I find myself a bit surprised at the myriad of articles and commentaries announcing the apocalyptic end of travel as we know it. Not to be contrary, but they are all wrong.
And I don’t mean a little wrong; they are categorically wrong. Will there be some obvious changes to process? Sure. Better tech on check-in and touchless systems? Yes. Will hotels structurally change? Six feet spacing in restaurants? No furniture in lobbies? Plastic screens at the check-in desks? No valet service? Public spaces disappearing? No, not a chance. In the mid term and long term, that’s not going to happen. Sure, in the short term while we battle Covid19 there will be a lot of changes. BUT other than process driven health protocols and better integrated IT, most of these changes are temporary. Some may ask how is massive change not a sure thing? After the terrorist attacks of 9-11 everything changed, right? Covid19 is not 9-11. Not even close. It’s not the same. Here are 3 points to remember and why the changes won't be earth-shattering.
9-11 was the machination of intelligent humans’ trying to surprise and cause harm.
9-11 was a signal to the world that extremists are out there plotting to harm innocent civilians. Could be on the next flight… the next ride on the subway, trip to the mall, or the Yankees’ game… They are out there, waiting, planning the next attack. It feels necessary and reasonable to take as many precautions as necessary to make sure they are stopped before their horrible goals are achieved. We have had to adapt in many ways to ensure these extremists can’t surprise us.
Covid19 viruses are not plotting our destruction. They are not sneaking into packed stadiums or full airplanes. They don’t appear out of nowhere. In fact, we know quite well where they are likely to emerge. We know how they emerge. Epidemics don’t explode in the middle of unsuspecting citizens, they build like a wave, and you can see them coming from a quite long way away. We aren’t at risk of being surprised and overcome, we are only at risk when we ignore the obvious threat as it approaches.
You can bet we will be more vigilant the next time around. When we hear rumors about a virus starting in some far-off country, we will react differently. We will be more prepared.
Our travel and hospitality markets are extremely competitive.
A margin of 0.1% matters and is measured. Do we really think that airlines are going to fly with planes half empty for any prolonged period of time? The airlines struggled long before Covid19, cutting revenues in half so we can have social distancing on flights? Not a chance, at least not in the long term. The restaurant business is extremely competitive as well. Revenue per square meter is a critical metric. Can restaurants make a profit when capacity is cut in half? Nope.
Humans seem to have a very bad memory.
Out of sight out of mind. When the rate of new Corona victims drops to near zero. Will people still be wearing masks and avoiding their friends? Humans are a social species. Our return to close social proximity is inevitable. In the short term everyone needs to feel safe and confident. In the long term, this will be another tragic event that we fight our way through, and unfortunately, mostly put out of our minds.
So, what does this really mean for travel and hospitality? It means the industry will need to hone skills in adaptation and flexibility. It means we need to have processes, procedures and protocols that can be rolled out at a moment's notice. It means we need to stop resisting IT solutions and embrace the inevitable future of the increasing complex interdependence of nations, cultures and geographies.
The new normal, will be the old normal in a shorter time than we all may expect.