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December 6, 2017

For years people in the travel business have said, “This is the year young travelers take over from the Baby Boomers,” and at the end of those years the travel businesspeople have said, “Maybe next year.”

But 2018 might be the year it actually happens.

How do we know? A little thing called the “State of Travel Insurance 2018.”

We whip up “State of Travel Insurance” (a/k/a SOTI) at the end of every year to predict what the travel-insurance market will look like in the year ahead. It’s a fairly involved process: We survey travelers and travel professionals, then create a predictive model of Americans’ travel abroad for the coming year. We include things like costs of lodging and transportation, and the percentage of trips to different regions that we think will be insured. And once we have that information, we calculate how much travel insurance will be bought, and how that differs from past years.

Our track record is pretty good, especially when it comes to predicting how many travelers will visit a given part of the world, and how much insurance they’ll buy for those travels.

Normally our SOTI surveys are exciting only to us, since they show microscopic changes in Americans’ travel habits and travel-insurance buying patterns. But this year something remarkable happened: Younger travelers showed up and showed out, and older travelers did the opposite.

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Basically, here’s what happened: More than 65 percent of younger travelers (ages 25-44) said they planned to buy significantly more travel insurance in 2018 than 2017.

It gets better. The percentage of younger travelers using travel agents went up more than 15 percent from 2016 to 2017, and the percentage who say they buy travel insurance for every trip exceeded 55 percent.

With Baby Boomers, just the opposite was true. Only about 6 percent said they buy travel insurance for all their trips, and 45 percent said they plan to buy significantly less travel insurance in 2018.

What’s going on? Like so many things having to do with travel insurance, it’s really about travel.

Younger travelers are traveling more – and not only are they traveling more, they plan to travel even more in 2018 than they did in 2017. All kinds of trips to all sorts of places: adventure travel, road trips, Australia, Spain, bucket-list trips, Iceland, luxury travel, Ecuador – even cruises. They’re not deterred by the added inconveniences of travel, the lack of legroom and the long lines. They’re not particularly scared off by terrorist events, though they’re concerned about long-term issues such as climate change and restrictions on travel to places like Venice and Machu Picchu.

The result of all these factors is an unprecedented demand for travel insurance by younger travelers – but with that demand comes some requests.

Make it flexible, please, and tech-savvy – like the instant claim payments offered by Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. And make sure it has robust medical coverage and coverage for flight mishaps like cancellations and missed connections. Fortunately, BHTP’s ExactCare checks all those boxes. It’s among the most comprehensive plans you can buy.

Person on their phone standing with their bikePhoto credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator via Unsplash.

The flip side to all this – and there has to be a flip side – involves Baby Boomers. It’s not that Baby Boomers have given up on travel; when it comes to certain travel types, like river cruises, Baby Boomers are traveling in the same or greater numbers than in the past. But Boomers are more likely to be dissuaded from traveling by terrorist activity, disease outbreaks, and other catastrophes, are more afraid of being attacked when they travel, and generally are less enthused about travel than they’ve been.

However, there’s one destination that Baby Boomers are all over: the United States. Boomers say they plan to travel more domestically than in past years, everything from road trips to trips to visit family and friends.

It makes sense; the United States are diverse, fairly safe, and reasonably hassle-free, especially if you drive. For many Baby Boomers, the freedom and joy they seek from travel can be found in the United States, and they’re taking advantage.

It all sounds very plausible, but before you declare the case closed, consider this: These are just opinions about travel, answers to a survey, not actual travel. It’s quite possible that older travelers will say, “What the heck,” and visit Italy after all, and younger travelers will look at their student-loan bill and decide that maybe Croatia can wait until next year.

If there’s one watchword for international travel, it’s to expect the unexpected. Today it’s being influenced by hurricane cleanup, the Winter Olympics, restrictions on travel to Turkey and Cuba, and European Christmas markets. Next week it might be an entirely different set of factors.

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