Oceania Disputes Travel Insurer’s No-Confidence Nod

April 21, 2004

Oceania Cruises got a nasty surprise earlier this week when it learned, quite by accident, that it had made it onto a travel insurers' "alert" list. Travel Guard, one of the industry's best known consumer-oriented insurers, had placed the cruise line on a list it maintains of companies that it no longer covers in case of financial default.

As such, Oceania found itself in dubious company. Other cruise lines on that same list include the now-lamented Regal Cruises, Royal Olympia's series of cruise-ship-specific companies, and First European/Festival –- all of whom have either closed down completely or are in some stage of the bankruptcy process.

Oceania's response? "In a word," says company spokesman Tim Rubacky, "we're outraged." Rubacky says that the company only learned Monday afternoon about its inclusion on Travel Guard's list. "It doesn’t paint a pretty picture," he adds. "We were caught totally off guard."

Its listing on Travel Guard's alert list means that Oceania passengers who purchase a policy would not be covered in the event the company filed bankruptcy (though many folks rely on credit cards for reimbursements in the case when ships no longer sail)and its ships stopped operating.

But it turns out that this tempest may be, to quote a well-known scribe, "much ado about nothing." Rubacky reports that a communication snafu is responsible for Oceania's addition to the list. "We were informed that the reason they pulled the financial default coverage was due to the fact that we didn't respond to requests they [Travel Guard] made for financial data. But [company co-presidents] Frank (Del Rio) and Joe (Watters) never received either of these letters."

Indeed, Travel Guard's Dan McGinnity echoes a similar tune. "This is merely an administrative decision based on information we have yet to receive from Oceania," he says, and hastens to add that "at this point we're working very closely with Oceania Cruises and hopefully we'll have this situation resolved very quickly." McGinnity also makes it a point to stress that "we have no information or knowledge that would lead us to believe that Oceania Cruises is not a good and reputable cruise operation."

These types of alert lists -- which are used by other travel insurers as well -- were launched by insurers as a post-September 11 effort to protect themselves from undo risk during a time when travel suppliers were struggling to stay afloat. Access America is another major insurance company that keeps track, via its website (www.accessamerica.com), but it takes a different approach. On its list are only companies for which it does offer default coverage. Spokeswoman Beth Godlin calls it the "positive list".

And as far as Oceania is concerned? In the Access America arena it's firmly ensconced on the "positive list" and, in fact, shares real estate there with some pretty sturdy companies, including the Carnival Corp. family of lines (such as Holland America, Carnival, Cunard, Windstar, Princess, etc.), Norwegian Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International.

And back to Travel Guard: Rubacky sounds bullish when he says that Oceania has a "gentleman's agreement with the chairman of Travel Guard to rectify this issue and we hope to have the matter put behind us by the end of the week."

We’ll keep you posted.