Post-Covid-19 Travel Industry Evolution
We can all conclusively agree that the current situation is affecting the travel industry severely, so I don't want to focus too much on the economic part, as I'm personally experiencing "virus fatigue".
Instead, what I want to talk about is how the travel journey will be changing and how airports, airlines, and more particularly, hotels have taken the necessary steps to respond to these changes. Below, you'll see an overview of changes you should be expecting, all drawn from interactions with various stakeholders in the hospitality and travel space.
In line with Amara Marketing's (2020) approach, let’s begin with a simple categorization of the travel journey into 5 stages:
The Dreaming stage during which you consider the destination, will now be significantly affected by the policies implemented by individual countries, in order to protect its citizens and travelers. Governments that did not act accordingly, were not transparent enough, or did not sufficiently communicate on the matter will surely be disregarded, and other travel destinations will take center stage.
Once the destination is picked, the Planning stage commences and travelers begin actioning the rest of tick-list: the airline, the hotel, which sights to visit, at what restaurants to eat, etc.
When all of that is decided, travelers move to the most crucial step: Booking! This is when the traveler's final decisions are made and the vacations are set in stone. Booking the flight in particular, could prove tricky - travelers might be surprised by ticket prices surging by as much as 50%, as flight regulations might enforce social distancing during flights, and some direct flights might not be available anymore. Simply put, fewer seats booked means a higher price per seat.
Aside from the flight, booking accommodation is highly critical. According to research from Sullivan & 20|20 (2017), the top criteria for a traveler to pick a hotel used to be:
Value for Money
Ease and Reliability of Booking
This might not come as a surprise, but accommodation details and communicating on hygiene, cleanliness, and sanitization is going to become a lot more important. Booking platforms such as Agoda have already adapted by prioritizing cleanliness ratings (see below), while hotels are communicating extended cleaning procedures such as Hilton (read HERE) and their new standard of cleanliness.
With most of the pre-travel items out of the way, travelers then move to the Experiencing stage. In other words, it's GO time!
First Stop: The Airport
Most airports have already introduced measures for the few people traveling at the moment. These include:
Between one and two-meter social distancing at all times
Hand-sanitizers distributed throughout the airport
A more even spread of passengers across terminals
Full-body disinfectant devices which can sanitize users within 40 seconds, using sprays that kill bacteria and viruses on skin and clothing
Autonomous cleaning robots that move around killing microbes by zapping them with ultraviolet light
Electronic check-in kiosks will become standard
Thermal detection screening
Just like post-9/11, the process of passing through airports is likely to take longer because of stricter checks.
“Immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” would enable individuals to travel or to return to work, assuming that they are protected against re-infection
Rapid Covid-19 blood tests with results within 10 minutes
All this raises a lot of questions around ethics, freedom, and personal data; we can expect to see debates and decisions in the months to come (read more on this HERE).
On The Plane
Airlines have also taken measures to protect their travelers, as well as their staff:
Flight attendants will be wearing masks and gloves.
Cleaning procedures will have been significantly stepped up, which is a positive thing when you look at airplane nightmares, just read THIS headline
Social distancing might be enforced. Delta and EasyJet have said they would at least temporarily eliminate the middle seat, in order to allow a safe distance between passengers and those who are not part of their travel party. Aircraft designers are also looking at installing plastic screens between seats
Full personal protective equipment (PPE) - Korean Air plans to issue cabin crew with gowns, gloves, and eye masks to their crew
No on-board alcohol /snacks - pack your lunch!
Hopefully, with the exception of cleaning procedures, we can expect most of the above measures to be withdrawn at some point.
At the Hotel
I want to focus on hotels in this article, but a quick mention of Airbnb - the apartment rental from individual owners might become less attractive. While hotels, as we will see below, are implementing strict cleaning and sanitization rules, trust in individuals will be more challenging.
Here is a quick list of hygiene, cleanliness, and sanitization procedures which have been taken by hotels:
Compendiums, flyers, even mini-bars, or coffee stations will disappear while face-to-face staff-to-guest interactions will likely be reduced. On certain surfaces, corona-viruses can live up to 5 days - this includes paper and print, for example.
Services such as in-room tablets or smartphones available for guests during their stay will become necessary to replace interaction with hotel staff via chat and call - centralizing information in one place will require hotel staff to quickly clean one item, rather than having to go through thousands of printed pages each day. In other words, guests will now learn about the happy hour via a digital notification.
We will see the rise of contactless check-ins and check-outs, Guests will be able to check-in, choose their room, access their room with a digital room key and check-out using their mobile devices through mobile apps in most hotel chains.
Hotel gym-access will require advance bookings to respect social distancing, and those bookings will have to be processed digitally.
"If it is green it does not clean" might become relevant again, and professionals are likely to park their environmentally conscious behavior to please the needs of travelers.
24-hour quarantine of the room - the cleaners will enter the room a day after the guest checks out. While this will affect room availability, we can expect hotels to offer significantly better rates for longer stay visitors.
Labels like ‘Sanitized For You’ would need to be placed on all room elements like glassware, toiletries, etc. by the housekeeping teams.
UV light air purifiers will likely be placed in common areas such as the lobby.
No more buffets - individual portions/ in-room breakfasts will be more prioritized - hotels will need to be digitally equipped to both advertise the availability of in-room dining options and to serve guests.
We will see larger deployments of thermal scanners and temperature checks, mandatory masks for staff and more.
Finally, the Sharing stage is defined by travelers' willingness and need to share their experiences. Who does not share their favorite drinks, sights and more on social media?
People not only want to travel but want others to know how lucky they are. Reversely, when an experience is bad, people are even keener on sharing it on social media outlets. In that sense, all travel-oriented establishments have now got to be extremely careful that their staff are implementing and respecting hygiene, cleanliness, and sanitization procedures.
As an example, individuals might actually carry blue lights, and hotels not enforcing strict cleanliness procedures might get publicly shamed.
In conclusion, travel will come out of hibernation for sure, but the first few months or even years will require industry players to be alert to the needed adjustments.