Metasearch site Skyscanner has kicked off a series of online webinars aimed at its customer and trade partners to rebuild confidence in travelling.
The first Travel Confident webinar took place this week featuring five independent industry experts talking about their experience of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The panel featured Tom Hall, vice-president of Lonely Planet, Michael Levie, chief operating officer of hotel chain CitizenM, Pete Burns, Heathrow Airport director of marketing and digital, and Uwern Jong, editor-in-chief of OutThere magazine.
Hall said there was understandable nervousness about travelling and using airports and airlines, there was plenty to be optimistic about.
“There is far more flexibility around those arrangements now than there was ever before,” he said. “There is also lots and lots of information out there.
“What we’re seeing right now is short haul, short planning and short-term trips. There’s a huge appetite to get away, but quite a bit of nervousness as well.”
Jong said the COVID-19 crisis has promoted him to re-evaluate travel, but it has not diminished his wanderlust and desire for transformative experiences.
“Coming out of this I think we will be better at filtering out the clutter and tried and tested expert opinions will be more important than Instagram clutter,” he said.
Customers will also look to book with reputable firms that can be trusted to implement health and safety procedures and offer transparent refund policies, he added.
Jong added: “Even if there are restrictions in place, feeding your wanderlust is important for your mental health.
“I believe we’ll see more transformative travel in the future, with people looking to change their perceptions of the world through their travels.”
Levie said although it is still early days recovery is being seen in countries that dealt best with the pandemic, starting in the east.
And he said the recovery is being seen on other places as government react to spikes in COVID infections with more targeted restrictions rather than full lockdowns.
Levie said the CitizenM brand has always sought to integrate technology into the hotel experience, but the sector as a whole lags behind.
“Technology can be helpful,” he said. “The industry is not known for having the most advanced technology. It’s an opportunity but unfortunately it’s difficult to roll out.
“We were fortunate enough to be in a position to fast track our app and touchless has become a priority.
“In all our rooms you have an ipad that can operate the functionality of the room and now that’s available on the app.
“We encourage our guests to take possession of their room for the duration of their stay and we will not go in unless they have asked us to.”
He added: “It’s a two-way street; guests must inform themselves.
“For example, some amenities or services that present a heightened risk of contamination may have been ceased. It’s important for guests to check with their hotel before they travel.”
Burns said every airport is different but Heathrow is ready with a testing facility and is awaiting government approval and international standards.
“We are trying to get international standards which make it simple for customers no matter where they are travelling to,” he said.
More testing will see quarantines relaxed, said Burns, and he added: “There will be an increase in digitisation of the experience of the end to end journey.
“Apps will allow you to plan ahead and get the information you need that will give you the reassurance to keep on travelling.”
Experts said their experiences of travelling during the summer was positive and, due to the lack of crowds, better than in normal times.
Hall said he experienced better boarding procedures. “Everyone was taking their time. There was not that sense of urgency or impatience. That was good for everyone.
“There was a sense of optimism, just the act of getting on a plane after those long months of lockdown.”
The panel agreed that COVID-19 has accelerated existing trends like concerns about the impact of the environment of travel and the benefits of working from home.
“How travel benefits communities will be a huge part of the travel experience going forward,” Hall said.