Ethical Travelling in a Covid World

It is vital that tourism is given a clear path to recovery, particularly for developing nations. However, ethical travelling is equally as important – visitors must be sensitive to the new demands, pitfalls, and intricacies now present in the communities they travel to.

I recently took an online trip to the seven “New Wonders of the World”, triggered by a nostalgia for the travel I used to do prior to the advent of Covid. It struck me that all of the countries where these wonders are located have been significantly affected by the virus. Peru (Machu Picchu), Brazil (Christ the Redeemer), Italy (Colosseum), Mexico (Chichen Itza), and Jordan (Petra) all have seen death rates of over 1% of those infected in the population, according to Worldometers. Meanwhile, India (Taj Mahal) has also suffered hugely, and China (Great Wall) was the epicentre of the original outbreak.

Aside from the obvious direct human cost, the economic impact has been horrendous too (as will be knock-on health and social effects that will inevitably follow). For example, according to the Peruvian government tourist bureau in Cusco in January 2021, Covid has been devastating for the local population. An estimated 92% of those previously employed in the tourist industry having lost their jobs. These include families providing homestays, women’s collectives weaving ponchos and other textiles, and native guides. Prior to Covid-19, community-focused travel such as this, was on the rise, and we must, with the resumption of tourism, shine the spotlight on ethical travelling once again.

In Mexico, where 11 million people rely on tourism for their livelihoods, it is a similar story. The slump in visitor numbers combined with little or no government support has seen many slip into unemployment and poverty. Further afield, entrance ticket sales to international tourists to Angkor Wat fell 97% over the past year. An estimated 51,000 tourist jobs (and nearly 3,000 local businesses) have been lost during the pandemic, according to the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism.  

Ethical travelling requires sympathy to those who have suffer huge losses thanks to the pandemic.
The pandemic has had devastating effects on every level of tourism, such as this women’s collective, which weaves ponchos

Tourism’s Recovery – a sensitive balance

From an ethical perspective, what can and should an overseas traveller do to help people faced with such economic devastation in developing countries? As border restrictions are eased, and vaccine roll outs reach deeper into the population, this question has been puzzling me (in my case I live in the UK). Communities desperately short of tourist income may be very keen to welcome international visitors. For tourist enterprises on the brink of bankruptcy and families facing hardship, the opportunity to relaunch shuttered businesses may be welcome, allowing people to earn revenue once more.  

However, sensitivity is needed, since some communities may also be grieving Covid’s impact.  Although they might welcome economic support, compassion for their potential recent trauma is appropriate as well. Holidays are typically a time for joyful relaxation, but it would be worth tempering some behaviours to respect local sentiments. Furthermore, locals may be fearful of future outbreaks of the virus and the impact of these. Tourists fleeing various restrictions back home could endear themselves by ensuring they comply with those in place at their destination. There is a need for the tourist to take personal responsibility for their compliance to local rules, such as mask mandates and social distancing. Ethical travelling starts with the traveller.

SafeScore can help travellers make informed decisions about when are where to go, based on up-to-date, accurate Covid data.  However, tourists can also benefit from conversations with local travel agents and guides to understand what is “appropriate tourism” in this complex time.

Tagged : / /

To Make or to Wait? Creating Decision-Making Aids for Travel

Do it right? Or do it right now? Creating decision-making aids in the current climate of rapid technical and data evolution presents developers with a conundrum.  Getting a solution into the market quickly allows them to test their value proposition and potentially steal a march on competitors by establishing a brand.  By contrast, waiting another six months means incorporating functionality and data that was not previously available, ensuring greater value to customers.

In this data-driven arms race it is important to remember that an end point probably does not exist.  Ceaseless innovation will inevitably render many solutions redundant before they’ve had an opportunity to embed themselves in customers’ organisations.  This should not discourage developers, though, so long as they consider how to incorporate solutions into customers’ workflow.

