A Safer Future for Travel
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of media coverage about the safety, health, and welfare of travelers. To those of us in the travel industry, these concerns are not new. Whether we work for airlines, hotels, companies that have travelers doing business on their behalf, travel tech, or other travel-related businesses, we all strive to keep people protected as they move around the world.
So, if it isn’t a new concept, what’s all the noise about? The COVID-19 pandemic has put a global spotlight on the seriousness of this topic. Until recently, most travelers’ biggest concerns were bed bugs. But earlier this year the world immediately changed, bringing many new factors into the trip-planning process for people and their companies. A recent Google survey found that 87% of APAC consumers expect to change the way they travel. The psyche of nearly everyone on the planet has been forever changed – and so has that of our travelers.
Corporate travel risk and traditional duty of care
There are some great companies in travel, such as International SOS and WorldAware, that provide broad duty of care services. These services may include information on weather risks in a location or assistance with finding medical care in the traveler’s location. Fortune 500-level companies may also supplement some of the traditional duty of care with their own services.
When travel is booked, the traveler receives an email report about their destination. However, it’s generally a giant blob of text that most travelers never read. If they do read it, the information is the exact same data that every traveler receives regardless of who they are or their situation. While there is a substantial amount of data available about health, wellness, and safety, the information is siloed and not personalized or contextual.
How many times have you walked out of a building, map open on your phone, and you think the map is telling you to go left out the front door but it’s actually telling you to turn right?
If I walk out of a building and turn the wrong direction, I may find myself in an area where, for any number of reasons, I feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. This can happen to anyone, and not just because of what the area may look or feel like. It’s possible to have this kind of anxiety simply because I’m suddenly in an area that I wasn’t expecting and I’m not sure how to get back to where I needed to be. To some travelers this may be easily fixed, but for others, not so much. Not everyone has the same capacity for handling unexpected events in the most constructive ways.
Travelers want and need to understand the risks associated with every touchpoint of a trip. Now, with the additional uncertainty of pandemics, companies have a renewed responsibility to not only protect employees from harm, but the stresses related to travel and, in some situations, actively engage in emergency support.
Travel tech incorporates duty of care
Technology allows us to democratize duty of care practices and reduce corporate travel risk. In the future of travel, I’ll expect travel technology to look after me and help keep me safe. My travel app should notify me if I make the wrong turn out of a building and head toward an area that is unsafe, whether from high crime rates or a high-density COVID-19 area. It should also know my personal attributes and alert me based on those, such as knowing if I have skills like Chuck Norris or if I need to dress in context for the region. (PSA: Coronavirus has tested positive for Chuck Norris and is now in quarantine.)
The technology exists for some of this today in geolocation, neighborhood safety scores, virus tracking, and more. A smartphone, smartwatch, or other wearables can already help deliver this information directly to us wherever we are. For savvy travelers, they know that there are numerous apps and sites where they can go to get personalized and neighborhood-level details around safety, density of a virus, etc. But most people don’t have the experience nor time to hunt down and keep track of all the most recent information.
What happens if I need immediate help? Instead of searching for the email with an emergency phone number and email address, my app should allow me to tap a button that drives various levels of assistance, such as offering the closest location to provide a safe haven, like a local hotel or office building with security.
Real-time traveler interaction can have a significant impact. In situations where events require risk management to reach out to travelers, there needs to be a two-way communications channel that’s always on. Travelers should have the option to reply with one click to say “I am safe” or “get me home.” A “get me home” button would automatically generate an itinerary for the traveler that would help them leave that location as quickly and safely as possible. It would notify the company so additional supporting assistance could be provided, and alert family and colleagues.
While in-trip interactions will still be more of an exception, knowing about all aspects of the trip at time of booking should become the standard. Travelers now have a new expectation for their health and safety when traveling; contextual and relevant information must be in their travel app during the decision-making and purchasing process. For instance, apps need to list when suppliers have a hospital-grade cleaning program. The app should indicate at the supplier-element level – flight, hotel, rental car – the measures that are in place for traveler health and safety. Does that airport have health screening protocols in place? Does that hotel have an enhanced cleaning certification available?
Knowing additional location restrictions, for instance, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, are critical as well. Right now, when flying into certain countries, like the U.K., travelers need to know they are subject to a 14-day self-quarantine. The lack of consistency among U.S. states and countries can make keeping up with quarantine restrictions difficult, at best. And the same is true with cancellation policies, refunds, and rules for reusing airline tickets.
Since we don’t travel with Chuck Norris, we need the power of our travel apps to consolidate all of the disparate aspects of traveler health and safety to help make travel safer and less stressful. Technology can and will provide this information at the point of sale to help travelers feel more confident and help businesses get back to work.