There is no crystal ball to tell us when exactly travel will return, or what we can definitively expect to change, but we know that heightened hygiene measures stemming from COVID-19 will be a critical part of travel moving forward.
Few travelers will leave home without hand sanitizer and the phrase “social distancing” will be engrained in our new travel vernacular. As a result, there are going to be increased levels of anxiety for travel managers and travelers returning to the skies. “How soon is too soon to put my travelers back on the road?”, managers may ask. Travelers themselves, despite the frustrations that lockdown brings, will also be less cavalier about hopping across borders for meetings and events. So, what are some of the things we know will change that we can already see happening from airlines, hotels and ground transport that will potentially ease some of that anxiety?
What to expect at hotels?
Airlines, hotels and ground transport companies will be putting in new protocols around cleanliness and customer safety. We are already seeing how some are responding, or have promised to respond, once travel returns. Marriott Hotels recently launched a “Global Cleanliness Council” to address guest concerns and advance their current levels of cleanliness standards in order to enhance customer safety. Marriott guests can expect to see things like more signage in lobbies enforcing social distancing rules and spaced out furniture in communal areas.
“We are living in a new age, with COVID-19 front and center for our guests and our associates,” said Arne Sorenson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International. “We are grateful for the trust our guests have shown us through the years. We want our guests to understand what we are doing today and planning for in the near future in the areas of cleanliness, hygiene and social distancing so that when they walk through the doors of one of our hotels, they know our commitment to their health and safety is our priority. It’s equally important to us that our associates know the changes we are making to help safeguard their health as they serve our guests.”
Hilton has also followed suit with “Hilton CleanStay”, partnering with the company behind Lysol, and introducing measures such as disinfecting wipe stations and contactless check-ins.
Check-in and check-out precautions are not the only opportunity that hotels are looking at for a contactless service, with many looking to invest more in innovation and technology, which could mean that robotics-powered meal deliveries become the new normal.
Planes will follow the trend, too
Meanwhile in the sky, Delta Air Lines has already announced its plans to resume select international travel routes in May and launched their own new health and safety program dubbed “Delta Clean”. CEO Ed Bastian said that the most important thing will be continuing to make guests feel comfortable while traveling—“it’s going to be confidence and their safety, their personal safety, not just their physical safety,” he said—which has always been at the front of the industry. Additionally, the airline is looking at blocking the use of middle seats in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select across all flights. They aren’t the only airline with this approach; easyJet’s CEO, Johan Lundgren, says the airline will leave middle seats empty once the current lockdown is lifted and commercial flights resume. The low-cost carrier grounded its fleet at the end of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
United Airlines promises its customers to be the “only U.S. airline with a full-time, on-site medical director, who has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak providing counsel to the company and our employees around the world.” Bringing in measures such as ‘enhanced cabin sanitization’ and enforced social distancing at the airport, they are comforting passengers with a message of solidarity; “United Together” to deliver industry-leading cleanliness.
Many airlines are also canceling or reducing inflight food and beverage services to reduce interactions on board. For example, Southwest Airlines are now serving individual cans of water rather than its usual full drinks round and other airlines are offering to-go bags in the gate area instead of in-flight options.
Staying clean on the ground
So, what’s happening on the ground? Like other global ride-share suppliers, Lyft has also temporarily paused shared rides across their markets to practice social distancing between customers. Likewise, car rental companies like Hertz are increasing their already ‘high’ standards for cleanliness such as regular disinfectant wipe-downs of surface areas in cars and pick up locations. A spokesperson for Hertz noted that they ‘remain vigilant in upholding these practices and will take additional precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and local governments.
The question remains: will this ‘new normal’ be enough to ease travelers back into the road-warrior lifestyle or will it take much more? We’d love to hear your thoughts.