A departures board at an airport displays various destination options for travellers - decision-making aids can help with the confusion
Border restrictions and entry rules thwart standardised and automated data collection

Changing rules, changing data

Covid data relating to travel is constantly evolving as countries’ and territories’ rules change.  The volume of data is also expanding, as governments and organisations are collecting more, and more granular data.  Both impact travellers’ decisions.  Ingesting, standardising, and categorising these various streams is a challenge for data scientists, and there is a risk of boiling the ocean to create a solution which synthesises an ever-expanding data set.

Developing a model with this functionality, whilst also future-proofing it, presents a terrific long-term challenge.  This should not detract from adding value right now, though.  The Pareto Principle (commonly termed the 80/20 Rule) suggests that the majority of requirements can often be met by solving a relatively small number of problems.  

Examples include machine learning solutions which are used to interpret medical images in hospitals or luggage scans in airports.  Training the technology to identify frequent, unambiguous instances, frees up human specialists to focus on the rarer complex and cryptic cases, where subtle interpretation is needed.  

One size doesn’t fit all

The same approach can apply to travel data.  For the majority of customers, the parameters of their travel decision will be easy for them to define.  This can be supported by a core data set that is kept current with regular updates from trusted sources.  Providing automated solutions for this cohort can help them incorporate Covid-19 considerations into their flight booking, just as they currently filter by price, duration, and number of stops.  This standardised approach creates significant value whilst remaining relatively simple and easy to maintain.  While there could of course be more data layered into the offering, we must remember that for many customers, good enough is good enough.

For those customers requiring more bespoke arrangements, or whose circumstances are more complex, additional functionality can be developed.  Detailed information about the specifics of local quarantine arrangements for returning travellers with children, for example, may not lend itself to the level of standardisation necessary to incorporate it into a straightforward core solution. Additionally, the introduction of discrete vaccinations and their respective requirements further complicates matters. At this point a broker or agent armed with an accurate and timely qualitative data feed could be best placed to offer a premium service. An off-the-shelf approach is not designed to fit the needs of the most intricate requirements. 

Customers are heterogenous, and so are the data solutions they require to best support their decision making.  Developers must seek to remain valuable to the organisations they serve.  This means they must balance the expediency of “good enough” data against a sensitive awareness of how to create the tailored add-ons necessary for first class services.

Tagged : / / /

Changing Travel Decisions in a New Climate

For anyone that has taken a class or has experience with regression modelling, they will be familiar with the common error term that that accounts for “everything else” outside of the variables being assessed. Without trying to immediately bore the reader with a refresh of statistical analysis, the COVID pandemic has caused this error term to balloon to such effect that traditional considerations when making travel decisions need a re-think. Having a travel budget ready to go and a good price from an airline is no longer all that is needed to get a person on plane.  

Border closures, enhanced travel requirements, and lockdowns at origins and destinations have all contributed to the variability in how travellers make decisions, which ultimately effects demand levels. 

Passenger Demand Shifts

An evening flight preparing for take-off
An evening flight preparing for take-off

Prior to the pandemic, air access was a major constituent part of travel demand. Makes sense. If air services are not readily available, then demand cannot be satiated. Data from IATA in their May Air Passenger Market Analysis indicates the changes to load factor, or percentage of seats filled, for key markets for May 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. The key take-out from the findings is that load factors are depressed against historical norms. In other words, passengers are not willing or able to travel in line with what airlines have previously expected.

Market (Domestic and International)
Load factor % pts difference
Asia Pacific-12.6%
Latin America-6.5%
Middle East-34.1%
North America-13.3%
Findings show that load factors are depressed against historical norm

While this is an oversimplification to some degree, it nonetheless illustrates the point. The importance of other factors has risen considerably. 

It is perhaps likened to an inverse relationship shown in the chart below. Prior to the pandemic, traditional drivers of demand ranked high compared with background “noise” factors. Now, traditional considerations have taken a back seat. As the COVID pandemic matures and eventually becomes a relic of history, this relationship is likely to return to some degree of normality. Until then though, these error terms will continue to cause pain for travellers and the travel industry.

Thanks to the pandemic, traditional considerations have taken a back seat

What is a traveller to do?

