Spotlight on: Toby Harris, Endsleigh

Tell us a bit about your role and how it supports the business?

My responsibilities include managing a team of insurance specialists, where we provide bespoke insurance products for a range of educational travel organisations, partnering with the likes of language schools, tour operators, schools, colleges, universities and accommodation providers. The policies we create have been specifically designed for the members of BETA to offer to their students and partners as a key value-added service.

In addition to managing a team I also work with a number of partners in the sector, providing account management and support. It’s an important part of my role as it allows me to hear first-hand from our customers. This in-turn helps me to work with other teams in our business to shape the service and products we provide, making sure they are always doing the best for our customers and protecting the things that are most important to them.

What has been your career highlight to date?

Following the impact of the global pandemic and knowing what damage it has caused to the travel industry as a whole, it has been our key objective at Endsleigh to support the sector by developing our insurance products to include a variety of Covid-19 cover sections.

My career highlight is seeing how quickly we as a company have worked to adapt to the requirements of our partners and the continuous changes to the UK travel market. I am extremely pleased to see our work has been valued by our partners, where our policies are giving their students the confidence to return to educational travel, with the knowledge that their health, wellbeing and financial risks are covered against Covid-19.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I really like the saying ‘dreams remain dreams until you take action’ – I think this is a wonderful and uplifting way of thinking, that anything can be accomplished if you put your mind to it.

Everything we define as a ‘success’ in life starts with a dream, a goal, a target, which is the first step. If we stay at this step, we will eventually realise that we are standing still and making no progress. If however we take to the time to think and plan ahead, set ourselves personal milestones, doors will soon begin to open. Motivation and faith in yourself is key, but everything starts with that initial dream.

If you were not working in this sector what other industry would you have pursued a career in?

I don’t think anybody sets out a plan to work in the insurance industry to be completely honest! However, I am passionate about travel and culture and I take great pride in supporting educational travel organisations, so their students can achieve an experience of a lifetime studying abroad and developing their intercultural skills (with the knowledge that their safety is priority).

In another life, I think I would have loved to have been a chef! I am a sucker for MasterChef and experimenting with food in my kitchen at home!

What are the emerging trends within your sector and have these changed since Covid-19?

During the era of Covid-19, as a specialist service provider for the educational travel sector, we have certainly seen that travel insurance has become almost the biggest priority for students before deciding to embark on an adventure overseas.

With all the uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought to travel over these past 24 months, safety is paramount and students want the reassurance that in the event of an unforeseen situation during their trip, they will be well cared for and provided with the correct level of protection. It is scary to think that pre-covid, students would take the risk of travelling without any form of travel insurance at all!

With our unique insight to the student market, another notable trend is how the pandemic has put a huge amount of extra strain on students, both domestic and overseas resulting in an increase in mental health and wellbeing concerns. which has caused a spike in issues leaning towards students’ mental health and wellbeing. This is an important matter for us at Endsleigh.

Lastly, as a result of the pandemic and the extra strain put on staff, we are aware of a renewed appreciation that people really are the most important assets of any business and therefore attracting and retaining top talent is of increased important to a business of any size that is striving for success.

What is coming up for your company in the next 12/18 months?

First and foremost, we will continue to provide an excellent service to BETA members!

We have a number of exciting projects ongoing behind the scenes at Endsleigh, which we are confident will support the educational travel sector and its roadmap to recovery.

Our most recent initiative we have launched, which is supported by English UK and ISIC, is the development of our new ‘International Student Discount and ID Card’ – Where we will be looking to partner with English UK and BETA member language schools to offer their students as a value-added product. Our student discount card is a variation of the original ISIC, which includes over 150,000 different benefits for students studying abroad, including discounts on accommodation, travel, shopping, food, entertainment and attractions. All in which will enhance the experience for international students, act as a proof of ID and save them money whilst returning to the UK to study in 2022.

Another area mentioned previously we are particularly focused on confronting, is students mental health and wellbeing and we have developed a programme in conjunction with Health Assured and provide a service for over 100,000 students including access to a 24 hour confidential counselling helpline, plus the industry-leading ‘My Healthy Advantage App’ that helps them track and improve their wellbeing. Find out more about on our progress for student wellbeing support here.

We are also further enhancing our our proposition to BETA members to provide access to employee benefits advice and consultation. This combined with our Travel Insurance and Commercial Insurance services will mean we will be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for any insurance needs that a BETA member may have.

As an association what one thing do you think we have done that has made a real difference to our members during the crisis?

Endsleigh has been working in partnership with BETA for many years and we greatly value all the support the association has provided to its members – especially during these extremely challenging two years.

During the Covid crisis, BETA have kept us well-informed with useful government updates, statistics and data to allow us to continuously keep our student travel insurance policies fit for purpose. The membership also gives us the ability to keep in touch with our partners through regular events and activities and to learn from one another as we settle onto the road to recovery.

Thank you BETA for all your continuous support!

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our industry, what is the one thing that you have learnt personally or professionally during this time?

The one thing I have learnt from the Covid-19 crisis is that ‘you simply just don’t know what is around the corner!’ – I remember first hearing the initial reports of an infectious virus breaking out in Wuhan, China back in December 2019, nobody could have predicted the chaos this would soon bring across the globe.

I hope that we may never have to experience anything like this ever again – It is however a true testament to everyone for pulling through such challenging times together, were lives were turned upside down but we still manage to adapt – As difficult as the situation is, I think everyone has come out stronger for it.

What are your crystal ball forecasts for the period ahead and how quickly do you think your business can recover from the pandemic?

Endsleigh is delighted with the government’s recent announcements to ease both UK inbound and outbound travel restrictions. We share the excitement and relief this news has brought to the members of BETA, where we are already seeing signs of a positive market recovery for the sector.

Many of our partners have already seen a surge of bookings being made from students and their partners, so we are feeling very optimistic for a stable 2022 summer – There is still a long way to go before the industry will feel completely back to normal, with the volumes that were being reached post-pandemic. However, this is certainly a step in the right direction and we are proud to support the sector in the roadmap to recovery.

What would you say our biggest challenges and opportunities are as an industry currently?

Another recent devastation that has unsettled the world is the situation that has occurred in Ukraine. This of course is a big challenge for the educational travel sector, as we understand that this has impacted many organisations that work with countries in Eastern Europe and Russia, as both key source markets and destinations for travel – Our thoughts are with all partners who may be affected by this terrible situation.

We also know that Covid is still very much a challenge and not something we can dismiss, with Omicron being an example of this, which we saw the rapid spread at the beginning of 2022.

Students/Travellers (including their loved ones) will still have a sense of hesitancy before willing to purse a return to educational travel.

How do you think Covid-19 will change our industry (if at all)?

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed all of our lives in many ways, from our day-to-day routines to booking a holiday abroad – Both which we would have previously regarded as ‘normal’ and ‘easy’, without having to think twice – Following the Covid-19 era, I think people will naturally become more hesitant in their decision making, particularly when it comes to travel and having the assurances that their safety is key – If however we remain resilient and adapt to the challenges that our industry faces, travel will undoubtable always continue to return.

Find out more about BETA member Endsleigh

Published 01 July 2022