How Covid has changed the future of travel on WRAL

Vaccine distribution is ramping up, stimulus checks are being sent, and summer is on the horizon. It’s a hopeful combination that’s got Americans itching with wanderlust.Airline, hotel, and restaurant spending are all up compared to a year ago when the pandemic first ravaged the country, although still not close to pre-pandemic times. While the number of people passing through US airports daily is about double what it was this time last year, it’s still half of what it was for most days in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. 

1. So how is travel set to make a comeback, what signs do we have that it is?There are a lot of signs that travel is having a comeback. First off, we know that more Americans are intending to travel soon – in fact those planning to travel or go on vacation in the short term have increased slightly week over week, from 36% to 39% in the first week of March alone. Airlines have also had their busiest weekend last weekend since pre-pandemic times – in fact the weekend of March 12, US airports saw the highest number of travelers since before the pandemic began. Also, we know that people are already booking vacation rentals and hotels – Airbnb and VRBO saw a surge in bookings the week of March 3 that exceeded pre-pandemic levels. 

2. So how different will travel look when it does make this comeback? What kinds of innovations have come about because of COVID? For travelers, health and safety are going to be the top concerns when making travel plans. Travel insurance products, for example, have been able to pivot to address these increased concerns, including specifically adding Covid medical and trip interruption coverage.  You’ve got air medical transport programs like Medjet that, if you are hospitalized while traveling, will arrange medical transportation to your hospital at home. Most travel insurance only evacuates to a nearby hospital, Medjet gets you moved home. They added Covid-19 transport benefits last October, for domestic travel and international destinations like Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean as they opened up.


3. What about innovations in technology?Innovations in technology are also giving consumers the resources they need to make informed decisions, minimize risk and maximize safety while traveling. It is expected that more touchless options will emerge for identity verification. ‘Thermal Imaging’ or ‘Infrared Thermographic Systems’  will emerge to enable virtual health screening at airports. Touchless technologies will also push credit cards, touchscreens, or – digital signature pens to a thing of the past.

3. And what about any lingering hesitancy?Well despite those planning to travel or go on vacation –  in the short term has increased – some studies have shown that just over half of Americans have no intentions to travel in the short term, although even that is significantly down from the 70% who felt that way in January. There is also the argument that while people are traveling again and booking travel, that it is mainly to see family rather than to spend money on hotels or resorts. In general the hesitancy seems to be coming from international travel rather than domestic travel. There is also the mode of transport and type of trip to keep in mind. 


5. What about cruise travel?Cruises for example are still being met with hesitancy – as we know the CDC announced this week it will keep limiting cruises until early November. But keep in mind,  enforcing Covid safety precautions on a cruise line where passengers are in close proximity for extended days, is obviously much harder than enforcing them on a plane or in an airport, where we have seen the dramatic impact touchless protocols and the HEPA filters alone have made – so much so that we know most airlines are now confidently filling the middle seat again. 

The Pandemic’s Impact on Travel/ Future of Travel – Cheddar News

1. Airlines and airports had to go through many safety precautions due to the pandemic. How did the industry innovate and adapt over the past year?

Of course there are many safety measures air travel has had to undertake this past year due to COVID, from installing HEPA filters on planes, to adapting airports to lesson contact touch points. During the pandemic, many travel insurance companies also specifically added Covid medical and trip interruption / flight reimbursement coverage, and the airlines started waiving change fees. You’ve got air medical transport  programs out there like Medjet that, if you are hospitalized while traveling, will arrange medical transportation to your hospital at home. Most travel insurance only evacuates to a nearby hospital, Medjet gets you moved home. They added Covid-19 transport benefits last October, for domestic travel and international destinations like Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean as they opened up. Innovation is being embraced by just about everyone in the air travel sector, to restore consumer confidence in the safety and flexibility of their journey.


2. During the pandemic, many travel insurance companies added coverage for trip cancellation and medical expenses due to COVID. There is now talk of COVID-19 travel insurance becoming a vacation staple, what does this mean for the industry?

COVID-19 insurance policies are increasingly joining passports and sunscreen as vacation staples, creating opportunities for insurers as more countries require mandatory coverage,  in case visitors fall ill from the coronavirus. Airline bookings are on the rise, driving hopes of a revival in summer traffic. So while the pandemic has arguably battered travel, demand for coverage has created opportunity for the hard-hit insurance industry and a niche to develop new  insurance products. While 2020 saw a 20% rise in travelers buying highly priced “cancel for any reason” policies, what is not clear is  how coverage demand will evolve as many more people become inoculated against the coronavirus with vaccines.


3. When it comes to new tech, airlines and airports were innovating pre-COVID. But how has the pandemic accelerated new tech in the industry?

Though COVID-19’s impact on the aviation industry and travel has been worse compared to most sectors, it has still become a catalyst for innovation, and the integration of newer technologies. COVID-19 has changed the way people think about air travel – and technology is what is making travel possible again. Whether it’s displaying information about travel destinations or providing a contactless journey through the airports, technology is giving consumers the resources they need to make informed decisions, minimize risk and maximize safety while traveling. It is expected that more touchless options will emerge for identity verification. The aviation sector will also experience an acceleration in innovations such as ‘Thermal Imaging’ or ‘Infrared Thermographic Systems’ to enable virtual health screening at airports. Touchless technologies will also push credit cards, touchscreens, or – digital signature pens to a thing of the pas

4. Over the past year, the aviation industry has taken steps to reduce its environmental footprint. Can you talk to us about some of the trends you’re seeing in this space?

