Covid-19 hit the travel sector like a severe bout of turbulence on an otherwise smooth flight. The industry has been severely damaged but innovation, leadership and technology - especially Irish technology - will accelerate a global recovery in 2021. Here are the key trends to watch out for.
1. You will need another 'passport'
Airlines, hotels and tour operators were forced to play the waiting game throughout 2020, but the introduction of testing and immunity 'passports' could jump-start travel needs. Irish firm LetsGetChecked has been the pioneer in this space, partnering with American Airlines to trial end-to-end testing that has been extended to multiple destinations to reopen travel. With vaccines now being administered, we also know that many countries and airlines will insist on proof of vaccination to travel.
Meanwhile, Daon has teamed up with American Airlines and Denver International Airport to deploy VeriFLY, an app that provides real-time digital credentials to allow users seamless, touch-free transactions. In essence, it's an immunity passport so people can travel.
2. Hygiene will be make or break
Anyone getting on a plane or checking into a hotel is going to insist on the highest possible standards when it comes to hygiene. Accordingly, travel operators will have to be seen to be doing everything possible to protect their customers.
EI client CW Applied Technology provides hospital grade sterilisation for hotels through UV light technology, while others like P3 and Avvio allow for seamless self check-in and check-out.
3. Business trips will have to wait
It's going to take time for corporate life to return to normal, and even longer for corporate travel to follow suit. There are big questions about duty of care and companies will have to think carefully before allowing employees to travel.
In tandem, people have taken to remote working and virtual meetings like ducks to water. Some work trips and events are now unnecessary while others will become hybrid affairs, mixing virtual with in-person attendance.
Where flexibility is required, the likes of MeetingsBooker provide automated bookings to help corporate clients source local workspaces for teams that are working from home but who need to meet.
4. Local will lead the way
We saw a surge in staycations last year, and the focus will remain on domestic leisure travel while corporate and international wait for the dust to settle. Looking at the data, it's clear that people are opting for much closer destinations, within a two to three hour drive.
Wherever you are travelling, you are going to see an abundance of care and caution at every turn.
5. Booking will be better
There will be innovation behind the scenes as well. Travel sellers will continue to enhance their systems and be more competitive in the race for direct bookings.
Irish firm Arvoia does this brilliantly, using an independent AI cloud with over 2.3 billion data points and trillions of behavioural insights (travel, hospitality, mobility) to deliver the most sophisticated prediction and personalisation products to drive sales.
Airlines will also look to make up a revenue shortfall from food and baggage through ancillary offerings in the booking experience. A great example is Sim Local, which helps travellers switch SIM cards, or Coras which provides tickets to major events across the globe. The ability to drive new revenues while offering more choice will ensure the industry offers a complete retail experience.
6. Irish solutions for a changing world
Ireland is synonymous with travel. Our people and technology have played a significant part in building the industry, and now they are offering solutions to rebuild and restore confidence.
We are also seeing Irish companies pivot to focus on solutions to accelerate the recovery. Daon, LetsGetChecked, and Altada (which tracks people with Covid-19 in airports) had no track record in travel but have stepped up to really help in a meaningful way.
7. We will get there
If 2020 was travel's annus horribilis, the good news is that green shoots are emerging. People want to travel, and Irish innovation will help them. Here's to safe and happy travels in 2021.
Máire P Walsh is SVP digital technologies with Enterprise Ireland
Sunday Indo Business