Pandemics and many diseases have, over the centuries, changed and shaped international cultures, communities and, of course, our travel habits.
The wide boulevards and parks of many famous international tourist cities were originally created as “lungs” for the urban environments and its people, creating thoroughfares of fresh air to fight disease. The famous grid systems upon which many North American cities are built, were created as a consequence of cholera that had arrived with European immigrants. And the easy to wipe down fixtures and fittings of many rooms and buildings throughout the world were introduced partly in response to the spread of tuberculosis in the early 20th century.
Given that cholera, tuberculosis, Spanish flu and various others contagious diseases and ailments have influenced how we live and interact long after they have disappeared, so it will be with Covid-19, and in a far more automated way then we have seen before.
The travel and hospitality industry are now preparing itself for what experts call “the new normal” to emerge when the lockdown strategies of international governments start to ease.
It is clear to say that technology is vital to the recovery and revival of the travel and hospitality sector. There is a need to create ‘contactless accessibility’…who knows, it may well even end up being a review rating.
The roll of an eye, the lift of a brow, a wave of a hand…gestures and interactions such as these may be how we carry out simple tasks in a new fear-ridden future. Mobile concierge apps and automated requirements could surge as hoteliers transfer jobs for tech to engage with guests without personal contact.
Already we have seen travel brands such as Royal Caribbean, announcing that more automation at its cruise terminal check-in desks, increased screening and enhanced medical facilities and capacity for customers will feature on board their ships.
Airlines, such as American, United and Delta, and transport providers like Eurostar will require customers to wear face masks while on board. Dubai-based airline Emirates has begun carrying out blood tests on passengers at the airport prior to take off.
Social distancing and being conscious of crowds will almost certainly be a feature of everyday life going forward. Minimizing unnecessary contact or closeness, particularly with strangers, will become a factor when booking a holiday or travelling on business. Medical screenings, electronic passports and robots are now the reality, but what is worse, a few risked germs or moments of silence, humiliation and abandonment at a check in desk?
Industry experts are now pointing to technology, ergonomics and architecture as a sort of holy trinity of solution providers for this coming new era in travel, tourism and hospitality.
From a technology viewpoint, hotels and resorts, which have been slow in adopting remote check-in, self-check-in from kiosks and using direct-to-room technology, will significantly speed up their adoption and installation paces as guests will increasingly seek ways to bypass public areas such as reception desks and hotel lobbies.
Current technology being developed, which will enable smart rooms where guests’ body temperatures are monitored to control in-room heating and air conditioning could be adopted to monitor their state of health.
In terms of ergonomics, resorts, airports and hotels will have to think about their restaurants, lounges and bars in a new way. Spatial awareness in the distance between dining tables, and indeed the sizes of the tables themselves, will be enlarged and the original role of these communal areas, to create social interaction on a large scale, will be changed.
Increased personal space will be the new standard for every restaurant and lounge.
Following the medical world, hotel interior designers are now reported to be exploring antimicrobial materials and surfaces to incorporate in hotel fixtures and fittings.
Chemically treated fabrics and floor and wall finishes, more commonly used in hospitals, are also being examined by the leading hospitality providers, as they seek to give guests a higher level of confidence in the cleanliness of resorts and hotels.
No doubt the aviation and rail sectors will follow suit.
The third element of the post Covid19 approach from the industry will be architecture.
Larger public areas, rooms, gyms and wider corridors, will be created where possible and stairwells, so often the neglected part of any hotel, of any star rating, will be made more pleasant in order to encourage people on low lying floors to use them rather than the lifts.
Landscaping of gardens and recreational areas will be designed and built with spatial distancing the key focus.
The post-lockdown world of travel, tourism and hospitality will present the industry with many challenges, some of them difficult to have imagined just a few months ago, but one thing is certain; the holy trinity of technology, ergonomics and architecture present by far the best road map to how travel and holidays will once again be enjoyed.