View over a city from an Egyptair flight
View over a city from an Egyptair flight

Information. Lockdowns, border closures, and ever-changing travel requirements leads travellers down the path of taking even more charge of their own destiny. While travellers have always taken responsibility for ensuring they meet government and airline requirements, these were fairly straight forward and well known. The pandemic has caused a shift in the workload for travellers. The question is then, how can this workload be managed or minimised?

Safescore provides a solution to this problem by consolidating travel quarantine, COVID information, testing requirements, and border entry information onto a single platform. The goal is to reduce the workload for travellers and provide insights that can build confidence.

Tagged : / / /

Reviving Travel Confidence

Whatever your reason to connect – to spend time with loved ones, to conduct business or to experience different parts of the world, Covid-19 has sent travel confidence into a free-fall and travel stress sky high. 

Stepping outside our comfort zones and embracing the unknown was formerly a rallying call to the adventure of travel. Now, it is a quagmire of border closures and colour coded restrictions, passenger caps, travel bubbles and bridges, PCR and antigen testing, mandatory hotel quarantine and home isolation periods, face covering rules and vaccination requirements, all in a seemingly constant state of flux. 

Although many domestic travel markets are well on the way to recovery, international travel is perceived as volatile and fragmented. Each country goes its own way in charting a course through the pandemic from suppression, to elimination, eradication and all points in between. Global attitudes to travel vary widely as a result, and even seasoned travellers are hesitant to dust off their passports given the difficulty of pivoting to a new normal. 

Flight switchboard in airport displaying flight destinations and times
Varying international travel regulations heighten hesitancy in travellers

So What Will It Take to Get International Travel’s Mojo Back? 

The answer will vary depending on what Pandemic Persona you are. After riding the Covid-19 safety, economic and emotional rollercoaster over the course of 2020 and 2021, it is fair to say that our attitudes towards the previously sanguine realm of international travel have shifted markedly. So too have our personas. User-centered design relies on identifying personas (customer groups with a set of similar behaviours, attitudes and values) and then tailoring products and services to respond to their wants and needs.

Pre-pandemic, passengers took travel safety and security largely for granted. Priorities related to travel were increasingly centered around nice to have creature comforts such as, free WiFi, food and beverage offerings, comfortable seating and ritzy washrooms.  But Covid-19 has flipped our prioritization on its head. At front and centre now, are essential hygiene factors, personal space, and clarity around Covid-19 requirements. Together, these contribute to the overall journey feasibility and reassure passengers that their health and safety is a priority.  

The Many Faces of Pandemic Personas

Identifying Pandemic Personas and addressing their respective needs is key to salvaging travel confidence. You may recognize yourself in one of the following evolving personas:

The Cautious Traveller

Wants to travel, but is concerned about the unknown in an environment where nothing seems predictable. They place high value on their own, and their family’s, health and safety, tending to go above and beyond requirements. They tend not to trust others to do the right thing. Cautious Travellers need to understand the regulations and protocols that will be encountered on their journey and be prepared for what lies ahead. 

The Reluctant Traveller

Has to rather than wants to travel and finds the thought of travel emotionally and physically stressful. This traveller is displaced from the familiarity and security of home by necessity – perhaps due changing circumstances, a family emergency, or travelling for work. In everyday life they manage fine and can resolve their own issues, but as a Reluctant Traveller they find the thought of navigating restrictions unwelcome and bewildering and are likely to benefit from journey guidance. 

The Unconvinced Traveller

Unsure about the pandemic and effectiveness of measures taken to defeat it. Not bothered about health risks. Unlikely to put any of their own time into discovering what is required of them and destined to bump against the sides of unwelcome regulatory surprises they encounter. Information needs to be pushed to them, for example by their travel agent or airline, as they will not seek it out themselves.

The Emergent Traveller

Feeling ready to emerge from domestic hibernation, they have conscientiously followed Covid-19 restrictions and wish to continue to do so as they venture forth. Self sufficient, organised and methodical by nature they will research what to expect of any journey and destination, and will remain vigilant to Covid-19 protocols. 

