What is the future of travel? Probably, fundamentally similar to what was before COVID –although there will be new measures in place intended to screen passengers for the Coronavirus. Here are the new technologies in travel-tech that are here to stay post-COVID-19.
The body reverts to homeostasis, and the world will go back to some semblance of normal.
People want to travel–and they will. Leisure travel, we expect, will return, although estimates vary as to when travel will fully recover. While the road to full recovery may be a long and unprofitable slog for airlines, travel for leisure is embedded in our culture.
Tourism is an indispensable cornerstone of the global economy, and as such, people will return to the skies. Particularly helpful will be the treatment protocols against the Coronavirus and the global effort to develop a vaccine.
Countries with economies heavily dependent on tourism — such as Greece and Cyprus — have begun to gradually open their borders.
A trend has developed to gingerly open borders within travel corridors consisting of nations with low infection rates. Think the Baltic nations, for instance, and those in the Eastern Mediterranean consisting of Greece, Cyprus, and Israel.
The return of business travel is, too, inevitable, although the robustness of business travel moving forward is a matter of debate.
Traveling to London or New York for a meeting or conference may be diminished with the rapid adoption of tele-business conducted on video conferences.
Not only do online meetings save money for corporations during a recession, but they also absolve corporations of liabilities associated with sending employees on business trips in the wake of a pandemic.
The success of Zoom, however, bodes poorly for the profitability of airlines, for whom corporate travelers–more likely to book business-class seats — represent higher-margin customers.
Airlines will need to be creative in how they attract and retain customers — and keep their businesses above water. For one, new artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies allow for faster collection of customer feedback.
Fast customer feedback can be used to personalize and more effectively disseminate price comparison and price drop alerts to potential travelers.
As the vast majority of travelers use the Internet to plan the bulk of their trip; web scraping technologies enable online booking agents to expand, review and monitor prices to offer the best package for their user.
The best packages will pose competition and opportunity for airlines. Web scraping enables airlines to track customers’ feedback and preferences. For now, incentives rule the day as airlines work to regain the trust of wary customers.
Before travel returns to its 2019 levels, consumers must feel safe on public transportation.
There is a widely-held public perception that planes are hotbeds for the spread of Covid-19. In recent decades planes have become more and more packed as airlines have attempted to squeeze as many passengers as possible on each flight.
While airlines have disputed this — any customer can tell you that the perception is reality. Travelers will opt for road trips if they don’t feel safe in flight. Airlines contend that their air filtration systems are top-notch. Their assurances haven’t convinced many travelers to return to routine travel.
During the dark days of March, when the pandemic shocked the world and the stock market was at its low, the TSA recorded a year-over-year decline in passenger travel as drastic as 96%.
Travel and Transportation
The robustness of air travel has improved, the numbers are still catastrophic when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Short-term, what may prevail is an affinity for private transportation, benefiting automobile manufacturers at the expense of airlines and other forms of public transportation.
After 9/11, travel was changed forever. The basic bargain was that passengers would sacrifice some convenience in exchange for extra security.
Here, too, passengers may be compelled to compromise on some convenience and expedience for the sake of safety protocols. Some airports have asked passengers to arrive four hours before their flights.
Airports have been using technology such as body-heat sensors so as to identify potential virus carriers. Temperature checks have become routine. Some airports — such as Vienna International — have implemented virus checks for all arriving passengers.
The virus check protocols pose a quandary for travelers who run the risk of being denied entry upon arrival.
Disinfecting public transportation presents challenges and opportunities. Companies — as well as public bodies such as New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority — will need to invest in antiviral technologies so as to regain the customers they lost to the pandemic.
The MTA, which operates New York City’s subway, has launched a program to use ultraviolet light as a means by which to disinfect subways and buses.
The lamps, purchased from Puro Lighting, a Denver-based startup, utilize a type of high-intensity UVC technology that the manufacturer says eliminates 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.
