iPMI Magazine's CEO, Christopher Knight, speaks with Mary-Jo McDonald, Managing Director for Europe at Global Excel Management. They discuss in detail how COVID-19 has affected the industry, life after lockdown and the impact on the travel industry for leisure, business and student travel markets.
Broadly speaking, can you tell us what steps Europe is taking towards life after lockdown?
We know that European countries’ response to this pandemic has varied in intensity – from closed borders to domestic travel restrictions. Overall, Europe is pulling together, and many countries are moving towards opening internal borders before the end of June. This first step will have a refreshing impact on travel, hospitality and education – a variety of industries will be operational. There will be limitations though, in this “new normal”, which we are gradually settling in to. Social distancing, protective face coverings and hand washing are already accepted at large in European society. Travel corridors or air-bridges are being considered, ground transportation will be permitted, and non-essential travel will be allowed.
We’re optimistic, as many clients and partners are preparing for this first step – continental Europe will be open for business very shortly. We remain realistic, knowing COVID-19 won’t disappear overnight. What we expect is that many Europeans will be asking questions and looking for reassurance, especially concerning their health as they travel, first within Europe and then abroad.
Has Global Excel seen a significant increase in assistance requests during this pandemic? What changed and how did you adapt to this unprecedented situation?
We have seen an increase in assistance requests, from business travellers having to modify schedules, expatriates worried about being able to keep their appointment with a physician, students needing to quickly access care and many wanting to speak with a practitioner in a “virtual” environment rather than face to face. One key concern was being able to respond within a reasonable amount of time. To do so, we quickly shifted to providing information, support and guidance online either via chat, text or email. This significantly reduced call wait-times while responding to requests. We prioritized different request-types – medical emergencies remain our top priorities. We also deployed a COVID-19-specific version of our digital health solution, StandbyMD. This is a self-serve virtual assistant which enables travellers to quickly self-assess their symptoms, then select the best care option. Responding with minimal down time, in several languages, across several time zones was a big challenge, but our team made it work, to the satisfaction of our clients and their members.
How has Global Excel Europe weathered this pandemic?
Early in February this year, we started reaching out to our clients with regular updates on measures we were taking as a response to developing situations. At that time, many countries reactions and directives were varied.
Our concern was two-fold: to ensure we could quickly respond to members returning to their homes – business travellers, tourists and students – but also to respond to medical emergencies and answer concerns while directing them to the best care available in their area. Our second priority was our own employee health, with over 95% of them working safely from home. Transferring our staff and ensuring our systems were up and running within only a few hours is a testament to our leadership’s agile planning and to the commitment of our team members. We were even able to outsource our services to other companies struggling with the sudden increase in volume and complexity.
As the gradual exit from lockdown is being coordinated, what should business and leisure travellers expect and how can they best prepare themselves?
As travel restrictions are loosening up across Europe, we expect that travellers in general will have to focus on low risk areas, seeking information from governments and using “travel bubbles/corridors”. This means additional wait times at airports for screenings and decontamination processes, with physical distancing and face coverings which will likely remain a requirement. Many vacation areas, educational institutions, restaurants and airports have already adapted to these new directives, as well as places of worship, offices and government buildings.
More than ever, we believe that travellers’ best protection is research – being aware of government advisories and looking closely at their travel and health policies, knowing and understanding the limitations, but also reaching out to travel experts to discuss options. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Has access to healthcare for students, travellers and others changed? If so, what are some must-haves going forward?
Polls across different countries indicate that many students and travellers have accessed healthcare using some form of digital solution. In some countries, telemedicine was used, and in other countries a mix of video, text and email communication to engage with physicians has been preferred.
We’ve seen a greater demand for our own digital health tool. Many members appreciate that they can self-serve and choose the type of care they prefer, wherever and whenever. Digital healthcare and choice will be key to responding to needs during a pandemic, but also during any cautious recovery period. These solutions ensure that physical distancing directives are met, minimizing infection risks while reducing wait times. The future is digital, and having a great solution that combines flexibility, personalized care and cashless billing options with worldwide coverage will be the new norm.
How can Global Excel help insurance and assistance companies and their members (business travellers, expats, students, etc)?
Global Excel combines four elements to ensure our clients and their members consistently benefit from the best available care options, no matter where they are: flexible, comprehensive healthcare solutions; world class costavoidance and cost-containment services; FastTrack, our cashless out-patient solution; fully customisable networks across Europe.
As a global enterprise, we can easily assist travellers, expats, international students and those seeking major medical treatment anywhere in the world: a unique, reliable and proven offering from your trusted partner – Global Excel.