Industry News

COVID-19: Lessons learned in the travel industry

COVID-19 has changed the airline, cruise and hotel industries, possibly forever. Hotels are vacant across the globe, air travel is at an all-time low since 9/11 and cruises are suffering greatly. The pandemic is causing a global economic slowdown, with travel and hospitality especially hard hit, however, these industries have an important role to play in the economy’s recovery, both now and in the future. Here are some of the changes that are in store as a result of lessons learned.

Air travel

The pandemic has drawn attention to the use of high-efficiency particulate air filters aboard aircrafts, and airlines have embraced enhanced cleaning regimens and procedures such as the use of fogging disinfectant are expected to continue into the future. HEPA filters remove almost all airborne particles, and helping passengers understand the level of filtering of in-cabin air during flights may help airlines attract consumers in the future.

Looking ahead, leisure travel is expected to remain slow, but effective communication is one way for airlines to ease the minds of flyers. According to Forbes, airlines can speed up the recovery rate by having a dialogue regarding travelers’ concerns about contagion on aircraft.

One lesson for the future: The importance of reassuring passengers.

Ocean voyage

Cruise ships are now taking new steps to make customers more comfortable with the idea of traveling. For example, cruise lines are now modifying booking and cancellation policies. In the future, these policies are likely to be less restrictive.

Seabourn, which is planning on resuming business in May, now has a “Book with Confidence” policy. For any travelers nervous about boarding a cruise, they’ll have up to 48 hours to cancel. Princess Cruise Lines is reducing deposits to keep customers feeling safe and secure about their travels and purchases.

“The travel industry is no stranger to disruptions, unfortunately,” according to Misty Belles of Virtuoso. “From hurricanes and terror attacks to global financial meltdowns, it has weathered many storms, in large part because it bands together toward a common goal: the best interests of travelers. It will continue to learn from this experience and put new policies in place to protect the health and welfare of passengers and crew.”

Another key lesson for cruise lines is to review and revamp health protocols. Going forward, the cruise industry has learned to put more emphasis on sanitation procedures, screening passengers more thoroughly and preventing infections onboard. Cruise lines are also considering how to better evacuate passengers in case of an emergency.

“Reducing, and ideally eliminating, the possibility of sick passengers getting on board a cruise ship will require more vigilance at ports and the removal of incentives for ill travelers to show up in the first place,” according to Robert Kwortnik, an associate professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration

Accommodations

The hotel industry is experienced at crisis response and plays an important role during natural disasters and health-related crises such as the SARS outbreak and now COVID-19. Today’s pandemic is having an impact on social responsibility -- what it means for corporations to protect the environment and give back to the communities in which they do business.

The Alabama Newsletter predicts companies that give back during the coronavirus pandemic will reap rewards in the future from grateful customers. Intentional or not, these businesses are improving their image. 

Hilton, for example, has partnered with American Express to provide 1 million hotel rooms for medical workers.

Beyond showing support for communities during a crisis, hotels are responding to guest needs and providing additional perks to keep guests both comfortable and coming back after the pandemic.

“Asia-Pacific learned a lot by going through the SARS experience, and as a result, most had a plan for facing some of the same challenges,” hotel operations expert Sherri Kimes told Skift. Hotels in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe have created “value adds” for guests. For example, hotel guests in Singapore will receive credit for a future stay within a year or receive a free ride to the airport.

Another lesson for hotels? Don’t cut rates too deeply.

“Studies have shown that hotels that are the fastest to drop their rates and who drop their rates the deepest can be the last ones to recover when demand comes back,” said Dan Skodol, a hospitality and travel industry revenue manager at Cendyn. “When demand comes back, the more lucrative customers like business travelers and event or wedding planners will be reticent to accept price hikes.”

Another lesson: Understand your competition. 

“You’ll especially want to re-evaluate who you’re really competing against if your value proposition has changed because you’ve temporarily shut down your food and beverage or spa, for example,” according Jens Munch, CEO of Pace, a hospitality tech firm.

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