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From survival to revival, TTI 2021 Spring Conference Report

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Covid-19 testing will be a crucial part of the travel industry’s new-normal.

For its virtual Spring Conference, Travel Technology Initiative (TTI) assembled a group of top travel and tourism professionals to share their knowledge with members on the best ways that they can work together to get past the pandemic.

Tom Jenkins, Director of the European Tourism Association (ETOA) said: "Everybody I talk to in every market in the world say the one thing people want to do because of this pandemic is start travelling again." However, he was concerned about the effect of ‘hidden negatives’ on consumer demand that have been gone under the radar due to the pandemic. He noted that 28% of American visitors to the UK also want to visit other European countries during their trip, but will they be put off by lengthening queues of UK residents at the borders to EU countries. ‘It’s estimated that it’s going to take an extra 90 seconds per UK person at the border," he said. "If you’ve got a plane of 290 people of which 200 are from the UK, this could mean substantial delays."

A positive effect of the pandemic has been to encourage and accelerate innovation. Rob Paterson, CEO of Best Western Hotel Group GB, reported that they rolled out mobile check-in to all their member hotels within two weeks to meet government guidelines, something he admitted should have happened before (it had been implemented in their 30 Village hotels back in 2015). He also talked about how some hotels had been generating £5,000 per week by turning their kitchens into takeaway brands. "The thought and effort that people have had to put in to just survive has been incredible and that will last beyond the crisis," he said.

"After this storm, there will be a rainbow and we need to understand how smart technology can help move things forward," said Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, Director of eTourism Lab, Bournemouth University Business School. With so much consumer uncertainty about travel, he argued that the long-term travel planning window has now shrunk to two weeks: "We are at the beginning of agility era … what is important is how we can deal with people in this two-week window with smart systems giving real-time information."

Richard Baker, CCO of travel tech specialists Inspiretec also emphasised the need to ‘bend over backwards for your customers … Some of our clients have seen a 70 to 80% rebook rate instead of cancellations and they’ve achieved this through holding the customers’ hands and agreeing an alternative itinerary that works for them.’ With many companies expecting to operate, in the short to medium term at least, with a workforce of between 25 to 40% smaller than pre-Covid, Baker believes automation of mundane, repetitive tasks and using CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software to better understand and serve customers will play a key role in recovery. "There is some light at the end of the tunnel – and we are eternally hopeful that it’s not an oncoming train!" he joked.

Covid-19 testing will be a crucial part of the travel industry’s new-normal. Angus Urquhart, Sales Director of Katalyst Laboratories, one of the UK’s leading Covid-19 testing companies, outlined their testing solution for airports and travel hubs based around rapid RT-PCR tests. "We need a solution that will allow airports, airlines and travel hubs to rapidly test colleagues and passengers with accurate results being securely delivered to their mobile devices within 60 minutes and in a GDPR compliant manner," he said. Some testing companies are charging £200 for same-day PCR tests though. Urquhart said that reducing the cost is "very important... and the price is being driven down."

In his closing summary, TTI chairman Tim Wright declared himself heartily encouraged by the shared learnings from the conference: "The amount of knowledge and innovation that’s being used to get through this crisis is amazing... We’re better together and together anything is possible."

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