Comment: Travel can be more convenient after Covid

Recovery from pandemic is an opportunity to accelerate technological advancement, says Simon Armstrong, of accountancy firm Menzies

The constant chopping and changing of global travel restrictions during the pandemic has caused major disruption for the travel industry.

As more routes open up and restrictions ease for some travellers, the sector is fully focused on recovery. But are airport operators and travel companies ready to capitalise on the commercial opportunities coming their way?

Despite the significant hardship it has caused for the travel industry, the pandemic has accelerated technological advancements and created opportunities to develop new propositions to meet consumers’ needs.

For example, the way people manage and spend foreign currencies has changed during the pandemic, due to increased use of contactless payments and the shift to a cashless society.

Travellers can now benefit from greater convenience when dealing with multiple currencies by using flexible multi-currency bank cards or accounts.

Similarly, the development of ‘digital passports’ and ‘digital health wallets’, more commonly known as ‘health passports’, is progressing, with some airlines and airports already employing biotechnology such as fingerprint or retina scanning.

Ultimately, the industry has an opportunity to facilitate seamless international travel across jurisdictions using a sole ‘digital passport’ – this will require collaboration and standardisation across the whole industry and related infrastructure. As restrictions ease and passenger numbers increase, so will demand for further advancements in this area.

To help drive decision making in the day-to-day management of sites, airport operators are increasingly taking advantage of the vast numbers of data ’touchpoints’ that can be assessed. From the use of lifts, escalators, stairways, and corridors, through to the flow of travellers (time at check-in, travel time to gate, time at gate, etc), this data can be captured and analysed to provide a real-time view of the airport.

Armed with accurate data dashboards, operational teams can monitor usage and manage resources more efficiently. For example, if an air bridge, elevator, or escalator malfunctions, travellers can be diverted swiftly and safely using digital signage.

For airport planners, technology can help to achieve a more seamless passenger experience.

More efficient check-in and identification procedures can be reached by using biometric supported services such as digital face scans, which are already widely used on mobile phones.

Furthermore, greater focus on sustainability and the environmental impact of travel will be key in encouraging an increasingly green-minded population to travel. Building airports with access to high-speed rail connections for example, could help to reduce demand for emissions-heavy, short haul flights.

The airport of the future will also need to allow passengers to create ‘shareable experiences’ to increase awareness and allow clear communication and messaging to reach potential travellers, helping to promote the travel experience.

While it is important to make the most of advancing technological efficiencies, as a service-based sector, the personal touch and historical glamour of flying must be maintained.

Staff within the industry will therefore need to be trained and supported on the software and technology, whilst maintaining exceptional customer service skills.

During the pandemic, and to support recovery, the industry has played an important role in assisting businesses with their duty of care for travelling employees. This focus on meeting the needs of businesses and business travellers must continue – helping them to feel as safe as possible while travelling, maintaining best practice in cleaning procedures, embracing touchless technology, and promoting visible safeguards against the spread of the virus.

Offering opportunities for human connection and fulfilling life experiences, travel can play an important role in improving people’s health and wellbeing. This is something that social media, Zoom, nor any other virtual medium can recreate in quite the same way.

By harnessing technologies to address travellers’ concerns, improve efficiency and enhance the travel experience, businesses in the travel industry can map out a brighter future.

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