Exactly two years ago, Switzerland, where I live, imposed a lockdown on the population, following the WHO announce of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sanitary measures and travel restrictions prevented people from traveling and damaged their confidence. Airlines introduced a series of measures and solutions dedicated to cope with the restrictions and resume flying during the pandemic, and to restore customer confidence, which I evaluated in my White Paper (see proposals #4 and #6).
Now that some countries, like Switzerland, have lifted all COVID-related travel restrictions, and although the pandemic is still going on in the world, it’s time to wonder what measures countries and airlines may keep or rescind. Let’s look at: demand forecast, information on travel restrictions, health declaration forms and travel health passes.
The aggregation of signals of future demand have helped airlines plan for their future schedules and operations, in the absence of meaningful and relevant historical data. This kind of information will remain relevant because the uncertainty in the market is not only due to pandemics but to any shock impacting travel rights. The recent invasion of Ukraine, which caused the closure of airspaces, impacting routes and destinations, is an example of the shocks to expect.
I expect the data sources and analytics related to travel demand to remain critical indicators for airlines as long as the world – and customer confidence – remains uncertain and volatile, which seems to be the new normal. Providers like 3Victors and PredictHQ will need to keep finding new data sources and enhancing their algorithms, as airlines will need to anticipate the impact of events on demand and bookings.
Information on travel restrictions
The conditions of entry in a country (per nationality, vaccinations, PCR test, quarantine, etc.) and the local business conditions (availability of public transport, hotels, restaurants, etc.) have become relevant factors in the travel planning. This information will remain relevant at least until the end of the pandemic, some time in 2023, and may be updated into 2024, even if it shows completely green picture of the world.
I expect the tools collecting and displaying this information to remain effective post-COVID, as for example a local virus may break out which requires traveler warning. The tools may merge with other travel restriction information related either to immigration (visa) or to safety (political instability). Providers like Smartvel and Sherpa will need to keep updating and expanding their tools in the foreseeable future.
Health declaration forms
Border control authorities have augmented the list of criteria required to enter a country. The declaration forms now include questions about travel itineraries, health, residence, and other items. These forms, which used to be filled on paper on arrival, have become online, filled pre-travel, and ubiquitous during the pandemic. They represent a major source of information for countries. I don’t expect them to go away. However, they represent a significant additional burden for travelers, so I believe that tools will emerge that simplify the process for travelers, e.g. a personal travel wallet than can automatically fill any declaration form.
Providers like Travizory and SITA still have a lot of work to do to help make travel planning seamless again. Connecting their forms with traveler apps may streamline the filling process, e.g. to upload COVID certificates or passport copies. There are also synergies with the following topic, travel health passes.
Travel health passes
The UN had a paper certificate of vaccination for years, the yellow booklet. COVID transformed it into an electronic document and digital process, connecting testing labs with travelers’ ID and border controls. Airlines propose various passes that travelers to show a valid proof of test or vaccination on the screen of the phone. Like travel restrictions, passes will remain applicable for destinations requiring vaccines and tests but will decrease as the restrictions are progressively lifted.
While the implementation of travel health passes represented a major investment, I don’t expect the passes to remain in action, because they are designed for a use at scale. Countries requiring other vaccines (Yellow fever, etc.) may default back to the previous system of manual checks. Providers like VeriFLY and CommonPass will need to repurpose their knowhow in terms of customer ID and health verifications towards generic solutions that can be used by travelers beyond COVID.
In the coming two years, as the COVID pandemic fades away, we can expect the travel experience to evolve accordingly. Airlines will become better at anticipating travel demand and meet the needs of travelers. Airlines will provide travelers with comprehensive travel planning tools using relevant traveler data points (nationality, residence, vaccination). Declaration forms will be automated to expedite mandatory procedures and travel passes will merge into “ready-to-fly” procedure and boarding passes.
In summary, while the pandemic has added another layer of scrutiny in travel, over time this health layer will become automated and eventually seamless. Nobody wants health safety to become another travel pain point, like airport security checks after 9/11.
Disclaimer: the author may be an advisor but not a shareholder of any company listed in the article