Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Why travel companies are guaranteeing the weather

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Travelers can control nearly every detail for their trip: where to stay, when to eat, what to see and how to get around. Weather, on the other hand, just does its own thing.

To convince vacationers who may be too afraid of a washout to book a trip, travel companies are sweetening the deal. Rain ruined your golf game? Get a refund. Northern lights a no-show on your cruise? Sign up for another — free. Subpar snow on the slope? Trade in your lift ticket for another day.

Such promises aren’t ubiquitous, and they often come with fine print or at additional expense. But as climate change leads to an increase in extreme weather events, more travel industry players are trying to ease the blow of a rainy spell, scorching afternoon or even disappointing lack of natural phenomena.

“The experience matters so much more than the money to people,” said Nick Cavanaugh, founder and CEO of Sensible Weather, which pays travelers if the forecast meets certain conditions. “For many trips, the weather is the make-or-break for the experience.”

Weather guarantees are different from traditional travel insurance policies, which typically covers costs if a vacation has to be canceled or cut short because of a covered emergency such as illness, injury or natural disaster, said Jenna Hummer, spokeswoman for the travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth. Insurance policies can cost roughly 5 to 10 percent of the cost of a trip.

“That would be super frustrating if you spend X amount of money and go on a beach vacation and it rains the entire time,” she said. “Unfortunately, travel insurance does not cover loss of enjoyment.”

Guarantees for northern lights, powdery snow

Individual hotels, ski resorts, destinations, cruise lines and others have all offered their own twists on weather guarantees.

In 2019, the Italian island of Elba promised a free overnight stay (which is no longer in place) on days when it rained for more than two hours during peak activity times.

The InterContinental Singapore advertises a Rain Resist Bliss package for certain suites, good through the end of the year, that gives a one-night rebate if plans are disrupted by rain. Many ski resorts allow visitors to get a rain check on lift tickets if the snow doesn’t meet expectations.

SeaWorld offers a “Weather-or-Not Assurance” for its marine-themed parks and other brands that guests can return free within a year if extreme weather, including heat, puts a serious dent in their plans.

Holland America Line dangles a “glacier guarantee” for Alaska cruises, promising a credit for a future cruise equal to 15 percent of their fare if a voyage unexpectedly skips a glacier visit. At least two other cruise lines, Norway-based Hurtigruten and Havila Voyages, make a “Northern Lights Promise” for a free cruise if no aurora occurs during a sailing at certain times of year.

“The northern lights is a bucket-list [event] for so many travelers,” said Anders Lindström, spokesman for Hurtigruten, which has offered its promise for nearly a decade. “We know people book with us for the northern lights.”

He said chances are high for viewing the phenomena in Arctic Norway between October and March; travelers “almost never” have to take the cruise line up on its free-cruise offer — and if they did, they would still have to pay for flights to get to the ship. Still, Lindstrom says the guarantee helps guests have confidence to book in the first place.

“We’re not in charge of the weather,” he said. “I wish we were.”

Bad forecast = money back

Sensible Weather, which started offering weather promises in 2021, has sold more than 100,000 guarantees covering rain since then. The company partners with 3,500 businesses including campsites, tour operators, hotels, golf courses, attractions and others; those businesses allow customers to buy a “Weather Guarantee” as part of the checkout process. Sensible Weather mostly covers rain and, at ski resort partners, too much snow, but it started offering heat protection earlier this year. Cavanaugh said he is also interested in potentially adding air quality, following last year’s inundation of wildfire smoke.

The cost to insure against bad conditions is generally 5 to 10 percent of what a traveler is spending, Cavanaugh said. The parameters — for example, how many hours the rain forecast needs to be to get reimbursement — are set when the purchase is made. If the forecast meets that requirement, customers automatically get reimbursed, even if they move forward with their plans in the rain. The thresholds and prices vary according to the risk, and of course the weather could be good, which means no money would get returned.

“You can still go jet-skiing in the rain,” Cavanaugh said. “You cannot go jet-skiing in the rain and take the money we give you and go get a massage.”

The company provided some examples of how the coverage works: a couple who paid $12.78 to protect their $115 cost to camp for a June night in Tennessee was guaranteed a 100 percent payout if it rained for at least three hours. They got that $115 back after the rain lasted four hours.

In Utah, the cost was $3 to protect a one-night, $122 hotel stay in August with the promise that one hour of rain would result in reimbursement. The customer got $122 back after rain fell for an hour.

Because payments are made based on forecasts, people get their money back even if predicted weather doesn’t show.

“It’s a win-win,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re trying to get people money as soon as possible, ideally before the bad thing happens, to sort of maximize the probability that you have a good day.”

A newer company, WeatherPromise, also promises guarantees against rain for a price.

Campspot, a site that lets travelers book camping and RV sites, partnered with Sensible Weather last year after customer research revealed unpredictable weather “was the most stressful part” about booking a trip and camping, said Jeff Bettin, vice president of commercial strategy and performance.

He said the company found that customers were more likely to book after the guarantee was introduced.

“We think it’s potentially providing more confidence to get over that mental hurdle: ‘Oh, what if it rains?’” he said. “Now you have some peace of mind.”

Collective Hill Country, a glamping site in Texas, is the first partner to offer guests the heat option as the outdoor hospitality company seeks to extend the dates it operates in the summer. Chief hospitality officer Vanessa Vitale Hughes said that the property already offers air conditioning, running water, showers, steel pools and foods appropriate for warm weather.

“I think that we’ve done a very good job of ensuring comfort in all types of conditions,” she said. “And I think it also depends a little bit on the guest — which is why any type of weather guarantee is an extra layer of protection for those who need it.”

The company has offered the rain protection at its property in New York City as “kind of an extra raincoat, if you will,” Hughes said, and got good feedback.

She said that in Texas, if the weather reaches temperatures set by the policy, guests will still be able to take part in whatever activities they’re comfortable doing — they’ll just get money back for the day.

Carolin Lusby, an associate professor at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University and co-director of the Global Sustainable Tourism program there, said there are some travelers who would be most likely to opt to purchase weather promises. Potential customers include families and those who are risk-averse, big spenders who have more to lose from a disruption.

Lusby, who is organizing a conference about sustainability and climate change, said she expects the warming earth to continue to affect travelers in meaningful ways.

“It’s changing weather patterns,” she said. “It’s something that’s going to impact us for sure.”

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