Covid-19’s massive impact on the travel industry continues to present unique challenges and new opportunities for airports and airlines. According to a travel sentiment survey of Collinson’s Priority Pass airport lounge customers, 52 percent of respondents globally said the virus is likely to cause a decrease in future air travel, but they also cited a number of measures that would encourage future air travel confidence, including enforced social distancing, sanitizing protocols, and access to private areas like airport lounges.
The survey also indicated a willingness to fly. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they would be willing to fly in the next six months, while almost a quarter (24 percent) would be happy to fly immediately once the travel bans come to an end.
With its Priority Pass global airport lounge program, medical and security assistance services and loyalty and insurance expertise, Collinson aims to deliver peace of mind throughout the travel journey. SkiftX spoke with David Evans, joint CEO of Collinson, about how the company’s various divisions are coming together to help restore consumer confidence in travel and help give the industry and wider economy a welcome boost.
SkiftX: Covid-19 has impacted travel in profound and lasting ways. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry today?
David Evans: I’d put them in two categories: One area is changing government rules and regulations. Clearly, where you have strict cross-border controls in place, there’s very little cross-border movement. This issue will continue to be a blocker until governments can safely unlock their borders and put in place more sophisticated rules and procedures that enable healthy, uninfected individuals to travel. Key to this, is testing at airports.
The second thing that’s prohibiting travel is a lack of consumer confidence. People need to feel safe when they’re traveling. We are clearly a long way off the peaks of last Autumn, but a degree of confidence is returning around the globe. Regional variances in confidence levels correlate to what we’re seeing from governments, where rules change quickly. Without the security of knowing that rules and restrictions are not going to change significantly, with negative implications between the time they book and the time they travel, it is difficult to plan ahead.
We recently launched a ‘Global Travel Recovery Map’ which we hope will help travelers across the world keep an eye on key data such as Covid rates, airport testing availability and flight capacity. All with a view of helping to restore traveler confidence which we know is arguably at its lowest ever.
SkiftX: How can these challenges be met?
Evans: The premium experience has evolved from the simple luxury of enjoying a glass of champagne to travelers searching out clean and sterile environments that benefit from additional cleaning services. In hotels, people look for proof points, such as signs or stickers on the door that inform them that the room has been disinfected to a higher standard. When you break the seal to your door, there’s an extra layer of certainty that the room has been cleaned. Even though the room doesn’t look any different inside than it did last year, those indicators tell people, “This is safe and you don’t have to worry.” Once you’re inside, you can relax as if you’re at home.
At Collinson, we offer a breadth of products and services that touch the travel industry in many different ways. On the one hand, we’ve got years of experience looking after the luxury end of travel with our airport lounge proposition, delivering increased comfort for travelers throughout their airport journey. In another division of our business, we have over 50+ years of experience providing medical and security assistance services, with a team of experts that includes our very own global network of medical professionals, offering crucial travel advice, assistance and medical repatriation. What’s fascinating is how Covid-19 has fused these two areas of our business together, as safety comes more and more to the fore as part of the traveler experience. We also see Covid-19 reinforcing the power and value of loyalty and loyalty currency as a way of increasing engagement and value with customers who are currently starved of travel. They’re crucial mechanisms to re-build consumer trust, boost customer engagement and drive ancillary revenue for brands lacking transaction volumes and cross border spend.
SkiftX: How can robust in-bound testing encourage travelers to take to the skies again?
Evans: We’ve been talking with a number of airports around the world about how we can help them, and how we can bring our understanding of the airport ecosystem and our understanding of the medical ecosystem together.
Testing can help on a number of fronts. It gives comfort to the resident population and it reassures travelers passing through to know they’re not going to have to spend two weeks and several thousand dollars in a hotel room, or stuck somewhere other than their final destination. They can get on with their business trip or holiday with peace of mind and clarity.
