Travel has always been an undeniable part of our lives. Whether it is work-related, or for some leisurely time-off, it has gradually become a necessity. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the billion-dollar travel industry to an unprecedented halt. The world has shifted from flying among the clouds to surviving on the cloud! This has set the stage for changes unlike any we have ever known.
With over 90% of the world waiting to travel again, there is a considerable amount of onus on the industry to innovate by the standards of the new normal. The innovations that the industry will see in the future are likely to be digitised, making them smarter alternatives for the traveller. This will not only minimise average human contact, but also help one carry out tasks remotely in order to avoid crowded places. As borders open, here’s how we see a shift in several aspects of the travel process.
More time to plan
Planning a trip will be far more detailed now. Our search keywords and every move for our next journey will possibly be coded around caution, regulations, health and safety. Impromptu trips with little to no planning may be a miss for travellers in the future. People will be far more cognisant of the destinations they choose for their next vacation. And will plan ahead with advanced bookings, not just for accommodation but also for local commutes.
We may see a reverse trend as travellers bank more on trusted brands and hospitality chains with set standards of sanitation and hygiene instead of local homestays and public transport. Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence technology will also play a significant role in reassuring travellers about the surroundings they choose and necessary safety precautions, thus keeping their mind at ease and helping make informed decisions.
There will also be a high adoption of digital alternatives while on the trip. For example, digital payment through smartphones, wearables and near-field communication (NFC) enabled cards will see greater demand to not only enable a contactless system but also avoid rush at forex booths. Location-based information services that could help people with immediate medical support, quick reference directories, real-time local updates, etc. will also gain base and make the traveller more reliant on technology for planning, and for being prepared for their next journey.
Hello to more e-Gateways
With the reopening of essential domestic air travel, we can efficiently draw a roadmap for future international travel. Self-service kiosks, online check-ins, digital modes of identification, etc. have been greatly encouraged for air travel lately. They ensure minimum human touchpoints and this in turn minimises the chances of infection. Though, sanitising touchscreens after each use may be an effort for service providers.
Travellers will also be encouraged to look at digital options in processing documentation when the skies open for international travel. Solutions such as eVisas and ePassport gates allow essential travel documents to be digitally processed with added layers of data security.
The eVisa on Arrival digital solution, used by travellers to Thailand for example, is gaining popularity as it allows one to clear Visa On Arrival formalities at the destination airport, which is often a time-consuming process. Essentially, it enables the traveller to not just get visas remotely, but also reduce the turnaround timelines of the process.
On the other hand, ePassport gates that use facial recognition technology to verify the traveller’s identity against the data stored in the chip in their biometric passport will also help verify health risk beyond just security risk to the destination country. Global initiatives to ensure a smarter digitised traveller journey are also in play.
An interesting initiative ‘Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI)’ by the World Economic Forum brings together a global consortium of individuals, governments, authorities, and the travel industry to enhance security in global travel. KTDI allows people to manage their own profile and collect digital ‘attestations’ of their personal data, consensually allowing them to decide what data to share and when. The more attestations a user shares, the better it is for authorities to process the travel in a seamless and smooth manner.
To summarise, self-service will be a huge part of our new normal in the time to come.
Other than the effort of travelling from one place to another, the way one chooses accommodation and the services available for travellers at the destinations are also set to change. Travellers are bound to be cognisant of their belongings and make sure their baggage and other personal items are sanitised as well. Ultraviolet disinfection tunnels may be an option at entry points to ensure safety.
There could also be a rise in IoT-enabled baggage and other travel essentials so that one can track their belongings and be mindful of the objects it comes in contact with. On the other hand, digital hotel room keys that can allow you access without having to wait at crowded receptions are also sure to gain popularity. Bookings on digital avenues that allow individuals to plan travel remotely have over the years become a popular choice, but now, the value of these is far greater and more essential to the traveller today.
In the era to come, technology is surely set to be a strong influence on consumer behaviour as it provides a smarter, faster and safer way to travel. It will be interesting to see how incumbent travel and hospitality brands compete with newer travel tech brands, and which of these manage to capture the consumer sentiment and best adapt to the new normal.
Benjamin Boesch is the Chief Digital Officer at VFS Global.