Mountains of Mistrust: Airlines and hotels take epic rise to overcome guest health and safety doubts

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It’s no surprise that some travelers, even frequent high-mileage travelers, harbor some skepticism about the airlines and hotels they frequent.

But it’s shocking to learn that 62% of frequent travelers – people who are supposed to be savvy, sophisticated, and nonchalant about all things life on the road – are highly suspicious of airlines and hotels to protect them from appropriate manner of the virus responsible for the virus. Covid pandemic19.

Yet if we are to believe the results of research by ExpertFlyer, an online advice and assistance service for frequent travelers, airlines and hotels don’t just have to climb a mountain to get back to the top. trusted by many of their best customers. ; they must climb mountains of distrust as tall and intimidating as the Himalayas.

“There is a thirst to get back to business and that means getting back on the road, but there is a catch. Eighty-one percent of business travelers plan to travel in 2021, but 82% of business travelers won’t feel comfortable traveling until there is a vaccine, ”said said Jason Wynn, Commercial Director at Upside Business Travel. Upside, based in Washington, DC, helps businesses manage their travel programs and costs. He and several other industry experts advised ExpertFlyer on how to interpret the survey results.

In survey results released earlier this month, ExpertFlyer reported that 62% of frequent business traveler survey respondents said they did not trust airlines and hotels to regulate themselves. – even when it comes to properly performing the cleaning and security tasks necessary to prevent travelers from catching the virus. . In fact, that means they would prefer an outside agency – presumably some kind of government agency – to set standards and monitor how well hotels and airlines are meeting those standards to serve consumers at the time. of Covid-19. The results of the survey of more than 1,300 ExpertFlyer subscribers showed that:

  • 49% said it would take a vaccine and / or a vaccine with contact tracing for them to start flying again. Thirty-one percent said a proven vaccine would be needed for them to fly again
  • Only 37% said they trusted the safety standards set by the airlines and hotels themselves, which is the opposite expression of the 62% who said they did not trust hotels and airlines to do so ( around 1% providing a neutral response)
  • 30% said they needed a trusted third-party source in the image – a rating agency, ratings or reviews from other real travelers, outside inspectors, etc. – to make them more confident about the health and safety performance of hotels and airlines.
  • 19% said the only thing that would make them more comfortable with the situation would be a cure for Covid-19 or an effective vaccination program
  • 13% said they believe new regulations and enforcement producers from the Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of Transportation or other federal organization are needed
  • 57% said their businesses will reduce or eliminate air travel entirely over the next six to nine months.

The results showing such high levels of mistrust are understandable given the months of confusion and the ever-changing official and unofficial statements and recommendations regarding the pandemic, its effects, its transmission, and measures to protect against it in virtually all settings. spheres of life. It also makes sense that airlines and hotels have spent most of this year frantically cutting costs (including laying off more than 100,000 workers) and finding new sources of capital they needed just to avoid running out. of cash.

But these results are probably also, at least in part, the result of the slowness of travel agencies to recognize that they have completely lost control of the message sent to the traveling public. And now that they are starting to try to re-establish their message to travel consumers, travel companies are showing a significant inability to get along and successfully create an easy-to-understand and believable set of messages regarding Covid-19 and travel. . It was only recently that airline and hotel groups began to form coalitions or quasi-independent organizations to publicize the idea that they are safe for travelers to use, and none until present has had no significant impact on the market. They also do not have universal membership. For example, on Wednesday, a large group of travel-related companies in North America formed a group called Travel Again 2020-2021 to promote traveler safety during the Covidi-19 era. But the only North American airlines involved are Southwest, American and Air Canada, while Hilton is the only hotel company directly involved.

For example, in recent weeks airlines and hotels have cautiously started to advertise their use of hospital-grade HEPA filters to dramatically limit contagions such as the coronavirus from even entering the space around passengers or guests. But the ExperFlyer study shows that 31% of frequent travelers aren’t sure whether the combined use of HEPA filters and face masks is enough to get them to travel again. And another 27% said they weren’t sure if this combination was enough to convince them it was okay to travel now. Granted, 42% said these measures were enough to get them to travel again, but even if all immediately returned to their old high-frequency means of transport, hotels and airlines would be woefully short of the number of customers they need to equalize. reach the breakeven point of their operations.

William McGee, an aviation consultant at Consumer Reports, who also consulted ExpertFlyer to interpret the survey results, said the skepticism about the claims of travel providers was, to some extent, justified. “While it may be true that all airlines in the United States have planes equipped with HEPA filters, not all aircraft operating on behalf of these companies have them,” he said.

Yet despite the high level of skepticism about the health and safety issues associated with airline flights and hotel stays during the pandemic, the survey also showed a very strong willingness among business travelers to resume. the road as soon as conditions allow.

ExpertFlyer.com founder Chris Lopinto said that while many business travelers who responded to the survey agree that “videoconferencing has been a great short-term solution to the lack of online meetings. face-to-face or on-site functions, the majority of respondents believe will not replace the value of in-person meetings and gatherings. Many believe that a return to in-person engagement will be critical to the long-term success, if not survival, of their jobs.

“So… we have the feeling that business travelers are more and more anxious and anxious to get back in the air,” he added.

Patrick Fragale, executive vice president of Valerie Wilson Travel, which advises companies on travel management and cost control agreed, saying that “clients of his company say virtual meetings are acceptable in the short term but unanimously agree that nothing can replace interpersonal skills and can’t wait to travel.

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