New experiences and expectations in business travel
As a road warrior for many years, with thousands of air miles to prove it, I gleefully told my colleagues my office was Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. Now with more than a year of the global pandemic behind us, my trustworthy suitcase on my top shelf is crying out to be dusted off and moving again. America is also itching to travel, and many have already started.
Since April, on average 1.5 million daily travelers have passed through TSA airport checkpoints, a large growth from a year ago but well less than 2019. And Americans are dreaming and planning getaways. Longwoods International Travel Sentiment Index reveals that trip planning continues to grow. The quarterly study shows an increase of 20% in those planning to travel in the next 6 months.
Much of this positive sentiment corresponds with the growth in vaccination rates. Millions of Americans are being vaccinated each day, and all states are open now for any eligible adult to get a shot. States are easing restrictions on businesses and the amount of people that can gather, allowing museums, theaters and restaurants to slowly expand capacity and reduce limited restrictions.
But what should you expect when you travel now? Well to start, let’s talk about that suitcase. Why should you ever pull that four-wheeled bag again when you can simply have your suitcase follow you through the airport? Several companies are launching the next generation of Smart Suitcases that use Bluetooth and GPS tracking to connect with your smart phone and follow you on your airport journey. Brands like TravelMate and Cowarobot are setting the stage for the newest travel luxury.
As you head to the airport, barring any additional pandemic related delays, Real ID is coming closer to reality. Real ID, an enhanced state issued driver’s license or ID card, will be required starting October 1, 2021. If you don’t have a Real ID license or card, your valid passport will work for all travelers over 18 years of age.
Contactless technology is the buzz at airports. COVID-19 helped drive a full review of each phase of a traveler’s journey through an airport. Of course, using an airline travel app is still the easiest and quickest. Once you have booked your reservation, most carrier apps support seat selection, check in and boarding pass delivery, and if you are fortunate, scan the upgrade wait list to see if there is a better seat waiting for you.
For bag check-in, self-service luggage tagging is improving. If you are willing to spend a few extra bucks, join CLEAR, a membership-based TSA approved service to speed past the security line. CLEAR uses biometrics to scan your eyes and fingerprints and send you to the front of the security line.
Newark Liberty International is also planning to enhance biometrics throughout the airport to help speed travelers along the way. Technology helps monitor checkpoints, wait times and links to the departure schedules to help airport operations direct staff and travelers to the quickest checkpoints. United is now testing facial recognition at its San Francisco hub. This new technology will support a touchless experience from check in, luggage and boarding, and future enhancements to include TSA security as well.
Grabbing a drink, a bite to eat or a snack is all moving to touchless technology. At Newark Liberty, each seat at the bar has a scannable QR code which opens the menu on your phone or you have the option to use the fixed tablet on the counter. And while you are waiting for your order, you can be catching up on the latest news or scores, as well. Coming soon may very well be kiosks at the boarding gate where you simply scan your ID and boarding pass to board your plane.
Hotels have instituted many enhanced cleaning protocols since the outbreak began and will continue to refine its processes to enhance customer comfort. Craig Whitehouse, Director of Sales of the brand-new Element New York Wood-Ridge, shared the ongoing focus of hotel cleanliness particularly in the high traffic high touch area of the hotel. In addition to mask wearing for all team members, health tips are shared daily with the staff following CDC guidelines, prioritizing complete guest safety. Food and beverage trends include individually wrapped items, socially distanced cook to order breakfast, and separate in room filtered water. In July, the outdoor rooftop bar overlooking the NYC skyline will open.
As for technology, everything is on an app. The Element is part of Marriott’s Bonvoy guest rewards program. As Craig explained, the Bonvoy app has improved greatly, allowing for complete start to finish travel planning, from hotel selection, booking, check in, guest room key, and check out. Chatbot technology allows for immediate communication to the hotel staff for problem resolution and any special requests.
The Hilton Honors app fully integrates its network of over 6000 hotels globally. Some Hiltons also feature a fully Connected room which includes television connectivity, lighting and temperature controls, room deliveries and connectivity to all hotel services, from your mobile phone.
Tourism services are also changing. One of the best ways to get to know a destination is by walking. Uptaste.com features self-guided food and neighborhood tours at select destinations using Sahara, a digital concierge app. Sahara is created by Autoura, which is planning for expansion with destinating tours in self driving autonomous vehicles to cruise you about town.
As you dust off that suitcase and get ready to take your first post-covid trip, make sure your phones are all charged and ready.
David Keys, president of Hospitality Keys is a consultant specializing in the hospitality industry and is also on the staff of Fairleigh Dickinson University International School of Hospitality, Sports and Tourism Management. David resides in Montclair with his family. He can be reached at David.firstname.lastname@example.org or (917) 783-3111. See www.Totalhotelperformance.com for more.