Scientists are still studying the efficacy of this technology although the MTA expects positive results.
Recently, the MTA shut down subways for four hours overnight so as to deep-clean subway cars and public spaces–anathema in a city that prides itself on its 24-hour culture.
Increased demand for technologies that deploy UV light to eradicate the Coronavirus presents opportunities for UV start-ups and manufacturers.
A particular conundrum relates to the viability of the airline business, which is facing a perfect storm of headwinds: a pandemic, a recession, a decrease in the need for business travel, and a need to overhaul operating protocols.
Airlines are not structured to maintain financial solvency through several consecutive months of massive declines in ridership.
While airlines in the United States have been criticized for investing in stock buybacks instead of rainy-day funds, few businesses could survive such massive declines in customer demand.
Government assistance in the United States as part of the CARES Act–as well as infusions of cash through the public markets–will sustain the airlines, only to a point.
Airlines have struggled to balance profitability with passenger accommodations. Some airlines have pledged, for now, to guarantee that middle seats in three-person rows will remain unbooked. Having the middle seat empty will maintain some semblance of the distance between passengers.
Frontier Airlines implemented a $39 fee to guarantee an empty middle seat, only to abandon those plans amidst public backlash.
It may be that, amidst a pandemic and deep recession, customers will demand concessions from airlines at no additional cost.
JetBlue was the first airline to require all passengers to wear masks during flights; virtually all other airlines followed suit. And airlines have begun to conduct temperature checks before passengers board planes.
All manner of solutions has been proposed, including whacky, whimsical-looking seats meant to enable quasi-isolation, as well as the introduction of transparent plastic hoods around each economy seat.
These proposals are unlikely to get off the ground. In reality, deep-cleaning and face masks may be the best executable solution.
The Internet has changed the competitive landscape for those in the airline business — and has provided opportunities to effectively harvest data so as to improve customer retention.
Leveraging big data, for instance, has been used to maximize the utility and profits of frequent flyer programs. These programs have become indispensable tools for airlines to manage their customer communications and engender brand loyalty.
In the post-pandemic world, each customer is incredibly valuable–and frequent flyer programs will be utilized to entice customers to repeatedly patronize the same airline.
Loyalty and customer incentive programs have become anchors of the airline business; United Airlines recently mortgaged its frequent flyer program to raise $5 billion in much-needed cash.
New problems beckon new innovations, and in turn, those innovations give rise to new concerns.
In the fog of war — amidst the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak — companies and governments eager to return to work rushed to purchase technologies intended to detect carriers of the virus.
What ensued was a bonanza for the makers of thermal scanners–even if those devices were not intended for the purpose of checking a person’s temperature. It proved that much treasure was spent on ill-advised machines unable to accurately detect infections.
Technology will have to come up with robots and heat sensors designed for use on and by humans. Like the x-ray machines introduced after 9/11, these technologies may invite privacy concerns.
Further, it’s been reported that a statistically significant percentage of virus-carriers are asymptomatic, thus posing the question: is the implementation of temperature-checks.
Body heat-sensors intended to truly stymie the spread of the virus, or is the purpose more to assuage the worries of an anxious public?
The challenges ahead are great — and the road to solving them will no doubt be a long one.
Yet, as the old adage goes, one door closes — and another opens. There is an abundance of opportunities for those able to innovate.
Airlines will need to be creative in how they achieve profitability while ensuring customers that airplanes are safe to fly. Airlines will need to invest in new technologies to screen passengers and clean the interiors of airplanes while reducing costs.
Some hotels have begun to keep rooms empty for as long as 72 hours in-between guests.
While this isn’t realistic for airlines, passengers will likely encounter a new normal of travel: strict, staggered check-in times; self-check-in without the aid of staff; and further weight restrictions.
As airlines will have no choice but to invest in new technologies enabling them to fly in a post-pandemic world, they will in turn need to cut costs by downsizing their workforces and minimizing in-flight service.
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