Companies must prepare to be ready to emerge from the respond and recover phases of the crisis, says Deloitte lead partner for travel and aviation Alistair Pritchard

The impact of Covid-19 has been felt across all industries but, as international borders closed and airlines forced to ground fleets, the travel and aviation sector has been particularly hard-hit.

As we navigate through the first, ‘respond’ phase of the pandemic many businesses have swiftly adapted for the immediate months ahead. With economic activity not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until the second half of 2022, the ‘response’ phase will be followed by an initial 10 to 18 month ‘recover’ phase before paving the way for the final, ‘thrive’ phase, where organisations can establish the roles in which they wish to play in future.

Whilst there are likely to be more changes ahead between ‘responding’ and ‘thriving’, businesses can start gearing up now for the opportunities that may also present themselves.

The merging of travel, border and health

As a largely fragmented industry, one of the greatest challenges is the inconsistencies that currently exist. As the industry responds to Covid-19, these inconsistencies are likely to be amplified. For example, by differing health requirements and procedures across source markets and destinations.

These are policy-driven at a macro, governmental level but also process- and operations-driven at an individual supplier level. Striving for consistency in defining health requirements and procedures in response to Covid-19 will help operators and consumers alike.

Increased cleaning and readily available PPE has already been introduced but, as we move towards recovery, more measures will be required to help further restore consumer confidence. At a technology level, this includes simple health screenings and temperature checks, already deployed in some geographies.

At the same time, communicating upgrades to health and safety procedures can further contribute to passenger confidence as borders reopen for international travel. Digital health passports that are linked to digital identity and can provide updated, verified passenger health data are also a potential for the future.

Creating contactless passenger experiences

Throughout the outbreak, we have seen shops take more contactless payments to reduce the spread of the virus through touch. In the travel ecosystem, replication for contact to be removed from each “touchpoint” is also possible. Contactless devices can be implemented throughout the passenger’s experience, from entrances, to check-in kiosks and bathrooms.

Advancements in multi-modal biometric technology mean that the same can also be used at security, where even fingerprints can be captured without contact. The technology is available and presents a real opportunity for organisations to create a faster, seamless and, most importantly, safer experience for customers.

Increased collaboration and data sharing

Collaboration and data sharing between tour operators, travel agents, airlines, airports and border agencies could be an important tool as businesses look to recover. Combined, these tools can be used to streamline borders, and help facilitate other opportunities.

For example, where passenger biometrics can be safely shared between organisations they can create a contactless passenger experience by reducing the usual touchpoints.

Increased organisational resilience

Responding to the current pandemic has required many organisations to quickly put in place stronger organisational resilience measures, not just for today but also to guard against similar shocks in future.

As well as robust operational resilience, having a multi-skilled workforce, able to adapt and be deployed to meet changing customer need, will be critical going forward. Data-driven decision making will be key to this, from optimising staff rotas, to matching resources to passenger demand.

Above all, understanding and maintaining good health and wellbeing of staff is paramount. Those organisations that can monitor and focus on this at times of uncertainty are likely to be best-placed to thrive.

Innovation of commercial model

Consumers are emerging from global lockdowns in a more cautious mood, and reduced demand may continue until a vaccine is available, or at least until consumer confidence can be reasonably restored. For the travel industry, a need to innovate and diversify revenue streams has never been so important.

There is an opportunity to create new products and services to attract and retain customers with new operating models that reflect the changing demand. Organisations that can effectively model and analyse future scenarios will have the opportunity to create commercial models that are robust in the face of future challenges.

The ‘new normal’

Times have changed and the impact of Covid-19 has been far-reaching. Nonetheless, there remain opportunities to transform so that businesses can still thrive in future.

Advancements in technology mean that contactless customer experience can be implemented. The potential is there for data sharing to support this, if organisations choose to collaborate.

The lessons learnt from the current pandemic also place a greater emphasis on the employee experience and allow organisations to be more resilient in the future, especially if they diversify and innovate their commercial models.

There is the opportunity to play an important role in defining health requirements and procedures as well as contribute to the increased safety and confidence for passengers when travelling.