Innovation is reshaping the COVID-19 crisis as the COVID-19 crisis
is reshaping innovation. The usual resistance to innovation efforts is gone. We
need it. We need it fast.
Typical reactions to an economic crisis are efforts to preserve
cash, reduce costs and search for new revenue sources. We commonly see layoffs,
hiring freezes and cuts in any expenses seen as non-crucial such as travel,
conferences and training.
Traditionally, particularly in travel companies, the
innovation department falls into the non-crucial category. Innovation would be
deemed for deep cuts, if not complete elimination. No longer.
In fact, today’s reality is the complete opposite. We see that a
rapid response to the crisis and use of technology may equate to survival for
most businesses and will likely be essential for smooth recovery.
What is unique about the current crisis? The key difference
between the COVID-19 crisis and previous ones is that innovation is expected.
In the current crisis, both consumers and providers are welcoming innovation
efforts and responding rapidly and are willing to go through learning curves to
make it happen. For businesses, responding proactively is crucial, and in order
to do so they need a well-positioned and well-utilized innovation department
that can be a key player in finding rapidly those extremely needed new
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So what does it mean to be a “well-positioned” innovation
department? It means an innovation department that is agile - i.e., able to
quickly shuffle its priorities and adapt them to the new crisis - and that has
international reach to find easily deployable and cost-effective solutions.
Moreover, it has to have credibility in different startup
ecosystems to bring in the most efficient solutions fast and have the best
startups focus on travel versus other verticals. Companies must be connected to
the core of the solution providers’ efforts, i.e., be on the top of their list
of priorities, working to have the technology fit specific and urgent needs.
Challenges of the sudden shift to innovation
The crisis arrived almost as a shock. We witness companies of all
sizes and all sectors taking unusual steps to accommodate sudden shifts in
demand, manage internal and external interaction and communication and
improvise new delivery methods.
However, even though in many ways we are more
open to innovation, the sudden, non-planned and time-sensitive nature of the
situation brings additional obstacles.
The global health crisis triggered an enormous financial crisis that not only slowed down economic activity but is leading to a complete change in human behavior in all sectors, including consumers, suppliers, employees, investors and government.
Rom Hendler and Flavia Hendler - InnoVel
Take, for example, the move to home offices. It was not a planned
move. It happened overnight, thereby exposing customers and corporations to
phishing scams, cyber crime and fraud.
According to cyber
crime experts, since the beginning of March 2020, in the United States only,
there was an increase of 667% in phishing emails. Hackers are looking for
quick profits and organizations are not well-equipped to protect themselves.
The home networks may not have the appropriate level of security. Many of the
computers used are personal, and the home networks make data and information
vulnerable to hacking. We need expert cyber security that can address the
sudden change in which most employees work from home and email is the main form
Hygiene and safety are other issues that operators are facing.
Specifically in the service sector, the consumer is part of the production
process, so how can operators assure their safety?
Partly, with automation and
ability to work remotely with less employees which reduces human touch, hence
lowering chances of infection as well as reducing costs. Additionally, there
are solutions that simply provide a clean and safe environment, for hotels,
airlines or cruise lines.
A plethora of opportunities readily available
One can never let a good crisis go wasted. It may sound like a cliché,
but we must transform challenges into great opportunities. The threat of COVID-19
affects decisions in pricing, supply management, security, communication,
safety and marketing practices.
So the world’s two-front fight - fighting the
spread of the virus and fighting for our economy - includes not only medical
and health technologies, but also solutions in service, optimization, safety,
cyber and many other technologies. The globalized response can be much more
effective and efficient with the right tools.
Under the current scenario, the travel industry can benefit from
technologies that are readily available but normally not easily accessible. The
startup ecosystem in Israel offers key solutions to managing the crisis. In
Israel, there are about 7,000 startups, of which less than 300 are in travel.
The remaining ones do not focus on the travel industry - at least not at this
The reason is not because their products do not fit the travel industry
but the fact that other industries are more lucrative, easier to work with,
have bigger players and are more accessible (many have local representation in
However, currently, with the threat of COVID-19 and home
confinement, their ability to get to their target audience and find new
customers is extremely limited. Therein lies a great opportunity for the travel
industry. If companies proactively reach out to the most promising and
competitive startups with an interesting use case, we can have a win-win
In such scenarios, the travel organization solves an immediate
problem with an essential solution that
- is not currently available in the
- is relatively cheap.
On the other side, the startups get a new
client and access to a whole new vertical.
We are at a historical moment. The global health crisis triggered
an enormous financial crisis that not only slowed down economic activity but is
leading to a complete change in human behavior in all sectors, including
consumers, suppliers, employees, investors and government. As a society, we are
longing for solutions, in dire need of reliable knowledge and robust
We are suddenly open for insights from different areas of
knowledge, which can impact our life outlook and our ability to cope, as well
as provide viable ways to fulfill our most mundane tasks.
That mind shift is happening
on a personal level and a community, national and global level, shaping public
policies and impacting business strategies. We cannot let this opportunity for
change go to waste.
It is time to act. This is not 2001 or 2008. It is 2020. There is
a plethora of easy-to-implement solutions that can help us overcome the current
crisis. The timing is on our side for catching up with what technology can
offer our industry.
The ones that do this not only will weather this
unprecedented crisis but will also come out stronger and more equipped to deal
with a completely new travel market.
About the author...
Rom Hendler is founder and CEO and Flavia Hendler is director of communications at InnoVel