Business travel will become popular again, and when it does, it might look unrecognisable. Here’s how tech is changing travel.
Do you miss business travel?
The thrill of meeting new customers. The networking opportunities. Or even the simple joy of sipping coffee while watching planes take off.
Or maybe you don’t miss it at all.
The constant time zone changes. Missing family events. The tedious routine of airports and convention centres.
Let’s face it, pre-COVID we all travelled A LOT (maybe too much?).
Almost a third of European corporate travellers flew once a month. And Americans logged more than 400 million business trips each year (Statista).
Procurement and supply chain professionals were no strangers to the ‘road warrior’ lifestyle.
Wendy Clack is at the forefront of COVID travel safety technologies.
After all, how many other industries have internal stakeholders and suppliers to visit in literally every part of the globe?
The world may have abandoned business travel for now, but it won’t be long until we take to the skies again.
In fact, one firm predicts we’ll hit 60%-70% of typical volumes next year, with a return to pre-pandemic passenger numbers by 2022.
But this supernormal world will look quite different to the one we knew.
You may soon check into your flight with eye movement, use your phone as your hotel room key, and keep your passport tattooed on your arm.
Here’s what you can expect, and what comes next.
What measures are the travel industry taking?
Cleanliness and safety are the top priorities for airlines now, with luxury amenities taking a backseat.
At the airport
Touch-free and healthy are the buzzwords in this new world of air travel.
Many countries now require proof you’ve tested negative for the Coronavirus within 48 hours of when you travel.
Some airports offer testing onsite with results in a couple of hours. This includes Frankfurt Airport, which plans to integrate your results with your Lufthansa boarding pass.
Lufthansa’s Björn Becker told the Financial Times airport testing gives passengers, “a comfortable opportunity to test themselves for flights abroad or a stay in Germany, to avoid quarantine.”
And Abu Dhabi airport is trialling a sterilisation chamber that looks a whole lot like a spray-on tanning booth. It takes just three seconds to sanitise.
Etihad airlines has touch free check-in kiosks that let you select different options using your eye movements.
That same kiosk is loaded with sensors that can take your temperature and measure your heart rate.
And you’ll also notice thermal cameras around with built-in facial recognition, like the ones Heathrow Airport are trialling.
These track body temperature to detect if someone has a fever.
Most airlines are encouraging passengers to check in using the airline’s app, and choose the self-service bag drop.
But in the rare instance you actually need assistance from a human, you’ll likely find them behind thick plexiglass.
On your flight
Again, procedures vary by airline. But you can be confident planes are getting a deep-clean between flights.
Most of the flagship carriers are using measures like electrostatic spraying, which is a hospital-grade disinfectant.
Another tool that destroys germs is UVC light.
Companies like Honeywell offer aeroplane UVC light systems, which can sanitise an entire cabin in minutes.
Airlines are using any measures they can to limit human interaction. So if you’re wondering where your in-flight magazine has gone, you’ll find it online.
When you land
When you reach your destination, you may need to show proof you’ve recently tested negative for the Coronavirus.
And you’ll need to fill out forms if you’re required to quarantine.
Some countries may even require you to download a contact tracing app for the duration of your stay.
When you get to your hotel, you can expect a slightly different welcoming.
You may be asked to have your temperature taken on arrival.
And don’t expect a face-to-face greeting by the front desk. Many of the business hotel giants like Hilton and Marriott now ask you to check in via an app where you’ll receive a digital room key.
Rooms are deep-cleaned as standard, and many hotels use some type of seal on the door so you know it hasn’t been entered since cleaning.
When you’re ready to check out, simply use the app and be on your way.
What measures can you take to stay safe?
The best ways to protect yourself are obvious: wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitiser, keep a safe distance from others, and wear a mask.
More airlines are requiring masks to be kept on the entire flight.
But if you really want to make a statement on your next business trip, you might want an LED mask.
The Lumen Couture LED Matrix Light Up Face Mask lets you enter any message you want into an app, and it appears on the mask.
And you’ve heard that your phone is one of the dirtiest surfaces you encounter, right?
So why not bring along the PhoneSoap, a little box that uses UV light to disinfect your smartphone.
While it’s disinfecting your phone, it can also charge it.
You might also be interested in a no-touch door opener, like the KeySmart Clean Key.
It lets you avoid direct contact with doorknobs and elevator buttons. Plus, it comes with a retractable carabiner to clip onto your belt loop, so you can keep it close.
In a less high-tech move, many of the big airlines offer personal sanitary kits with disinfectant wipes for your piece of mind.
What does the future of business travel look like?
It’s impossible to say what procedures will stick around once the initial pandemic is over.
But the emphasis on healthy and touchless travel is here to stay.
In fact, we’re quickly moving to a world where your face and body will be your passport, according to the World Economic Forum.
“More touchless options will come into play including contactless fingerprint, as well as iris and face recognition,” says the organisation.
And once a vaccination is available for COVID-19, you’ll be expected to carry proof of immunisation.
How? One solution could be an invisible arm tattoo that contains your health records. They are accessed by a simple infrared scanner.
This technology already exists, so it could just be a matter of time until it goes mainstream.
If you’re tense at the thought of a world where you need your own door-opening tool, take heart. You may not travel as often as you think.
Many industry experts are predicting a more thoughtful approach to business travel going forward.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian thinks the number of trips the typical road warrior takes will go down.
“The international trips that we’ve all been on where we’ve flown over to Europe for a two-hour meeting and flown back…does nothing but beat you up, and you’d certainly be much better accommodated over a video call,” Bastian said.
“But it’s going to be trips that are focused on relationship building or interacting – whether it’s with your customers, conventions, new contacts, reviewing performance on a global scale – those are going to stay.”