Adventure travellers have special insurance needs

By Rosemary McCracken | April 12 2010 04:11PM

The growth of the travel industry in recent years has given travelers a wide range of choices. They can get off the beaten path in many parts of the world by mapping out their own itineraries or travelling with adventure tour operators.

Adventure travellers are now all ages, from the very young to people in their 80s, says Gilles Valade, Chairman of the Adventure Studies Department at Thompson Rivers University's School of Tourism in Kamloops, B.C. "The baby boomers, in particular, want to see new things and in greater depth. They're also volunteering in remote areas."

Adventure travellers need travel coverage, but their destination is not usually a problem, says
Martha Turnbull, Toronto-based President of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, "providing the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has not issued a warning of war, riots or natural disasters (see

"Depending on their age and health, travellers should be able to get insurance for something like backpacking in the Far East," she says. "It's the activities they may be planning, such as high-altitude mountain climbing, which some companies will exclude."

Those planning high-risk activities and sports on their trips will need appropriate medical insurance, as well as evacuation insurance, says Mr. Valade. "If they're injured, they'll need to get to the hospital from a remote area. They'll need to find out if there's a ceiling to evacuation coverage, because it can be expensive."

Before a client books an adventure trip, the advisors should find out what activities are excluded by the insurer the client is considering. Some may not include mountain or rock climbing, while others may. Most will exclude scuba diving at a depth of more than 10 metres unless the client holds an international PADI (issued by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certificate.

And, without exception, the client will find himself ineligible for a payout if he was injured under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.

Special risk

If the client's needs can't be met by one of the regular insurers, the next step is to deal with a company that offers special-risk insurance. Mr. Valade had accompanied his son on rock climbing competitions in China, Ecuador and Europe, and purchased insurance through Ingle International, a Toronto-based managing general agency.

"It costs dollars a day," Mr. Valade says, "and I sometimes get a family rate. And, of course, we're careful, it's not like we enjoy getting broken up. The real danger in developing countries is usually car accidents. You have no control over the other drivers or the condition of the roads."

Robin Ingle, President of Ingle International, says his company has insured expeditions up Mount Everest and journalists going into war zones. "It's very rare that we have to get back to a client and say we can't do anything," he says.

High risk activities

He adds that parents of university or college students may want to consider an insurance product with a rider for high-risk activities before the young adults go on vacation. "They're not going to call their parents and ask if they can go parasailing," he says. "They're going to tell them afterwards. The client will pay about 20% more for the additional coverage, but it will be worth it."

Mr. Valade notes that care must be taken in selecting an adventure travel company. "Internet marketing can make anyone look professional," he says. "Find out if the company has liability insurance; if it doesn't, that may mean it doesn't have a safety culture. Does staff hold first aid certificates? Are they members of associations that govern their activities, such as rafting and kayaking? "And ask the company for references and check them," he adds.