If you missed our webinar “Managing the New Normal: How Travel Will Look in 2021 and Beyond”, check it out here. Read on for our key insights on the future of travel!
Remember what travel was like in the 1990s? Your friends and family could go past the security gates and see you off. You could bring water through security. You didn’t need to remove your shoes or take your laptop out of your bag. All that changed in the aftermath of 9/11. Now, we’re used to going through body scanners, saying goodbye to our loved ones in the main hall, and putting all of our 100ML (or less) liquids in clear bags.
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last year will have an equally disruptive impact on the travel industry. Flights were grounded and hotels closed their doors as we all went into lockdown. There are conversations around vaccine passports. We need to take PCR tests 72 hours before departure. We have to wear masks and have our temperature checked as we board a flight. Needless to say, the travel and tourism industry won't be the same as it was pre-pandemic.
As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more readily available, people are regaining their confidence in world travel. They are, however, still unsure of what the future holds. What will processes at airports be like? How will we check-in at hotels? What will travel look like in a post-pandemic world? To answer all these questions and more, we caught up with Julie White, VP of Commercial EMA at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; Gary Kershaw, Country Manager UK & Ireland at Qatar Airways; and Mustapha Mokass, CEO and Co-Founder of CovidPass.
Here are a few of our key takeaways.
Hygiene will be synonymous with safety
Hotels have always prioritized hygiene. In our new reality, it’s not just about being hygienic. It’s also about giving these sanitization practices visibility. You can expect a lot of health and safety protocols to be an active part of your stay at any hotel. Whereas before that was taken for granted, now travelers need the assurance that this is being implemented. Things like social distancing markers and other visible signage will become part of a hotel’s landscape.
The same will be true for airplanes. The airline industry has always been known for safety—and that now extends into hygiene. At Qatar Airways, for example, cabin crews have been wearing full PPE since the outbreak of the pandemic. Cabins are being cleaned with ultraviolet light between every flight. All air travel passengers are required to wear face masks at all times, and in some cases, even visors. While flight attendants in full PPE might just be a short-term trend, it’s going to stick around for the foreseeable future. Don’t expect to take those masks off on domestic travel or international travel any time soon.
Don’t expect safety measures to be the same everywhere you go
Every country has the right to implement its own travel restrictions. Social distancing, for example, is set at 1 meter in some countries and 2 meters in others. Nations like Slovenia and Iceland are already allowing travelers vaccinated with their second dose to enter with no self-quarantine requirements. Others, like Germany or Italy, are fully closed for travel. These regulations change all the time, and you shouldn’t expect that to be standardized just yet. That’s why travel agencies, companies, and managers should work with a travel management tool that either provides this information at the point of booking or that offers an API featuring travel restrictions that you can integrate straight into your own platform.
The same holds true for hotels. The Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, for example, span 9000 properties in over 90 countries. There can’t be a blanket policy covering all of those hotels and resorts because of the differing legal frameworks in place in each country. The company has implemented a brand-level protocol that embraces and complements these differences. Protocols and requirements in your current city are going to be different when you start crossing borders. Travelers, travel agents, and travel managers should be aware of these differences and adapt accordingly.
You will need some kind of health certification wherever you go
Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. More and more doses of the coronavirus vaccine are being administered every day. That being said, people will travel before vaccine roll-out is complete around the world. That’s where a solution like CovidPass comes into play.
Travelers around the world will need to present proof that they are negative for COVID-19. With CovidPass, travelers can go to a certified laboratory to and get a PCR test. A QR code will be generated, which will show that a traveler is COVID-19-free. You’ll actually use tools like this in the same way that you use an entrance ticket for a concert or a conference! You’ll simply present your QR code before boarding a flight, for example, that will give you access based on a negative COVID-19 test result. That way, airlines can certify COVID-free flights.
Wondering about your data privacy? Don’t worry, your health and personal data will remain with the health institutions. It will be entirely encrypted and will just serve as a certification system. The only data anyone outside of health institutions will have is “access granted”, or “access denied”!
Technology will be even more present when we travel
Technology is going to help reshape the way we travel, and we’re going to adjust to this new reality through innovation. It will bridge the gap between staying safe from infection and resuming a normal social life with other people. Human connections will be enabled and facilitated by technology.
