August 4, 2021

When will we travel again?

Mike McCormick, Co-Founder and CEO of global campaign group Travel Again, tries to answer the million dollar question

One thing is certain: we will travel again. But how long the recovery takes depends greatly on our ability to restore traveller confidence. Right now, we still face a significant uphill battle when it comes to this. As vaccines become widely available and domestic travel restrictions loosen, we are starting to see an uptick in travel after a devastating year, but there is still a long way to go. The latest Travel Again monthly Traveller Confidence Index revealed only 19% of business travellers and 15% of leisure travellers are fully ready to travel.

The industry is making strides toward coming together and driving consensus around uniform policies to safely resume travel. Travel Again recently held a global ‘roundtable’ meeting, bringing together a coalition of 19 major trade organisations from the global travel industry with their eyes set on a greater purpose. Senior leaders from these industry groups focused their efforts on accelerating the recovery of the travel industry. The objective is to further align behind common messaging and industry standards that are developed in collaboration with medical experts and policymakers around the world.

The next step is to develop recommendations that will truly move global travel toward full recovery. This includes clearly defined positions on such topics as testing requirements, digital health passes and phasing out the use of quarantines. Our goal is to have a roadmap in place by May 1, 2021 that will allow for the safe reopening of international travel.

This milestone date and the key required components were outlined in an industry letter that a broad coalition of travel organisations (with full support from Travel Again) signed. We urged the U.S. government to partner with the travel industry to develop a risk-based, data-driven roadmap to rescind inbound international travel restrictions. This approach can be adapted to encourage similar efforts in additional markets globally. 

Key challenges

The biggest hurdle we face comes back to the fact that we have been in an unprecedented mode of uncertainty for the past year. Unfortunately, public health experts and policymakers largely view travel as coming with an on/off switch. Travel is either allowed or not permitted – yet there aren’t measures in place to communicate about how we can safely reopen in stages, especially when it comes to international travel. This makes it incredibly confusing for travel suppliers and travellers alike and ultimately undermines confidence with both business and leisure travellers.

We have seen examples of clear guidance providing an immediate boost to confidence. During their first days in office, the Biden Administration implemented a travel ‘mask mandate’, which immediately allowed travel suppliers to simply follow a clear, federal policy instead of having to create and enforce their own rules. Our survey data showed the mandate received a 91% traveller confidence approval rating, demonstrating the power of instituting consistent policies that travellers understand. This specific policy also allows front-line travel staff to be more effective in their role in keeping the public safe while travelling.

“The biggest hurdle we face comes back to the fact that we have been in an unprecedented mode of uncertainty for the past year”

On the flip side we saw a decrease in traveller confidence following the CDC announcement that Covid testing would not be required on U.S. domestic flights.  Without a domestic testing infrastructure in place to support such a policy, it was the right decision. But without clear communication to the public, many potential travellers interpreted the guidance to mean that the industry is not safe – or is not willing to protect their safety. As a result, 45% of business travellers and 39% of leisure travellers said that it decreased their confidence in travelling. 

The major undertaking that lies ahead now is gaining support for putting a recovery roadmap in place as soon as possible. Reopening global travel is on the horizon, but we need the full cooperation of our industry leaders and policymakers alike to make this possible. 

Comfort levels

Corporate travel buyers need to be proactively working within their company to help communicate not just to their essential travellers but with all of their employees. Employees need to know what will be required when travel resumes to ensure that everyone has a comfort level with what is expected of them. Buyers need to communicate up the chain of command as well, ensuring their executives understand changes to the travel programme, new expectations and new policies that are necessary for safe travel. Communication across the organisation is nothing new for travel buyers, but with business travel at perhaps its lowest level in history and traveller confidence at extremely low levels, this piece of their job will take on a whole new level of importance.

When we talk about travel suppliers, we’ve already seen them spring into action. Collectively, they have invested tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to safeguard their businesses and create safer environments for their customers. The issue is they only have control when people are in their immediate environment, so there is only so much they can do to manage travel risk. By and large, they have completed the task of creating safe travel environments. While communicating that to travellers is important, they ultimately will rely on governments and the entire industry providing clear, consistent guidelines that boost confidence and help resume safe and responsible travel.

Travel Again is an independent, not-for-profit project focused on restoring traveller confidence, driving travel recovery and rebuilding the global travel industry. It was founded by industry veterans Mike McCormick, former Executive Director and COO of the GBTA, and Ed Silver, who also previously held positions at the GBTA including Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Technology Officer.

travelagainproject.org


Main image: Photo by Simone Secci on Unsplash