to all these questions together.
The sharing of expertise: the backbone of the partnership
AXA Partners has completely taken over the organization of all these issues. There is also the option to contact a doctor at any time by phone or app. To this end, AXA Partners can draw on an existing global network of physicians and service providers. In addition, there is a hotline for those who have more general questions, such as how to fly back early to avoid an announced lockdown or because the situation in the country has deteriorated.
The question of potential costs at the German offshoot of the global insurance group was more complex. "Once our product was roughly in place, we coordinated it with our local and international travel specialists. After that, the product was finally ready," says Olfert. The sales manager is convinced that all air travel in the future can only function with service offerings such as this. "I've never had so many requests from different travel suppliers on my desk," he says. They all want to offer similar services to their customers and hope to collaborate with AXA Partners.
Shaping the future of travel insurance together
This new type of travel insurance will become more important in the future. Lufthansa is also convinced of this. The airline extended the original project with AXA Partners for another month after just two months. "For us, the goal is to keep improving the service," says Kai Peters of Lufthansa.
Bianca Kujawa was involved for Albatros in the search for the partner as well as in the development of the project. "In total, there were usually no more than ten people from all three companies working on it together," she says. Only in such a small team of highly motivated experts is it possible to manage such a project in such a short time. "It was clear to us very quickly that only AXA Partners could be considered for this. Right from the start, they were incredibly solution-oriented, agile and willing to take this innovation step with us," says Kujawa. In addition, the companies have been working together successfully on individual projects for years. All agreements during development were made virtually, across a wide range of platforms. "We all worked on the project more or less 24 hours a day for two weeks," Kujawa says.
It was clear to us very quickly that only AXA Partners could be considered for this. From the beginning, they were incredibly solution-oriented, agile and willing to take this innovation step with us.
The return of bookings at Lufthansa
For the airline, which was badly hit by the pandemic, it was all about getting business back on track. While the number of bookings had slightly gone up in the summer of 2020, it was still considerably lower than in previous years. This is partly as a result of the collapse in demand in many parts of Europe due to uncertainty over health measures.
Lufthansa already organized a webinar on the product together with AXA Partners at the beginning of the cooperation. Customers could ask their questions and get an answer live on the webinar. "These additional integrated services were well received by customers," says Kai Peters. The positive feedback makes him hopeful of achieving the partners' common goal. "We want to enable our passengers to travel worry-free in the long term and reinforce your confidence in traveling with the Lufthansa Group."
Two years on from the start of the pandemic, we expect the number of bookings to start returning to normal. In a continuing effort to reassure travellers and offer them the best possible travel conditions, AXA has also created new products and services for travel operators. Modular and personalised travel insurance coverage was one of the flagship solutions we developed hand in hand with our industry partners.
Figures in 2022 show that 74% of travellers consider flexibility and transparency to be key determinants when choosing an airline company. And 69% of them now factor in cleanliness and compliance with public health measures when booking a trip (source: COVID-19 Survey, IATA, Society of Critical Care Medicine). Attentive to market developments and drawing on its expertise in insurance, AXA Partners has partnered with Lufthansa, Sunweb and Accor to support the return of hassle-free travel and enable leaders in the travel industry to adapt to the changing trends.