Masks and Passenger Locator Forms expected to remain long-term

The travel experience has changed enormously due to Covid-19, but requirements such as face masks and Passenger Locator Forms (PLFs) could prove longer lasting.

That is according to Danielle Rawson, Deloitte head of travel, who gave her view in the Travel Weekly Insight annual report 2021-22, compiled in partnership with the consultancy firm.

Rawson suggested: “Passenger Locator Forms and masks will likely remain in play certainly throughout the winter and possibly into next summer if not longer.

“Part of the reason is you have multiple rules in place, from departure location to destination, neither of which can control the movement of a passenger and what they do and, if they catch the virus, how far they spread it.

“Certainly at the moment the PLF is useful. If there is a new variant it is going to be the method by which its spread can be tracked.”

Deloitte associate director Ed Knight agreed, saying: “I’d be surprised to see countries willingly give up the data on visitors if they can obtain it in a straightforward manner.”

However, he noted: “The burden seems to be on the airlines to collect this information. Governments have to do relatively little. I’m not sure the airlines would be happy about retaining this long into the future.”

What about all the additional cleaning and disinfecting?

Knight said: “It’s difficult to roll back on additional levels of hygiene, though you might not see quite such a visible display of cleaning before you sit down at a restaurant table.”

Rawson agreed, pointing out: “Pre-Covid, how often were the handles of a supermarket trolley cleaned? Now there is an expectation they’re cleaned. To get rid of these protocols will be difficult.”

In last year’s Travel Weekly Insight annual report, Rawson suggested the pandemic would act as a catalyst for digital transformation. She acknowledges this hasn’t happened to the extent expected, arguing: “Businesses are coming out of the pandemic with cash-strapped balance sheets. Has a transformation to the ‘enabled traveller’, being able to travel almost with just a mobile, happened? No. But it will happen. We’ll see a digital, seamless travel journey emerge in the next few years.

“It will be technology firms that aren’t in the travel space which develop the technology. I don’t see travel firms investing heavily in technology at the moment.”

Knight added: “We tend to focus on consumer-facing technology. But transformation will need to happen in the back office.

“For example, we might need to change the way a tour operator connects with multiple destinations to change bookings at short notice. There is a whole host of data and technology issues that need to be solved to help businesses deal with greater uncertainty in travel.”

He sees flexibility remaining key to attracting customers, saying: “Once you’ve had the benefit of changing your mind and knowing your money hasn’t gone, it’s difficult to change that flexibility. I see that being a key factor in who consumers choose to book with.

“I don’t see how it’s going to be possible to restrict that once you’ve offered it.

“That feeds back into the way contracts are made between operators and hotels, the way guarantees and deposits are structured, and the way in which business is done. It’s going to need to be reviewed at a pretty fundamental level.”

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