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Anticipating The Future of Air Travel on After Covid-19

During these unprecedented times, we see behavior of travelers changing overnight

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Post Covid-19 Air Travel


During these unprecedented times, we see behavior of travelers changing overnight.

Planes are parked on the runways of airports around the globe. Hotel occupancy levels plummeted to single digit numbers and most restaurants and bars have been closed by local governments.

Amid so much uncertainty, more than 50% of people are (very) worried about the future, as shown by KANTAR’s Covid-19 Barometer.

With most air travel companies fully focused on economical and operational measures, we can already see first signs of companies that have started adjusting their business model successfully, which not only increases their chance to survive this crisis but will actually help them get out of this situation stronger and better.

After SARS we noticed Cathay Pacific boosting Hong Kong tourism with the award-winning campaign ‘Fly without fear.’ The industry took about 6 months to recover after that crisis. What to expect of the speed of recovery after Covid-19? More importantly how do we expect the hospitality and air travel sector to reshape after this period?

Before Covid-19, Smart Travel Lab identified 5 main themes that would impact the industry in the next 5 years: Sustainability, Over-tourism, Seamless journeys, The future of workforce and Safety & security. One of the Founders, Christiaan Uittenbosch, states: ‘These topics have suddenly become even more actual urgent than before and will require the industry’s full attention as part of its recovery. As Hospitality and Travel has almost come to a full stop, now is the time to change, develop and improve the sector that we all love. With consumers wondering when it’s safe to air travel again, it’s a great opportunity to show our leadership as an industry. Smart Travel Lab & Kantar are helping companies with their recovery plans while at the same time identifying the opportunities this crisis presents to come out of it even better’

As a starting point, the two companies have developed 4 key scenarios and defined the main implications for the travel industry.

Several key observations are:

  • The appreciation for nature and untouched over urban and artificial will surge
  • A strong expected growth of domestic over international air travel
  • A brand that does not inspire in this time of crisis should expect to be neglected

The four scenarios that are described in the report are:

  1. Close Call: “the Surge for Survival”
  2. Panic Attack: “Stay local, stay safe”
  3. Recurring Nightmare: “Two seasons, two travelers”
  4. Brave New Reality: “Air Travel Safety by fiat”


1. Close Call: “the Surge for Survival”

Some companies will take aggressive measures to survive. There is a short window of opportunity to recover from losses as consumers relieve their cabin fever with a surge in demand for open spaces, culture and good food. Those that cannot maintain the resources to compete head-on once restrictions are lifted will be left behind.

2. Panic Attack: “Stay local, stay safe”

As the system starts breaking down – without governmental reassurance or relief – people take matters in their own hands. They will start supporting local businesses and become extremely risk averse. Even when governments declare the pandemic over, people are slow to believe and regain trust. Travel is constrained to nearby areas. Only hotels, restaurants and travel providers that demonstrate they deserve to be trusted – with impeccable control standards and ethical practices – will survive.

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3. Recurring Nightmare: “Two seasons, two travelers”

With no decisive action to end the threat, Covid-19 becomes a seasonal fact, at least for the next few years.

For half of the year, there is a frantic rush to enjoy good food and air travel. For the other half, lockdowns are mandatory. In order to survive, the hospitality and air travel sector needs to find alternative business models , pandemic castes emerge, with the well off spending the year in escapist luxury while the rest stay behind. Brands need to choose whether they will play to the elite, and risk the wrath of the masses, or find ways to provide affordable thrills to those that can barely afford to air travel.

4. Brave New Reality: “Travel Safety by fiat”

Covid-19 is unstoppable, but also manageable. Governments impose rules on everything from cleaning standards to design regulations. They enforce regulations allowing them to requisition resources (like hotels, kitchens and planes) as needed during ‘Covid-19 season,’ and quickly close borders at even a hint of infection. Companies accept the tradeoff of a relatively stable and prosperous business environment in exchange for limits on their freedom.

So what happens with the 5 focus areas that Smart Travel Lab described before Covid-19?

Uittenbosch: ‘Out of the 5 meta-themes, Health & Sustainability will dominate the recovery agenda for the next 18 months. All companies should be on top of these two topics, not only to be in business and stay relevant, but travelers will be looking at them for a strong and positive answer”.

So what’s next?

After defining the most likely scenarios, Smart Travel Lab & Kantar are now working with the first air travel organizations to define the most concrete and pressing challenges. These will form the basis for new business models and solutions that are ready to implement and scalable to support the industry’s recovery. The first pilot projects should hit the market within the next 6-8 weeks.

So, symbolically, while the summer period is normally peak season for the industry, we will all be working extremely hard to recover with the ambition to get out stronger and better.


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