Given the landscape of humanity this past year, sustainability has definitely become a much discussed topic in the aviation industry, both economically and ecologically.  A great example is how American Airlines recently reached an agreement with Kuehne+Nagel to allocate a portion of the carbon reduction benefit the airline generates – through its use of sustainable aviation fuel – to one of American’s leading cargo customers. This is part of their effort to reduce the impact of aviation on the planet and is the kind of collaboration that should drive real change. The aim is to create a cleaner supply chain and accelerate our transition to a low-carbon future. American Airlines has actually set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and by doing so, is also setting the bar for other airlines to follow.


5. IoT, Artificial intelligence, and big data have totally transformed industries in recent years. How are these technologies touching the aviation industry right now?

Airlines have been looking at how artificial intelligence will play a greater role in operations for several years to help them make better decisions. The pandemic has accelerated the need to incorporate new sources of data such as search engine and social media intent data. The old reliance on historical booking behavior will not be enough as airlines look to plan routes and forecast demand as they recover from the pandemic. Shorter booking windows and scheduling windows mean airlines need to be more flexible and incorporate more real-time information to predict demand. Some travel technology companies are already filling the gap with Skyscanner, for example, recently adding an Unscheduled Routes module to its business intelligence technology.

US considers Covid-19 testing requirement for domestic air travel

So what are the chances of this happening? We know that the CDC is looking at all its options, but compared with international travel – the domestic picture is very different. The decision needs to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out.  There are obviously a few arguments that the idea is impractical, in that  – there aren’t defined ports of entry. There’s also a risk the measure could divert scarce public health resources away from other priorities.

How has the international travel rule been met in the last few weeks, and are the same concerns as there was with that? There were many initial worries from both airlines and travel providers about the January 26th ruling, mainly to do with logistics and  timing. For example if travelers are stranded because they are unable to obtain an in-destination test in time for departure (if at all), it would set off a domino effect of issues like  missed connections, and canceled flights. Thi in turn could cause people to actually cancel any travel altogether. The same issues would be prevalent with a domestic travel ruling that requires testing and could further delay the recovery of the whole hospitality sector. In fact the argument could be made that if a testing mandate is prescribed by the Administration, funding should also be provided to comply.

How much realistically is domestic air travel contributing to COVID-19 numbers?Travel of any sort puts you in situations where you are outside of your immediate circle of people. However, we know that there is strong scientific evidence that the risk of Covid-19 transmission onboard an aircraft is very low. Imposing such a burden on the already financially impacted airline industry has the potential for severe consequences that will ripple across the entire economy. In that token, the ruling – if not carefully thought through, would not just cause logistical problems but financial ones too.  

And how would that change the landscape of travel yet again?The fear many airlines have stated that they have for passengers is that the ruling would keep people away from what they need to do in terms of starting to get back out for not just essential travel, but people need to start reclaiming their lives. The CDC wants to encourage people to NOT travel at all, but this is tricky, and they know that – so in their mind the ruling would be justified as yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread. My concern is this causing a further divide between the CDC and the hospitality industry, when what we need now is unity to get anything done –  when it comes to reopening travel and giving people solid not mixed messages.

Travel Deals to grab right now – on WRAL

  • Where are the best deals right now? Well whether you’re considering an end-of-summer getaway or a close-to-home weekend trip in the next few months, there are a handful of hotel, flight, and resort deals to consider booking sooner rather than later. Major hotel groups like Marriott, Wyndham and Kimpton are all offering some fabulous and flexible packages for dates from now into 2022. For example, several Wyndham properties are participating in a three-day flash sale, running through January 28 of 25 percent off when you stay two or more nights before September 30, 2021.  Expedia is also offering many last-minute deals – some of which extend into May.
  •  What destinations are worth considering?  Much of that is dependent on if you are looking to drive, or fly. Of course anywhere that you can be outside this time of year is a bonus – especially with COVID. If you are looking to leave the state, from the Carolinas a reasonable option is somewhere like FL which is accessible by both plane and by road trip, so you have flexibility. The Seagate Hotel in Delray Beach has full COVID safety policies in place and are currently offering a Soak up the Sun package that includes one-night stay in their deluxe accommodations along with beachclub access and a signature beach towel and luxury beach bag.  Book online using PROMO CODE: PKGBCH, or call 1-877-577-3242.
  • When is the right time to book and what’s changed with booking?  (The need to schedule a COVID test before coming back?) As of January 26th. if you travel internationally you, ino order to return–you’re now required to have a negative COVID test within the last three days. If you are booking way in advance to grab a current deal, keep in mind – these restrictions might change by the time you travel. However, if you are planning to travel internationally in the next few months, make sure you book tests both ends of your trip to avoid being stuck. In terms of what’s changed with booking trips, as mentioned, most travel providers and airlines are offering flexibility on changing or canceling your trip, many offering credits if you cannot travel – however be sure to check with each one individually as they all have their own policies. 
  • What are the policies for refund/insurance you need to be on the lookout for? There are some main things to be aware of. Many hotels and airlines have updated their change and cancellation policies to be more flexible – and  even if your booking was originally nonrefundable, you may be able to get a full refund. Also using miles and points can also be a good hedge if you’re not sure you’ll be able to take your trip. In terms of travel insurance, most travel insurance policies do not cover fear of traveling due to COVID-19, but they may cover you if you contract it. Again you will want to check with your insurance provider before booking your trip.