TORONTO — When consumers get to the point that they can treat COVID-19 as a background threat, that’s when recovery in the airline and travel industry will take off in earnest.
That’s how Jay Sorensen, a veteran of the airline industry and President of consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany, sees the end game for the pandemic’s negative impact on travel.
In recent years Sorensen’s company has become well-known in the industry for its airline ancillary reports, produced in conjunction with CarTrawler, charting the meteoric year-over-year rise in revenue from the airlines’ profitable ancillary fee structures.
With COVID-19, IdeaWorksCompany is also focusing on trends and strategies as the industry navigates the pandemic.
There won’t be a magic moment when COVID-19 just goes away, and in fact, it could be with us for years to come. Public confidence in how COVID-19 is handled by companies and governments, and, of course, mass vaccinations, will make all the difference for travel getting back on track, says Sorensen.
IdeaWorksCompany and CarTrawler’s just-released report, ‘Transformation 2021: How Airlines and Travelers Will Adapt as the Pandemic Recedes’, part of the Transformation 2021 series, notes that there are plenty of other threats to human health and safety in the world.
But human nature being what it is, we get on with daily life and keep those risks in perspective. COVID-19, on the other hand, is a new and immediate concern, and it’s demanding all of our attention.
What will it take for COVID-19 to be demoted to a background threat? For starters, when the public accepts and understands key COVID-19 statistics, and most importantly, when the rates of infection and death take steep decreases, says Sorensen.
“Countries will no longer rely upon travel restrictions to provide immediate protection from viral spread,” he says. “Vaccines will be given to members of the general population and COVID-19 treatments will deliver predictably positive results for most. Dining out at the destination will be welcomed as an experience to be savoured. It’s a long list of objectives to meet, but the world is determined to end this plague and return to the business and joy of travel.”
While testing was embraced as an early indicator of safe travel, and will likely endure until the threat is eliminated, says Sorensen, the problem is the chaos that comes with any new undertaking, with so many players jostling for position, and no real coordination. The fact that it’s on a global scale makes it that much more daunting.
“The experience can frustrate the most intrepid of travellers. Too many will throw up their arms in frustration and choose the greater certainty offered by a vacation close to home that doesn’t involve international borders,” he says.
The answer? As Sorensen sees it, the best solution would be a combination of off-airport and in-airport testing. But there are caveats. He gives the example of 100% testing at a busy terminal like Heathrow’s Terminal 5. About 2.5 hours would be needed to process pre-boarding tests for a planeload of international passengers, at an optimistic rate of 4 minutes per passenger.
With 15.4 million passengers departing the terminal every year (pre-COVID), his calculations estimate that just for Heathrow’s Terminal 5, some 500 extra employees would be needed to process the pre-departure testing regimen. And that’s just one terminal. “The numbers are overwhelming and convey the giant scale of the testing challenge,” says Sorensen.
For more insights from the Transformation 2021 report, including a look at health passports like IATA Travel Pass, click here to read the lead story in this week’s digital edition of Travelweek.