Testing upon departure, where you travel with a “Covid-free” certificate, is a bit harder to do, but if we can get that rolling in time, people will know that everyone on the plane has had a test within the last 72 hours, and they’ll travel with confidence knowing they’re in an environment of people who are not asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
Testing is becoming the norm, and we’re also interestingly now seeing a huge spike in demand for corporate testing as brands look to tackle the challenges of welcoming back employees to a safe and productive working environment.
SkiftX: Any hurdles associated with scaling up in-bound testing at airports around the world?
Evans:Today, subject to government approval, we can do 13,000 tests a day at Heathrow and it’s our intention to offer more at various other terminals and airports across the UK and ROW. The beauty of the private sector supporting existing public national testing programmes is that we can offer extra scale, capacity and insights into understanding and controlling the virus. It’s a win-win situation for governments, public health and world economies. What’ll be very exciting to see is how digital technologies continue to blur with the physical environment as we all strive for a journey with maximum protection and minimal friction.
SkiftX: How can digital innovation in airport lounges help drive a contactless/touchless journey for travelers?
Evans: Our travel experiences division has been working on ensuring that we can accelerate a contactless journey. Priority Pass’ global network of lounges has always been seen as a haven of peace and tranquility. Now, with contactless entry, mobile food ordering and global lounge (health & cleaning) standards, they’re increasingly being seen as safe and clean zones. Sitting at the table and ordering food from a menu on your own phone has almost become a necessity for travelers.
SkiftX: How do all of these innovations and practical measures help increase loyalty?
Evans: It’s important for consumers to know a brand cares. If you know a brand is looking out for you, you get an emotional connection and trust builds. That proactive approach of saying, “We’re here. We’re doing this to look after your safety, your wellbeing,” is a message that resonates with consumers. There’s a brand positioning part around being proactive, honest and empathetic which is currently so key in restoring consumer confidence.
The other part is about being able to deliver personalized messages, rewards and benefits. It’s about getting people to use your apps and websites to engage and transact, building up vital data so that you can communicate in a value adding and personal way — a way that drives engagement and longer term loyalty. We run a number of large e-commerce earn and redemption stores, and it’s vital that we’re always aware of consumer and broader contextual trends to ensure we’re always offering the most value to our clients and their members/customers. It’s not just your normal travel inventory catalog. It’s about including a range of rewards, experiences and retailers that suit the member base, the wider world context and that offer immediate value in a world where travel is sadly currently not so accessible. It’s also imperative for boosting ancillary revenue for both travel and financial service brands who are currently feeling the impact of slowed economies and stunted transaction volumes.
Thinking from the consultancy side of our loyalty business, travel brands really need to ensure that they continue to engage and be relevant with their customers. For example, Virgin Atlantic and a number of other airlines are providing free Covid-19 insurance upon booking. We have a travel insurance business within our own space, and we’re working with our partners to include that Covid cover as well. I’d argue that loyalty programs have never been more relevant. They offer a vital lifeline of communication and engagement to restore trust and peace of mind for customers who are likely confused as to what the new normal will contain.
SkiftX: How will these innovations continue to serve the travel industry in a post-recovery world?
Evans: The brands that were able to stay in touch with their customers when their core travel product wasn’t available — by innovating and by providing relevant, personalized messaging — will be in the best position when travel recovers. All of these positive customer experiences, which are expressions of Collinson’s DNA in so many ways, are crucial to restoring traveler confidence. And they’re not necessarily going away post-recovery.
Covid-19 has further increased the focus on health and wellbeing within the travel journey and broader consumer mindset. Wellness has moved from being about de-stressing, relaxing, and getting a massage to being about the basics of health and hygiene and undoubtedly, both will be at the forefront of the travel experience for a long time to come.
Innovation comes from adversity, and the industry needs to take what it’s learned in its response to Covid-19 and continue to come together to ensure we’re ready for what the world presents next. I’d love to see that spirit of collaboration continue as we work hard to continue the travel recovery and look forward to undoubtedly better times ahead.
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