To the rescue worldwide
If you or a family member were unexpectedly stranded on the other side of the world with an illness, injury or unexpected calamity, there’s one person you can trust to come to your rescue
From day one, Craig Morrison described his travel insurance comapny holiday as a ‘grown-up rescue as a start-up’. The former US Marine Corps Captain brought a ton of industry experience and leadership to the business and is focused on doing things differently.
If you or a family member were unexpectedly stranded on the other side of the world with an illness, injury or unexpected calamity, there’s one person you can trust to come to your rescue, and that’s Craig Morrison – former US Marine Corps captain, seasoned business leader and 17-year veteran of New Zealand’s travel insurance industry, including 15 years running Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI).
OK, Craig won’t personally come to your aid, but his online travel insurance business Holiday Rescue certainly will – with a service comparable to a military operation. Holiday Rescue’s commander-in-chief has impeccable credentials for travel insurance, as does his team of six.
It was a corporate posting to Auckland in late 1996 that triggered Craig’s love affair with New Zealand’s “no guns and centralist politics” way of life. Permanent residency, marriage to a Kiwi, three children, and the biggest assignment of his career (growing SCTI) all followed.
When the opportunity arose to launch his own business, Craig grabbed it with both hands.
“It felt like a natural progression,” he recalls. With his love for international viewpoints, cultures and travel, Craig had the attitude, relationships and global connections to run a successful online travel insurance business.
“If, for example, you’re on holiday in Bali, and you have a medical problem, I know the names of people there, boots on the ground, who can immediately help,” he says. He’s referring to Asian Assistance, one of Holiday Rescue’s worldwide network of trusted, pre-vetted medical services partners. “They’re the people who really understand what’s going on and how to navigate the local healthcare system.
And each country’s system is incredibly different.”
In China, as another example, they know people who can get stretchers onto [the business class sections of] high-speed trains, to get to the nearest international airport.
In Japan, where it’s unlikely that the doctor will talk directly to the patient, again, Holiday Rescue will arrange for a representative to step in and find out exactly what’s going on.
Craig explains how the “industry norm globally” works if, for example, a traveller requires a travel nurse with experience in aviation physiology to accompany him or her back to New Zealand. “It’s generally put out to quote. But we don’t do that. Securing quotes takes time,” he explains.
To provide a solution Holiday Rescue will even, if necessary, fly a trained nurse from New Zealand to pick up the customer from the medical facility and accompany that customer home.
“We’re all about ‘care, and speed, over cost’.” No traveller thinks they’ll end up a patient in a foreign country, and when they do the unrealistic expectation is that the health system will be just like home. “It’s not,” says Craig. “It will be scarily different! That’s the challenge – to help our customer get as comfortable as possible, given the circumstances, and work through cultural differences.”
Competitive business In New Zealand the travel insurance market is highly competitive – roughly a four-way split of pure online direct, travel agent, credit card/bank, and ‘other’ (for example, airline or home & contents insurance provider).
Surprisingly 25 percent of Kiwis travelling overseas don’t buy insurance – a figure that hasn’t changed in the 17 years Craig’s been in the business. He believes our ‘she’ll be right’ attitude and perception that Australia is a risk-free destination are contributing factors.
That attitude’s not OK, he says, citing the pre-flight pitfall of non-refundable tickets, and the need to provide accompanying medical staff on a trans-Tasman flight home, should the need arise.
Craig also refers to what he calls ‘dabblers’ in the industry – “companies that do travel insurance as an ‘add-on product’. “That clutters the industry – providing more choice but without really any clarity about a point of difference, or any core competence.”
He’s also critical of policies sold ‘over the counter’ for pre-existing conditions, which he says often reap large commissions.
Craig’s message for all travellers is to lower your expectations overseas. “Some glitch will probably happen. It’s unlikely you’ll have smooth sailing the whole way. So relax, you’re still on holiday. You’ve got insurance, we’re here to help ease your anxieties.”
And Holiday Rescue’s answer to most of those additional little expenses that some insurers quibble over (additional phone calls, for instance) is mostly ‘yes’, he says. Medical cover is never based on a ‘submit your claim’ procedure either – provided there’s sufficient information, certainty is given on the phone.
Holiday Rescue’s marketing strategy specifically targets couples and families, and emphasises service and medical care. The company has a ‘call us first’ policy. Craig says every call for assistance to their team of highly experienced nurses is treated as a “high-anxiety big deal”.
Fast-growing After seven months of development, two of which were spent replacing policy ‘insurance-speak’ with plain language, Holiday Rescue launched in 2017. Craig says growth has been “way better than expected”. The service is also live in Australia. Growth has been assisted by low overheads and a minimalistic strategy, which helps keep premiums competitive, he says – to borrow from his Marine Corps background: the business is a “lean, mean, fighting machine”.
Craig is sole director and admits that stepping from corporate CEO to business owner required a “huge adjustment” – but he loves that fact that decision-making is now “lightning fast”.
He’s had to adjust to the risk of ownership. “The business must succeed for me to succeed financially.” However, he says he’s found the transition “a pure joy”. “It’s been fun because from the beginning we could do it right.”
Looking back, he remembers he couldn’t see himself walking away from the “great people” he’d “met and grown to love” in the insurance and emergency-assistance industry during his time at SCTI.
The answer was to entice some of his former staff and start his own company – one without legacy systems. “Which is an incredible financial advantage.”
And while they have some big goals, for now, to use a baseball analogy, they’re happy to “keep hitting singles”. The home runs can wait.
One thing Craig is adamant on is that Holiday Rescue will remain a specialist travel insurer and there will be no diversification. It’s one area in which his Marine Corps discipline refuses to budge.