COVID-19 and the Future of Travel: What You Should Know Going Forward

Air Date: August 27, 2020

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Rick Steves, Travel Expert,, Host of Rick Steves: Europe, Jennie Blumenthal, Transportation Hospitality Leader, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Mike Delaney, Vice President Digital Transformation, Boeing, Jeff Knittel, , AirBus Americas

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, the travel industry is desperately seeking to open again. With travel restrictions in almost every country, airline industries have seen a sharp decline in travelers with only a 30% capacity compared to this time last year. As people long for their next vacation, we all have the same question: When will travel be back to normal?

In this interview with Suzanne Clark, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, four travel industry experts weigh in on instilling confidence in travelers and airplane safety education, among other travel related topics.

Travelers Are Exploring Their Own Backyards More Than Ever

With the majority of international flights grounded, many are enjoying the sites of their own country. In the United States, the travel industry is seeing a huge uptick in the amount of road trips Americans are taking.

“People have to play the cards they're dealt,” said Rick Steves, Travel Expert and host of Rick Steves Europe. “If you want to go traveling around Europe or Asia right now, you're not going to do that, so you're going to take a road trip.”

More people are enticed to go to places within traveling distances and away from large, crowded metropolitan cities or even closer to the seashore, which are strengths brands can play off of in the travel industry.

Travel Companies Are Finding Ways to Instill Patrons With Confidence and Trust

Trust and transparency in all industries is crucial as travel companies create new policies and practices to navigate the pandemic. Jennie Blumenthal of PriceWaterhouseCoopers noted in surveys by PWC, patrons were more likely to trust a branded hotel rather than an unbranded hotel. She noted it’s important to be honest with customers and educate them on protocols against COVID-19.

Additionally, Blumenthal explains surveys are showing customers want to have more control over their environment and the decisions they can make when traveling.

“Each of the brands are trying to figure out how far they want to push that envelope in terms of tapping into what those consumers want and giving them the control to be able to choose the type of experience they want to feel safe,” Blumenthal explained.

Traveling on an Airplane Is as Safe as Ever, According to Experts

Airline experts Jeff Knittel of Airbus Americas and Mike Delaney of Boeing both stressed the importance of educating travelers on the safety of air travel.

“Most people are unaware of the capability of an airplane’s air conditioning system,” said Delaney. “An airplane air conditioning system delivers about 20 to 30 volumes of air an hour. Half of that air is fresh and half of it is recirculated through hospital-grade HEPA filters that are antiviral … So the air travel system itself has inherent capabilities that were not designed to take out an aerosol virus but actually do it really well.”

As airlines and airports themselves are mitigating the virus through proper cleaning protocols and utilizing social distancing and masks, Delaney and Knittel noted that while everything has risks, the air travel system is one of the safest in the midst of the pandemic.

“You realize that, looking at it from various perspectives … the system itself is safe if you follow the proper protocol,” Knittel added.

The Development of the Internet of Things Will Change the Face of the Travel Industry

The internet of things (IoT) is the future in many industries, from sensor capabilities to data exchanges between systems. Blumenthal praises the incorporation of IoT in the travel system such as mobile keys in hotels or contactless check-ins and direct payments using your mobile phone.

Contact tracing within these technologies is vital to tracking the virus. In one new technology, if someone comes in contact with someone with COVID-19, they’ll be alerted immediately thanks to data from hotel check-ins, said Blumenthal.

Delaney explained the airline industries are also doing their best to roll out new technologies that allow patrons to be as hands-free as possible. A few measures of IoT with air travel are checking into your flight on mobile applications, checking bags remotely and answering questions about your exposure to COVID-19 online before boarding.

The event was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.