By Brent Blake, President, Acendas Travel
“The virus will tell us.”
Who can forget the now famous quote by Dr. Tony Fauci, the inspirational director at the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, when asked about the removal of restrictions on public gatherings.
That was then, and still is now, the correct answer. But, with all due respect to Dr. Fauci, I would add an asterisk to that response, especially when it comes to travel. In my opinion, the return of travel will come when the customer tells us.
I get it. That’s a simple analysis and one that appears all too obvious.
What I am actually saying is travel will return when the customer has trust in the process. That means there will be a reduction in the spread of the virus to an acceptable level and that customers accept the efforts of the industry to minimize the risk of contracting it. That includes everything from the airport experience, to the flight, ground transportation, dining options, meetings, events and other aspects of the journey.
Trust is a powerful force. I contend it’s the most critical factor in business success. If the customer does not trust that you can deliver, they won’t purchase your product or service. It takes a herculean effort to repair a broken trust.
This is not to imply that the travel industry is at fault in the recent pandemic. Truth be told, historically travel has improved and become much more safe and efficient, even as volume continues to grow each year. But like other extended interruptions due to weather, political unrest or disease, the industry has had to react to forces not of its own doing and enact measures to restore traveler trust. That happened through technological innovation, implementing new safety protocols and enhancing traveler tracking measures.
As we look to the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, we see various actors in the travel chain are implementing changes to address challenges brought on by the Coronavirus. Airport workers are wearing masks, social distancing from travelers and increasing personal protection. Airlines are enhancing plane disinfecting processes, loading travelers first from the rear of the plane, limiting the number of passengers and not selling middle seats. Hotels are enhancing sanitization efforts and cleanliness as well.
I would not be surprised to see even more automation of the process to reduce human interaction. For example, there will likely be less hotel front desk interactions, possible elimination of room service and other self-service options. Health precautions will become more obvious such as personal protection attire, additional hand sanitizer stations and even non-invasive temperature checks.
At first, these changes might be hard to accept and cause confusion. But as we experienced after 9/11 when we began to take off our shoes when going through airport security, we became accustomed to change. In fact, through these efforts we gain a greater sense of security and appreciate that others are watching out for our best interests.
It is incumbent of every player in the travel industry to work together to build traveler trust and confidence. Author Shane Snow lays out the basic formula. It starts with benevolence – having other people’s best interests at heart. Next, you add integrity to the process – doing what you say you will do. And lastly, we demonstrate ability – the smarts and competence in what you are doing.
I am encouraged by what I see from the industry in response to the pandemic. I believe travelers will respond positively and be accepting of their new normal. As trust builds, so will business.