How the lessons of 2020 ultimately might make travel betterNovember 21, 2020
The conventional wisdom is that 2020 has nearly destroyed travel. And though it’s true that COVID-19 ruined vacations and took a wrecking ball to a large part of the industry, the conventional wisdom is wrong.
“Actually, the pandemic is making travel better in many ways,” says Clayton Reid, CEO of MMGY Global, a marketing company known for its research on consumer trends and travel.
“It’s forced travel companies to introduce innovative contactless service. They have new booking procedures and a commitment to cleanliness and safety. I believe these are long-term shifts.”
He’s right. Many of the positive changes appear to be here to stay. Among them:
Contactless service: The travel industry has made a massive push toward automation, introducing cleaning robots and apps that double as hotel room keys. In the future, you may not have to interact with staff when you travel unless you want to.
New booking policies: Travel companies have bent over backward to accommodate customers who want more flexibility during the pandemic. From “no-risk” bookings that you can cancel at the last minute to eliminating change fees, experts say the new rules could be here to stay.
Commitment to cleanliness and safety: Airlines, car rental companies and hotels have introduced programs that promise a cleaner experience. Delta’s CareStandard and Etihad Airways’ wellness, sanitization and safety program are standouts. These programs will almost certainly survive the pandemic.
The return of common sense: Instead of kowtowing to big spenders, travel companies introduced policies that made sense for everyone. Take airline boarding procedures, for example. “Most airlines have now adopted a much more intuitive approach to getting travelers on the plane, typically by boarding from back to front,” says Jeff Klee, CEO of Qtrip, an online travel agency. “This cuts down on personal contact, but also just makes for a more efficient experience. Definitely a win for those folks not in first class.”
Room to breathe: Before 2020, travel was crowded and cramped unless you had a fortune to spend. No longer. “Perhaps the most significant change is simply the reduction in travelers,” says Janet Moore, the president of Distant Horizons, a travel agency in Long Beach, Calif. “I know there is talk that once there is a vaccine, all will be fine. But too many travelers are wary of taking the vaccine, and that, I believe, will impact us for quite a bit longer than we might realize now.”
Safety-first policies: Remember when airlines had use-it-or-lose-it policies for sick passengers? That forced infected passengers to choose between losing money or exposing the entire cabin to infection. Sick passengers “used to sit next to you and cough and sneeze for hours,” remembers Phyllis Stoller, the president of the Women’s Travel Group, a small-group tour company. All it took was a pandemic, but airlines have stopped…