Guest Post: How COVID has spurred an innovative approach to building back better

Guest Post: How COVID has spurred an innovative approach to building back better

Publicis Sapient’s Nick Shay says despite the devastation of the pandemic he is excited about what’s to come

Nick Shay, head of travel and hospitality International at Publicis Sapient, asks whether the sector recognises that there is no such thing as a post COVID world? It’s time to adapt and innovate to create a better future for the industry.

For those of you that took regular business trips prior to the pandemic, the hotel breakfast buffet may have been part of your daily ritual.

Presenting your room number and being shown to your table, the cursory glance across to assess what was on offer and deciphering the correct protocol for picking up your food and cup of coffee.

And when you finally took the plunge then there were the pauses, the side steps and the quiet apologies as you did your utmost to avoid your fellow diners without making a fuss.

We are now living in an era where the need for more stringent hygiene protocols and social distancing has put a stop to such rituals that were once so familiar. Will they return and will we ever go back to the way things once were?

SARS-CoV2 became part of our vocabulary 18 months ago, but according to the CDC, coronaviruses were first identified in the mid 1960s.

They are not new. And whilst the pandemic will almost certainly end, health experts believe that the virus will continue to circulate within society, with new variants emerging.

Recently chief executive Stephane Bancel told CNBC that Moderna hopes to have a booster shot for its two-dose Covid vaccine available in the autumn, giving further evidence that living with the virus rather than eliminating the virus is the likely new normal.

It is time to accept that things have irreversibly changed and we must now aspire for things to be better than before.

Every day I engage with travel and hospitality leaders around the world, and it is clear that they are gently balancing the opportunity provided with recovery alongside their company’s survival.

This is both understandable and essential, but the inconvenient truth is that it is not enough. Without careful attention, a safer experience will be a slower experience that limits customer volumes and drives customer dissatisfaction, which is not good for business.

Recently, it was widely reported that passengers arriving at London’s Heathrow airport were facing up to six hour queues to enter the country. Chief solutions officer Chris Garton told MPs that “the situation is becoming untenable”.

The cause of delays is the need to process passengers manually to meet regulations and guidelines.

Does the passenger have a valid test? Does the test certificate match the identity of the passenger travelling? Is the passenger travelling from a red listed country? Have they filled out the passenger locator form correctly? Do they need to follow test and release?

This challenge is temporary of course.  One day both travel and health data will be commonly exchanged securely, biometric gates will recognise the passenger, act on this data and the overall experience will be safer, faster, and better than before. Today, there are a few examples that show promise of a future that is to come.

The Good Health Pass Collaborative is one of several groups pushing for the creation and adoption of digital health pass solutions.

One such member is Medical Utility Network Accreditor (MUNA) that is being used by the Kuwaiti government to allow migrant workers from high-risk countries to return to work.

MUNA is a patented blockchain technology that connects labs in more than 40 cities (all considered high risk) with direct flights to Kuwait.

The MUNA network links audited labs with airlines and airports in real time to communicate digitized COVID-19 test results with total data privacy.

It’s exciting to see the exponential combination of technologies, such as blockchain, cloud, data and biometrics that can be used to both fuel the recovery and take a step towards a future that is better than before.

This example shows that the industry is starting to use this horrendous crisis to re-evaluate safety, customer experience and underlying technology investments. In doing so they are not only fueling the recovery but making things better than they were before.

Boarding an aircraft is another ritual that has become so familiar over the years. If you were a business class traveller then you would have become all too familiar with priority boarding.

Staring at the information screen waiting for the green light or perhaps a notification from your phone or an inaudible boarding announcement.

You would stand in line wondering if the person in front of you should be behind you and all in return for an aisle seat with more overhead locker space and additional leg room.

On a small aircraft you would sit at the front as you watched every other passenger bump, cough and shuffle their way past you. This was not a great experience and I hope becomes a thing of the past.

So, what could our COVID world look like when it comes to flying?

The Brazilian airline Azul recently introduced the ‘blue moving carpet’, a self-boarding system that uses AR to enhance the boarding experience. It encourages social distancing, transcends language barriers and is faster and more efficient for the airline and passenger.

British Airways has piloted biometric boarding gates that eliminate the need for boarding passes and passports at boarding, and Qatar’s Hamad International Airport has deployed Smart Screening Helmets that enable contactless temperature measurement using infrared thermal imaging, AI and AR display.

And finally, airlines are using the crisis to retire their old fleets. Newer aircraft fitted with more sensors will capture more data to make flying safer and more efficient.

Amid this devasting crisis, the more I look at the innovation happening in the industry the more I am excited of what is to come and where it is coming from.