So, what’s that going to look like? As we just covered, you’ll have a digital certification of your health status. You’ll use QR codes for more than your PCR test results. They’ll become commonplace for reading menus, or selecting wellness treatments in hotels. Contactless technology will rule the day through things like digital hotel room keys, digital check-in both at hotels and on planes, and touchless in-flight entertainment systems. You’ll start seeing things from science fiction movies come to life. Disinfection robots are already wandering around airports sanitizing common spaces and luggage with UV lights!
The days of check-in counters at airports are gone
Chances are, you probably won’t be able to check-in at an airport counter again any time soon—maybe even at all! Your global travel experience at airports will be quite different. Crowding is going to have to be managed so that all passengers in transit are able to maintain social distancing. In an attempt to limit this kind of crowding, travelers will be expected to check-in onlinebefore they arrive at the airport. Digital boarding passes will minimize a passenger’s interaction with common-touch spaces and other people. Bag drop-off counters, for now, are here to stay.
Passengers will finally have to stay seated before and after a flight
Remember when the nice lady at the check-in counter for your flight to New York would call rows 21-35 to board, and then everyone from rows 1-35 would get up and queue? Or when the flight just landed, and the “fasten your seatbelt” light has barely gone off before everyone jumps up to grab their bags from the overhead bins? That’s not going to happen anymore.
You will be required to stay seated and only board when your rows are called. The race to get off the plane will be a thing of the past. Controlling the movement of passengers as they board and disembark the plane is essential in mitigating person-to-person contact. And although you might not think so, it’s going to make getting on and off the plane so much quicker.
No, hospitality and luxury are not gone
With all this talk of technology and contactless experiences, it’s natural to wonder what will happen to hospitality. The human service is what makes these experiences special, and we’re happy to report that this won’t go away anytime soon. It might just be a little different in certain places.
Airlines like Qatar Airways are finding new ways to make this luxury travel service safe and seamless. Every seat in business class in the Qatar Airways Qsuite, for example, has its own personal cabin with a little door. The quality of the in-person service won’t change, as hospitality professionals have this incredible soft-skill of understanding who wants attention and when.
You’re going to start booking flexible rates for everything
The new normal is all about expecting the unexpected. It’s about being adaptable, and ready to respond to change. Travel brands and suppliers, like airlines and hotels, will adapt to this new customer need—or risk losing business. The more restrictive a provider is, the later people will actually make reservations in their booking journey.
There’ll be options for this. You might want to carry out a booking cancellation, and get a refund. You might just want to change aspects of your trip, or even rebook it. Whatever you’re looking for, these travel companies will look after their customers and ensure that they get everything they need.
For business travelers and travel managers, this goes even further. Working with a travel management company that does this for you can save you both time and money. Flexibility in booking processes is going to be a staple of the new normal. That’s why you need to think about how to best integrate this straight into your business travel policy.
You should learn what “hybrid” means. It’s not going anywhere
“Hybrid” has been the word of the year. It’s basically the idea of mixing face-to-face and digital interactions. As we go further into a post-COVID world, we’re going to have to start thinking about hybrid protocols. How can we bring people together and keep them safe at the same time?
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has the answer for Hybrid Meetings! They offer a combination of technology and reconceptualization of hotel meeting spaces to enable hybrid meetings connecting teams across the world. Many of their hotels, which traditionally catered to the Meetings and Events industry, have invested in new capabilities and protocols to produce high quality, interactive hybrid meetings and events, joining the best of both worlds in unique and exciting ways.
With the rise of the digital nomad and the “work from anywhere” (we've all seen those lucky few working on boats in the Caribbean), some hotels are also adapting to enable in-person and virtual working experiences. Lobbies and meeting spaces are being repurposed to cater to different groups and needs. Smaller conference rooms for individual use or small groups will become more common.
Green is the new black!
Sustainability is going to have a major seat at the table going forward. The coronavirus pandemic awoke a sort of "collective consciousness" on sustainability, and made businesses worldwide reflect on their business models. Whereas before it was more of a dormant topic, it's now a priority for companies and their employees.
They are already weaving responsible travel into their business travel policies. Employees are placing more and more importance on doing good for their society and the environment. That's why companies are looking for travel management providers who empower them to do just that. Through initiatives like offsetting C02 on each flight taken, or offering electric cars for business road trips, this will be a staple going forward. Sustainable tourism will also gain significant traction, as people look to more isolated, nature escapes to avoid destinations known for overtourism.
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