Every year key decision makers from across the globe descend on Davos in the Swiss mountains for the World Economic Forum.
The idea behind the gathering is for the great and good from political, economic and other spheres to try to improve the world.
With this year’s event centering on “Cooperation in a Fragmented World,” it’s not surprising that a travel panel convened to discuss what, if anything, the industry - known for being fragmented - has learned from the pandemic.
CNN International anchor Richard Quest, moderator of the “Traveling Again Differently” session pinned down industry experts and political leaders on what has changed.
Perhaps not surprisingly, panelists feel that not much has changed.
Jeff Katz, CEO of Journera, a specialist in real-time data exchange, says that data suggests there aren’t a lot of differences.
“There are still a lot of shortcomings in the way travel works. One of the themes of Davos is collaboration in a fragmented world, and there is nothing more fragmented than the travel industry. That difference isn’t happening yet,” he says.
“Travel will continue to boom, travel will continue to be more international. That complexity needs to evolve better to make the travel experience better.”
Katz believes it is “do-able” adding that although it’s a hard problem, there are many companies out there up to the job.
“I would say the question you might ask is when will we see the leaders of the travel industry seek to prioritize collaboration more because that’s really what’s required to cross some of these divides,” he says.
Man and machine
Other panelists, however, believe that more collaboration has been one of the positives of the pandemic.
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport, says: “We have worked far more closely together as a system than ever before. The relationship we have as an airport operator with airlines historically has always been quite challenging, because economically we have competing interests. We did far more collaborative work together, getting traveling again, finding simpler ways of doing it. That’s something we need to pivot on from to make the whole system a lot simpler, sharing data a lot more, focusing on the passenger and how we make their journey a lot smoother.”
He adds that the U.K. government is ahead of the industry on some things such as e-gates at the airport, with half of all passengers now able to use e-gates on arrival.
“That’s a model we should see in all countries. Let machines do the mundane work while the border officers focus on the problem passengers.”
Subscribe to our newsletter below
A further example of collaboration highlighted during the session was the visa on arrival program from Rwanda.
Clare Akamanzi, executive director and CEO of the Rwandan Development Board, says the government and the private sector collaborated on the scheme because of the importance of tourism to the destination.
“Collaboration is not always easy, let’s not make a mistake about that, but it’s essential,” she says.
The discussion also touched on driving further automation, with Holland-Kaye saying the aviation industry needs to build in resilience.
“We need to automate a lot more of the journey. If you didn’t need to go between apps and could have a seamless journey, we would all benefit from that. We also need to build resilience in but that is an opportunity because of the greater collaboration we have, the greater focus there is on the end consumer,” he says.
He adds that situations would not go so wrong in aviation if there is more resilience there.
“The great focus for many airlines and airports over the last few years has been about driving down the cost. When you drive down cost, very often you take out resilience, you have machines doing things people used to do. When the machine fails there is no person there to provide the back-up,” he says.
“That’s something we need to work on as a system. Eighty percent of people who travel through an airport don’t need to see anyone, they know exactly what they’re doing, they can travel smoothly because of automation. When automation fails we have got to have a back-up system and that’s where the fragmentation we have in aviation fails us because no individual company has enough people.”
Off the beaten track
Panelists also touched on overtourism and whether concerns before the pandemic were rising again.
While destinations such as Rwanda and Thailand have initiatives in place to encourage visitors to move beyond well-known cities and attractions, Quest points out that some destinations have returned to “the bad old ways.”
Katz says that it comes down to the experience, with travelers voting with their feet if the experience isn’t good.
“These things tend to be self-correcting. Post-pandemic we saw people wanted to travel again and go to places they love again. The places that were loved got traveled to very intensely, and now we’re seeing another phase of adjustment,” Katz says.
“I don’t think there’s a strategy that manages where travelers want to go, they decide. It’s a giant population and consumers are going to go where they’re going to go.”
It's a rare travel panel these days that doesn't discuss climate change and final thoughts from the session were devoted to the issue.
Holland-Kaye believes everyone collectively - governments, companies and consumers - have a role to play.
He believes developing nations can be producers of sustainable aviation fuel and that investments should be made by wealthier countries to develop that energy sector.
“As companies we need to be paying a premium for sustainable aviation fuel so we can get the cost of it down so the developing countries don’t have to pay for the energy transition. The wealthy people in this room and the wealthy nations should be funding the energy transition in aviation to help support developing countries,” he says.