Frequent Flyers Poised to Lead the Travel Recovery

Attributed to: Andy Besant, Director of Travel Experiences, Collinson

With many summer getaways put on hold due to ongoing restrictions and unclear travel booking advice, and another holiday season just around the corner, many people are asking the same question – when can we expect any sense of travel normality to return?

There is both positive and negative news. Earlier this summer, travel corridors and testing procedures brought a cautious resumption of leisure travel, with some UK tourists managing to sneak in a cross-border holiday when quarantine restrictions were lifted for a number of European countries. However, the fragility of the situation was fast revealed, with international travel turning into a game of quarantine roulette that’s only serving to further reduce traveller confidence. Spain was removed from the UK’s list of safe destinations, soon followed by France, and most recently Croatia and Austria.

And yet, amidst the uncertainty, frequent flyers are ready to return to the skies as soon as restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to do so. A recent global survey of 22,000 frequent flyers in the Priority Pass programme found that a stunning three in four frequent flyers (71%) are ready to return to travel either immediately or within the next three to six months.

The pandemic has changed travel while also revealing its value, and a huge number of people are eager to get back to it. Travel drives cultural education and awareness; it connects communities and people, and encourages innovation. And while frequent travellers understand the need for restrictions, there are still important steps that can be made to further restore their confidence, enable them to travel safely, and improve the experience.

Who are frequent flyers? These are the travel lovers who go abroad for every long weekend they can, the business travellers constantly flying for work, and the digital nomads for whom work and travel are one and the same. They know their way around more than a handful of international airports, they expect a comfortable and premium experience before the flight takes off, and are well-versed in how to earn points and miles along the way.

At the same time, COVID-19 has changed what frequent flyers want and need. The Priority Pass survey found that unpredictable factors such as quarantines and border controls represent frequent flyers’  top concern about returning to air travel – 74% identify this as a worry, and accordingly, half of them are willing to pay for a COVID-19 test to help reduce quarantine mandates. When queried about which measures would make them feel most confident about future air travel, testing at the airport was singled out as the top driver of confidence.

Delivering on frequent flyer needs by safely easing restrictions will necessitate a broad and collaborative industry strategy including airport PCR testing, such as the UK’s first test-on-arrival pilot programme recently spearheaded by Collinson and Swissport for Heathrow Airport, including a dedicated state-of-the-art test-on-arrival facility now ready for use in Heathrow’s Terminal 2. Collinson and Swissport are now working with the UK Government to have a negative test-on-arrival added as an exemption to quarantine.

If even some travel can safely restart, this could have a major impact on people’s livelihoods and the economy. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects global airline losses to top US$84 billion in 2020, endangering some 25 million jobs in aviation and related sectors. Meanwhile, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that a 12-month break in international tourism would plummet the sector by US$3.3 trillion, or 4.2% of global GDP.

The fact that most frequent flyers are prepared to return to air travel within the next half-year or even sooner is encouraging, and could turn out to be an essential lifeline for the global aviation and tourism sectors. If governments, airports and the travel industry can collectively take the right steps to restart travel safely with reduced quarantine requirements as far as possible, we may see a near-normalisation of air travel far sooner than many predictions that set out recovery taking as long as until 2023. This would mean travellers having the confidence to book personal and business travel at similar rates to pre-COVID.

Beyond clarifying quarantine measures and introducing new procedures to safely ease these restrictions, frequent flyers also want a more contactless airport experience, with access to self-contained areas such as the airport lounge. The Priority Pass survey found that almost seven in 10 frequent flyers are willing to pay for access to an airport lounge where social distancing is maintained, and another 80% would like to see contactless service options. Around one in three also cited an interest in “click & collect” options for shopping and food – a finding that corresponds to the upcoming “Ready 2 Order” pilot scheme from Collinson. Going live soon, the pilot solution enables airport lounges to digitise their complimentary food service so that travellers can place food and drink orders from their seat or table, using a personal mobile device.

The closing and opening of travel corridors in recent months indicates that the travel recovery will not be a straight line. In this evolving landscape, frequent travellers won’t regain their confidence unless they can see that their expectations are being understood and catered to – from access to testing that will enable the safe avoidance of quarantine periods, to more social distancing measures introduced into lounges, to new innovations for a more contactless airport journey. If frequent flyers can get access to the right travel experience, they will return to the skies when it’s safe and encourage others to do the same, championing and leading the travel recovery for all.