Like many other professionals in my line of work, I have paid my dues in terms of million miler airline status , decades of top tier hotel loyalty and rental car loyalty status etc . I got to live and work in three continents thanks to this job – and have enjoyed getting to know different cultures and expanding my skills and my world view . I have enjoyed better vacations with my family because of the loyalty rewards as well . For more than twenty years, I have taken business travel for granted and rarely given it a second thought . I often answer “at a Friendly Airport near you” when people ask me “where are you based?” 🙂
The last time I was in a plane was in early March this year when I returned from India after my father’s funeral . The honest truth is that I don’t miss business travel today . My entire global team – more than a thousand people – took about two days to become fully remote . We have been productive and now are quite comfortable running our business with webex , mural , Trello , slack and so on .
So why did I start thinking about business travel again ? Simply because I have started to realize that meeting people on webex is not a long term sustainable strategy for growing relationships – be in personal or professional . Also, while it is possible to build on existing relationships – it’s extremely difficult to build new relationships in a remote fashion . Efficiency can be managed somehow when we are remote – but not efficacy !
What is behind my reluctance to travel ? It’s primarily the fear of getting COVID-19 . There are secondary worries of course about social unrest , cleanliness , availability of food and so on given the lack of consistency of guidelines across US and the world on reopening, access to medical facilities should I need it in a hurry etc .
1. Zero contact everywhere I go
A good start will be to make sure everything about my travel experience becomes digital .
Airlines are good about this generally with boarding passes and occasionally baggage tags . But the physical agents and kiosks are still required at the slightest deviation from the happy flow . I don’t want to be in a crowd at the customer service kiosk , or go ask a gate agent for status or anything of that nature . I would love for airlines employees and me all to have mobile to mobile communication for vast majority of the time .
Hotels are inconsistent about digital keys – many of them still don’t offer it . I would like them to hurry . Check in and checkout have no good reason for me to ever meet an agent in person .
I don’t want to swipe my credit card anywhere either . Why do we need a physical card in this day and age ?
2. Common digital identity for all my travel
I don’t want the TSA agent to pickup my passport or driver’s license . I also don’t want the hotel to need to check that in person . There should be some machine to machine way of handling this . Technology really cannot be the bottleneck here . Privacy is absolutely a concern for sure – and it should be based on an opt-in basis .
Even without the COVID concerns – why do I need to have separate profiles and identity kept with each transportation provider ? Even within One world alliance – I often have to identify myself repeatedly if I am traveling using more than one airline .
3. A “Trust and Transparency score” I can search and rank by
Some airlines do not give away their middle seats and some do . Different hotels, rental car companies have different cleaning schedules . Some hotels serve food and others don’t . I need to know all this – and probably more – before I book my travel . This needs some kind of a score or tag that I can search providers by and choose the ones I am comfortable with using .
Travel industry essentially needs to make me feel really comfortable – and earn my trust with their transparency – before I travel again . I absolutely want that industry thriving again and I think business travel returning to growth is a big part of such recovery .
4. An expert digital travel advisor that follows me around on my phone
Things are changing by the minute and I don’t have the time and energy to stay on top of it when I am on the road . I need a digital friend to stay on top of my travel for me – warning me if my risk exposure is changing based on my location at any point (is meeting at a location where overnight there was a surge in Covid cases) , helping me change travel plans (was there a curfew announced and do I need to reschedule) with low friction , answering questions (where is the closest hospital with ICU capacity open) etc . I also want my family to have access to some of this information when I am on the road .
In my current estimate – there is no great need for me to travel for rest of this year unless there is some big unknown exception that arises . But I am almost certain that I will need to travel beyond that horizon for work and probably also to visit my mother in INDIA . I truly hope the travel industry will do everything they can to transform themselves and earn my loyalty again .