On January 10th, we published an article called The Future of Travel We Deserve. In it, we laid out the foundation necessary to implement innovation at scale. Four months later, in the face of Covid19, the urgency to apply technology at scale has grown exponentially. The difference is, now that same technology is needed for the survival of the travel industry, not simply for a great travel experience.
In a recent article written in Forbes, fellow travel expert, Cecilia Rodriguez, talks about the building blocks of the post-Covid travel we have been calling for over the past three years. The question before governments, agencies, and private companies is this: Is Covid-19 what we needed to build a seamless end-to-end travel experience?
Change How We Think
When we were building facial recognition boarding three years ago, one of our team members said he would love to travel without speaking to a single person on the way.
At the time, we laughed. And we discounted his statement. We told him he was a Millennial and that only a small portion of travelers thought like he did. But today, most travelers are thinking this way.
Before our landscape changed so radically, we told him that, yes, we absolutely could create the experience of traveling without having to speak to a single person. However, we did not have the public-private partnership in place to make it happen. We had U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but did not have TSA. We had the US data privacy figured out, but once we landed in another country, we did not have data sharing agreements there.
Then again, we did not have the demand for contactless service that we have now.
So, what is needed for safe travel post-Covid and how can we build that experience?
To start, let’s revisit the fundamentals. In 2016, we proved that self-service works. The lines in JFK Terminal 5 check-in lobby disappeared.
The kiosks that offer FULL self-service eliminate lines, expedite the check-in process, and make the travel experience seamless. We completed this program in six months. And it can be implemented across the world.
As travel begins to open, airports that do not have self-service check-in and bag drop (dropping your bag by yourself without the assistance of a person) will be at a serious disadvantage. The long lines that social distancing triggers will hurt their bottom line. Airlines will choose to fly to airports and destinations that provide safe experience. In the future, safe will mean seamless and contactless.
Promote Contactless Technology
To take things one step further, airports and airlines can build facial recognition in the kiosks. Effectively, this converts those kiosks into contactless self-service touchpoints.
We were planning to do this as part of the biometrics program in JetBlue; it is easily doable. Another path to upgrade basic self-service in airport lobbies is to look at airlines like IndiGo and Ryanair. These airlines have taken the next step. They make it so travelers only check-in on their apps. As a result, they have actually eliminated the check- in touchpoint altogether. What a safe way to travel in these times!
Utilize Facial Recognition to the Max
The power of facial recognition is grossly underrated. Thanks to current technology, it is possible to travel ONLY with our faces. The end-to-end journey exists. And it can be implemented in response to the new challenges and concerns that travelers, airlines, and airports face.
The tricky part is international travel, particularly the TSA touchpoint in the US. International travel can be solved by a standard that is issued by IATA. When it comes to data sharing, the devil is in the details.
Stakeholders become fearful when they hear the words data and sharing in the same sentence. But when we sit down and clarify what data is shared, how, and for how long, suddenly those same people relax and cooperate. Trust me when I say I know what I am talking about.
If I was able to figure out how to safely and securely share data with the US Government, you all can design data sharing agreements that respect the privacy of your traveler! Not to mention, now, the choices available to your traveler have changed.
Previously, we would ask questions like “Would you like to share your data to board faster?” Post-Covid, we will be asking “Would you like to travel? To do so you will need to share your data to board.” These are two very different questions. My sense is, our travelers’ answers will change, too.
Organizations that apply technology and innovation for cleaning and safety will benefit tremendously from post-Covid travel norms. We have already been contacted by entrepreneurs with innovative cleaning devices both for planes and trains. Additionally, one of our partners is putting together a data aggregator website that issues a “safety score” for destinations around the world.
Before Covid, such initiatives would have been low on everyone’s priority list. Today, these companies may be on the verge of becoming some of the biggest players in the future travel economy. Companies that utilize efficient cleaning technologies and offer peace of mind to future tourists are in the position to lead the market.
I would be remiss not to mention the regulators and standards that must be defined by internationally recognized authorities. People will feel safer and more secure traveling in a world in which international rules are uniformly agreed upon, than a world in which each country interprets a separate version of post-Covid travel.
Agencies and organizations have the responsibility to enable travel for all of us who want to tell the stories that keep human connection and understanding alive. These are the stories that travel creates.
Let’s not forget how important that is in the post-Covid equation. Despite the pandemic, we remain curious humans eager to learn and accept each other and our diverse geographies, cultures, traditions, and rituals. Travel is food for the soul. It is an underlying condition of peace and acceptance. Please, do not take this for granted. Do not allow fear to control our interactions and perceptions about the world and each other.
This a rare moment when technology is the answer to preserving humanity.
We are here to help!