Throughout the pandemic, the travel industry has longed for a return to “normal”. Now, with an impressive global vaccine rollout, an easing of global travel restrictions, and a steady increase in the number of daily travelers, the industry has found a new sense of optimism.
However, as the newly vaccinated begin to travel again, they quickly recall how much friction there was in travel before the pandemic: long airport layovers, lost baggage, customs formalities, protracted security checks, travel delays. flight and long lines for taxis, to name a few. This has been exacerbated by COVID-19, which has added new customer worries and concerns, operational complexities and a variety of government restrictions throughout the travel experience.
Unfortunately, the industry unfairly bears the brunt of the post-pandemic travel experience. Governments have not been able to align with a common framework for cross-border testing and vaccination and, as a result, airlines are serving as the front line of interaction with customers.
While changing government restrictions are beyond their control, airlines have the opportunity to work together to address this industry-critical issue – whether in adopting and improving the IATA Travel Pass initiative, the adoption of a third-party framework such as the Vaccine Certification Initiative, or at a minimum, a common set of standards within existing alliance partnership programs.
Cross-border certifications are a problem, but the industry must find ways to work together and remove friction from the traveler experience, otherwise customers will be discouraged from traveling again, retaining and spending elsewhere, and ultimately, to slow down the recovery.
Post-pandemic travel ready to be disrupted
In today’s environment, very few industries or businesses are immune to the threat of disruption. The travel industry is no stranger to this, as innovative digital brands like Airbnb and Uber have carved out their own territory in the industry and have some of the highest valuations in the industry. Major events and disruptions are strange, because big changes open up new opportunities for change.
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Industries that have accepted customer friction as part of day-to-day processes are ripe candidates for disruption. Disruptors often start by seeing a customer problem and relentlessly focus on solving it. In the process, they change the industry around them and become irreplaceable for customers. With so much friction injected into the post-pandemic travel experience, the industry is vulnerable as it enters the recovery with the manual, infrastructure and technology of the past.
At the same time, disruptors find advantage and scalability in technologies that help simplify these problems, creating new value in terms of cost, convenience, or interaction between services. While many parts of the world have closed their doors over the past year, technology has accelerated the pace of innovation.
Customers have turned to contactless technologies, embraced voice services, and are increasingly adopting connected devices and wearable devices. Artificial intelligence and machine learning applications have accelerated during the pandemic, unlocking individual personalization and redefining business processes. Labor shortages and COVID-19 restrictions have spurred the use of robotics and automation – with many airports using autonomous baggage transport or drones to help with aircraft inspections.
Of course, these are just a few of the changes underway, as much of the industry eagerly awaits the pandemic with both new opportunities and challenges presented by technological advancements over the past year.
“Frictionless” is the key to post-pandemic recovery
The travel industry can reduce friction in a number of ways to create a better customer experience that prioritizes new behaviors and concerns that emerged during the pandemic.
- Contactless interaction: While customers remain concerned about touching shared surfaces, technologies such as QR codes and contactless kiosks can be used. Southwest Airlines is using a new in-flight beverage ordering system using QR codes – the customer scans the code to find the edited beverage menu, selects their drink, and holds up their phone or fingers to indicate their order. AirAsia has also implemented several contactless procedures for essential travel, including contactless kiosks, the Passenger Reconciliation System (PRS), contactless payments at the airport, as well as improved functionality on its mobile app, Source.
In another example, Marriott recently rolled out a pilot program at select hotels with contactless check-in kiosks to enable check-in with antimicrobial technology and UV lamps. This is an evolution of their already market-leading experiences, with mobile check-in and check-out, mobile room keys and mobile service requests via real-time messaging available through the Marriott Bonvoy app. .
- Orientation and queues: For many, one of their biggest concerns after the pandemic is crowds and long lines, which are inevitable in places such as theme parks, casinos and museums. Technologies such as beacons and IoT can be used to monitor the flow and movement of people, providing ways to optimize operations or monitor distancing metrics. Another key tool to alleviate these sticking points is digital signage which can dramatically update, direct traffic, and provide customers with wait time expectations. Digital signage can be combined with mobile apps that provide step-by-step directions and interactive maps or enable unique brand moments with apps such as augmented reality or in combination with existing loyalty programs.
In order to help with long queues, virtual queuing can be implemented, and all of these technologies will become more and more prevalent as new internet technologies, such as 5G, continue. to evolve. For example, Universal Studios uses a virtual line system that allows guests and other members of their party to schedule a time to do specific rides, eliminating the crowded lines of pre-COVID hours.
- Planning before travel and before arrival: As consumers navigate the world of post-COVID travel, they are still unsure of the constantly changing rules and restrictions at destinations. For many, Google Search is the first place they look to find information about what they can and can’t do on their post-pandemic journey. Therefore, the most common queries related to “travel” are questions about “travel restrictions”. or “COVID tests”. Google Travel has been a leader in responding to this, as it integrates localized information from various sources into the pre-trip experience. Google has been steadily expanding its feature set, such as COVID-19 alerts alongside hotels and flights to notify customers if that location requires proof of vaccination or quarantine.
To respond to the shift towards car travelers last year, Google has integrated useful safety alerts into Google Maps to help travelers with cross-border checkpoints and restrictions. These are just a few examples where Google has responded to new post-pandemic sticking points and gone beyond static pre-arrival email to help travelers.
- Biometric identification and health checks: For those who have traveled overseas after the pandemic, many remember the new protocols, checkpoints and forms as a series of new bottlenecks, contributing to longer wait times, additional operational costs. and, ultimately, increased stress for travelers.
Many leading travel companies have started testing and deploying new technologies like facial recognition, and health screening tools like thermal imaging cameras can help speed up traffic. Miral, the company behind historic developments and destinations such as Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, recently announced its cutting-edge FacePass initiative which will allow theme park visitors to access parks and attractions and to ” make payments using facial recognition as well as other methods, including mobile. . This is facilitated by the Yas Island mobile app and linked to ticketing systems and turnstiles at parks and attractions on the island, which will allow customers contactless access at entry points and contactless payment via facial recognition in some stores and restaurants.
Airports have accelerated their adoption of temperature scanning technologies, with the aim of monitoring and slowing the spread of the virus. In Dallas, London, Cancun and others, airports have tested facial recognition thermal imaging technology to monitor the temperature of people passing through the airport and security.
The pandemic has clearly accelerated the adoption and use of technology in a variety of industries and has a vital role to play in making the world travel again. However, it is important that travel companies do not try to use solutions to find problems, but rather focus on ways to improve the customer experience.
The travel industry shouldn’t envision a return to normalcy, but rather rebuild itself with the future in mind. As we emerge from the crisis, consumers will increasingly be willing to embrace technological solutions that will ultimately save them money, time or friction and shift brand loyalty towards companies that seamlessly combine these physical and digital interactions. Adopting such technologies will not only help regain consumer confidence, but will ultimately make the difference between a slow or elastic recovery for the industry.
About the Author…
David Taylor is responsible for Global Strategy and Consulting, Travel and Hospitality Industry Publicis Sapient.