PHOTO: The Adler Arena Skating Center, one of the Winter Olympics venues in Sochi, Russia. (Splash News, splashnews.com)
The U.S. Department of State’s travel warning advising travelers planning to attend the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia to “remain attentive regarding their personal security” is only the latest advisory or event to heighten concern among American travelers headed to Sochi.
In fact the State Department has also warned U.S. athletes against wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas, which “may put personal safety at greater risk," according to a memo cited in press reports.
The travel insurance comparison website Insuremytrip.com has issued a checklist that notifies travelers of potential benefits travel insurance provides for travelers headed to Sochi, face many potential difficulties, including possible terrorist activity, a risk of criminal activity, the current social and political climate in Russia which creates concerns for LGBT travelers, and the need for medical evacuation services in case of emergency. The site has identified four potential circumstances that should compel travelers to Sochi to consider purchasing travel insurance.
Terrorist Activity: Comprehensive plans offering specific coverage for terrorist acts are available, although that doesn’t mean consumers can cancel travel to Sochi due to a general concern about terrorism. Such coverage normally requires an actual act of terrorism to have taken place in the traveler’s destination city within a certain number of days before their scheduled trip. However, there are policies that allow a traveler to cut a trip short and file a trip interruption claim if a terrorist act does take place while the traveler is in Sochi.
Emergency medical care: Emergency medical evacuation can is offered as a benefit in some travel medical Insurance plans, but can also be purchased as a separate membership-based service from providers like MedJet Assist. This form of coverage offers evacuation and transportation services to appropriate medical facilities. However it is important to determine if a policy that outlines “hospital of choice” benefit is necessary because many medical evacuation services will take the traveler to the nearest hospital.
Several travel insurance providers are offering travel policies that provide medical evacuation for travelers to Sochi. “The State Department has noted that Sochi has never held an event the size of the Winter Olympics and its medical infrastructure is untested,” said Fabrice Durand-Brochec, Vice President of Travel Assistance Services at Allianz Global Assistance USA.
“Our medical assistance team has identified and rated available healthcare facilities in and around Sochi, so that if one of our customers has a medical emergency, we’ll know exactly where they need to be transported.”
Durand-Brochec added that Allianz has worked with its Russian business unit to “better understand” medical infrastructure that Olympic organizers and Russian authorities have put in place. “Our network of air ambulances and medical escorts has credentials to enter the area in case a medical evacuation becomes necessary,” he added.
Criminal activity: The state department warning advises that criminal activity in Sochi is expected to be on par with any large city, yet the large crowds expected for the event have the potential to attract pickpockets and lead to other threats to personal property. InsuremyTrip.com advises travelers to obtain policies offering coverage for loss of personal property and possible identity theft.
Detainment or imprisonment for political reasons: The State Department alert specifically mentions concern for LGBT travelers, noting that Russian law makes it a crime to publicly “promote” LGBT equality, although the law “lacks concrete legal definitions,” according to the advisory.
While the InsuremyTrip.com advisory notes that “no travel insurance policy would be able to help you out if you were to fall afoul of the Russian government for ‘spreading propaganda’ of any kind,” it does recommend purchase of a medical or emergency evacuation product that covers political and/or security evacuation.
However this type of policy tends to be is highly specific, and the InsuremyTrip.com advisory recommends travelers discuss “specific individual concerns with a licensed travel insurance representative prior to purchasing a policy.”