To win back the confidence of travelers and business travelers alike, travel industry suppliers have been making huge adjustments to their products and experiences to facilitate safer, more efficient travel.
The business benefits of face-to-face meetings have largely gone untapped during the past 12 months, but as businesses now resume their travel activity, a seamless travel experience has never been so important.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that travel suppliers such as airports have doubled their investment in contactless technologies in 2021, as the industry bands together to make every traveler touchpoint as touch-less as possible.
Below we take a holistic view of how the travel industry provides contactless solutions to ensure safer travel experiences, at every step of the journey.
While aviation-related spending decreased in 2020, a recent report from Frost & Sullivan highlighted an increase in investment into contactless passenger processing technology.
The findings were supported by SITA’s “Air Transport IT Insights 2020” report1 that saw that 64 percent of airports are planning to roll out biometric gates for self-boarding by 2023, three times as many as in 2020.
The e-gates, as they are often known, enable one-step biometric processing with facial recognition technology. Once checked in, travelers can drop their bags, pass through security, and self-board using e-gates, eliminating the need for contact with staff and simultaneously streamlining the airport experience.
Earlier this year, Delta Air Lines launched the first facial recognition option for US domestic passengers. In partnership with Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Delta passengers at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport have the option for a touchless curb-to-gate experience. For passengers wishing to partake in facial recognition technology, Delta passenger’s will need a digital ID pertaining their passport number or a TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry membership number. As a result, passengers will be able to move through the airport swiftly.
American Airlines offers passengers self-service check-in and bag-drop kiosks at more than 230 airports via their personal mobile devices. Passengers can check-in, print bag tags, and drop luggage at a bag drop station without having to touch a kiosk.
Passengers departing from Denver International Airport can sign up for an app, VeriFly, that provides passengers with safety and comfort from airport security to gate. Passengers who use VeriFly will have access to a dedicated TSA screening lane and a reserved train car with a limited number of passengers and have the confidence of less contact and congestion while making their way to their gate.
As travelers await their flight’s departure, the desire for contactless restaurants-to-gate meal delivery has become more prominent than ever. Airports in Philadelphia, Chicago (Midway and O’Hare), and other cities use platforms like AtYourGate to make deliveries safer and touchless.
Health passports have been proposed to stimulate international travel by enabling travelers to understand their destinations’ COVID-19 requirements. We can expect health passports to play a major role in the return to travel, with American Airlines currently using VeriFly by Daon on outbound US flights to the UK, Canada, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Once onboard, the in-flight experience is the next focus for airlines when it comes to contactless travel. In March 2021, Delta introduced tap-to-pay technology for purchasing onboard food and beverage items, with the option to email receipts for reconciliation purposes.
These payment methods prove to be a key priority across the industry, with SITA’s annual Air Transport IT Insights research2 stating that 74 percent of airlines see value in complete mobile touchless payments – from booking to arrival.
Digital key technology has been steadily introduced across the hotel industry for a few years now but has dramatically increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, hotel chain Hyatt reached a 500-property milestone for its digital key adoption, allowing guests to bypass the front desk for check-in and check-out. Around the same time, Hilton equipped 80 percent of its hotel portfolio with the technology, spanning over 100 million rooms globally.
Accor Hotels has also rolled out the technology at selected properties in North America, Europe, and Asia in January this year. The chain has since announced an ambitious, but essential plan, to reach 500 properties by the end of 2021, and 50 percent of its portfolio within the next five years.
However, the touchless experience needs to expand beyond just check-in to enable a swift but safe return to hospitality. A recent Skift Research Global Travel Outlook 20213 revealed that traveler willingness to download a hotel app has risen during the pandemic, from 73 percent of respondents in March 2020, to 80 percent in August 2020.
Furthermore, Accor Hotel guests will be offered disposal and digital menus in hotel restaurants during hotel dining. Accor will also provide an envelope/pouch for a sanitary solution to keep their masks safe while dining.
An often-forgotten victim of the travel ban is car rental companies, who sold up to 90 percent of their fleet during COVID just to stay afloat. Now that business travel is up and running, companies such as Avis and Hertz are adopting contact-less methods to reassure returning customers that car rental can be a safe experience.
Avis Budget Group now offers customers digital Check-in, where they can customize their rental before arriving at the store. As an additional benefit, the online service speeds up the hiring process, meaning customers can eliminate time spent at the counter and get access to their vehicle faster.
While it’s widely accepted that contactless technology will shape the future not just for travel but life as we know it, it’s important that suppliers don’t allow this shift to impact the standard of service they provide.
If COVID-19 has taught our industry anything, it’s the value of tailored, informative, and professional service, at a time of uncertainty and constant change.
Understanding the relationship between innovative technology and personalized service has been the foundation of Radius Travel’s success. We are excited to see how the impacts of contactless technology can facilitate the successful return of travel and provide an even better experience for travelers in 2021 and beyond.