COVID-19 brought travel to a standstill. However, with vaccine developments and rollouts underway across multiple continents, and new testing initiatives already starting to offer a path to safe, quarantine-free travel, the new year is offering hope for the beleaguered travel industry and experience.
By: Andy Besant
As travel returns, people will be eager to get moving. Despite COVID-19 rates rising throughout the holiday season, more than 1 million people passed through U.S. Airports on particularly busy days. Many U.S. travelers gatherings, many people’s travel plans for this winter and spring have been put on hold once again. We’re also seeing signs in the U.S. that travelers are still eager to fly to sunny destinations, with 7 of the top 10 domestic flight routes in the country landing in sunbelt states including Florida, Nevada and California.
U.S. travelers have also shown increased interest in travel to tourist destinations in Mexico. Earlier this month, the Mexican airline, Volaris, announced that in December 2020, capacity measured in terms of available seats per mile (ASMs) was 101.9% compared to the same month last year. Further, on January 12, NBC News reported that the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, which is home to Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Tulum, received 961,000 tourists at the end of 2020, nearly half of whom came from the United States. When it is possible to freely travel once more, it’s clear that consumers will be clamouring to get back to doing what they love.
To win the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s travelers, the industry must adapt continuously. The world has changed and so have the needs, desires and expectations of those who travel — and just because travel isn’t currently moving, it doesn’t mean we can stand still. Now is the time to be agile, innovate and diversify.
Digging Into the Needs of Domestic Travelers
Amidst COVID, different types of domestic and regional travel are booming all around the world. For example, in the U.S., there’s been a massive resurgence of the great American road trip, and at the same time, the RV industry recorded record sales in Summer 2020 as Americas sought out safe options for family getaways. .
Domestic travelers want and deserve the same first-rate experience they’ve come to know and love from the airport lounge. While the lounge experience is most common in U.S. airports, we’re seeing the emergence of premium railway lounges in markets like Russia and other places where long-distance train travel is popular, offering more choice and convenience for discerning domestic and regional travelers. This is particularly true when it comes to frequent travelers who expect a certain level of comfort and service through a travel membership program. The ability to access more benefits and experiences catered to domestic travel will continue to be important and once air travel is back online, and these types of adapted offerings will be an important differentiator to show travelers what a premium journey can look like in all its forms.
Continually Innovating the Airport Lounge
Before COVID-19, lounges were already evolving to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of travel: from celebrity chef-endorsed menus, to digital and contactless journeys, to in-lounge spa and massage rooms, to outdoor terraces with sunset views.
Today, the in-lounge experience is an even more important part of the airport journey; providing a place for comfort and safety, especially if new COVID-19 procedures mean travelers must arrive earlier to the airport. Already, we’re seeing exciting innovations hit airport lounges worldwide. Collinson’s recent Lounge Legends video, which takes viewers behind the scenes to meet hardworking frontline lounge staff at four airports around the globe, provides a great example of how airport lounges are evolving for the future, while still delivering the smiles, service and human touch that make travel special.
While health and sanitation are now baseline critical, airport lounges are also innovating in more ways. There are a raft of contactless solutions arising for in-lounge travelers, letting them order food, drinks and even duty-free shopping straight from their mobile device, to be delivered to them in the lounge. Innovations like these give travelers a more contactless airport experience, while at the same time connecting them to the exciting and luxurious aspects of travel they’ve always loved. And, even as our health and safety needs continue to change with vaccine and testing rollouts, these kinds of solutions will still be relevant to travelers. It’s COVID-driven innovation, that will change how we travel for the better.
Diversifying for the Future — Beyond the Lounge, and Beyond the Airport
Where once-upon-a-time lounge access alone was enough for frequent flyers, they now expect deluxe experiences at every step of their journey. There are new stressors and procedures around health and safety to contend with, leaving an important opening for travel membership programs to help passengers feel that whether they are inside or outside the lounge, their needs are being addressed from a variety of angles. This is particularly important as cost and availability of flights may mean trips are taken far less frequently — so when they do occur, the traveler will want the very best experience possible.
Beyond the lounge, more exclusive opportunities await. For example, we’re now seeing luxury sleep pods in airports around the world that are designed to offer travelers a unique, private space to rest and socially distance; personalised, real-time mobile offers for airport shopping and dining; and access to grab-and-go airport food service, so travelers can order via an app and skip the waiting in line.
Of course, the journey doesn’t begin and end at the airport. In 2021 and beyond, we may see new kinds of travel membership program benefits that let travelers rest, dine at restaurants or bars, work out and treat themselves throughout the entirety of the journey; both in and beyond the airport. When multiple services can be offered as part of a single program, the consumer will feel truly catered to.
Looking to the future
Ultimately, COVID has been a catalyst for change. As baseline expectations have shifted, travel membership programs now have an exciting opportunity to deliver exciting solutions that re-imagine the new normal and champion the safe and effective travel recovery. As long as the industry can continue to innovate now and to speed up what was previously in development, we can meet the evolving needs of travelers and ensure that travel doesn’t just come back, but comes back with even better experiences than before.
Andy Besant is Director of Travel Experiences at Collinson and he is responsible for leading, and significantly transforming, the Global Travel Experiences Division whose brand includes Priority Pass, MasterCard Airport Experiences, Lounge Key, and Lounge Club.