The Comfortable Traveller

Keen to relax and recharge after a tough year and happy to spend more for curated, premium services. This persona wants to be taken care of and is likely to use a travel booking entity; expecting them to do the planning and provide tailor-made information. The Comfortable Traveller desires their journey to be smooth, stress free and personalized. 

Travel Confidence and Confident Travellers

A personal taking a photograph on their smart phone of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Whether confident or cautious, every Pandemic Persona requires clear and current travel information

Despite their differences, all of these Pandemic Personas have a common need for reliable travel insight, presented in a readily digestible format, as a key enabler of travel confidence. SafeScore compiles route specific safety and border data from hundreds of  airlines, airports and border authorities and keeps it up-to-date. Which countries are open to you and your family? Which can you transit? PCR testing requirements? Quarantine rules? SafeScore regularly updates vaccination and infection rates as well as a growing repository of other aggregated data.

What knowledge would it take to help convert you, your family, your employees or your clients into Confident Travellers? Let SafeScore know. They’d love to hear from you.

Tagged : / / /

Travel Decisions in a Time of Covid

The packing list for holidays in times of Covid is as likely to require Xanax as it is sunscreen.  Whilst the thought of escaping the claustrophobic confines of lockdown for the beaches of the Mediterranean may seem appealing, navigating the ceaselessly changing guidelines and regulations is a stressful business. 

Packing in a pandemic is more stressful than ever.

The hurdles of unpredictability

Building predictability into travel planning is clearly a priority for travel agents and airlines, whose revenues have been hammered both by their customers’ Covid safety concerns and also by capricious rule makers.  Yet in an environment where new disease, quarantine and testing data is constantly influencing governments’ models, is it possible to anticipate what the likelihood is of successfully enjoying a fortnight under the exotic sun over the summer?

Naturally, one impact has been the growth in domestic tourism, with prospective holidaymakers swapping foreign trips for those closer to home, which do not run the risk of a last minute state or national border closure.  The rediscovery of local culture and beauty spots have been a boon for battered home markets.  But even here, travellers have been disappointed at times, as snap restrictions between certain Australian states and between Australia and New Zealand, for example, have severely dented consumer confidence.

Rapidly changing travel restrictions can lead to missed flights, lost holidays, and more headaches.

Has the need to travel overcome the desire to visit?

Another trend has seen customers booking trips based on the accessibility of a country rather than the quality of the destination.  This is already becoming a standard behaviour for travellers who are booking leave from work weeks in advance whilst only confirming their travel itinerary a few days before they leave.  The uncertainty does not stop when on holiday either, as governments introduce new restrictions, often at short notice, which may cause plans to be cut short whilst lying on the sun lounger.

Data has a key role to play in addressing these challenges, both at an individual and sector level.  For aspiring travellers, being able to search for potential destinations, especially overseas ones, based on specific criteria is vital.  In the case of those who are going to leave the choice about where to go until the last minute, having access to the latest quarantine and testing regimens is a critical component of decision making. However this intelligence is often not easily accessible.  Nor is it frequently available in a “compare the market” format that allows users to tweak different criteria to allow comparisons between locations. SafeScore is working on a solution that offers this functionality, aggregating data feeds from multiple, reliable, current data sources, and hopes to launch this service shortly.

Clearly defined travel data could help the industry on its road to recovery.

Data designed to boost travel

At a sector level, there is a role for machine learning and predictive analytics to identify trends in huge and complex travel restriction data sets.  Identifying links between disease events and subsequent government responses will be tough.  However, deep learning tools are already being developed to analyse complex systems.  Attempts to predict cryptocurrency prices based on real world events and news flows are starting to appear.  It will take a while for them to build a proven track record, but the tangible incentives are there for them to succeed.  And, if the modellers can crack the cryptocurrency challenge, who is to say that similarly talented teams cannot develop a solution for the multi-trillion dollar global travel industry?  Until then, don’t forget the Xanax.

Tagged : / / /