How Emergent Tech Is Helping An Industry Set Sail

Inc. 30 Under 30. Founder and CEO, Rootstrap — a digital development agency. Digital Product Expert.

Global tourism could potentially shrink by more than 50%, with the U.S. travel industry alone likely losing $24 billion in foreign spending. But crisis is, and always will be, a mother of invention. Travel companies have fast-tracked new technologies and businesses of all sizes have pivoted to survive in this strange new world.

Airlines have already seen traveler confidence increase, slowly inching back from record-low numbers in April, which saw a huge decrease in passenger TSA screenings from the prior year, to the end of August. It’s still not great, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Of course, a lot of air travel could be considered more critical, less casual. It’s business-related. It’s family related. It’s essential. Leisure travel businesses have been slower to recover.

Take the cruise ship industry, which has been in the middle of a PR firestorm since the earliest indications of the impending coronavirus disaster, and it has yet to salvage its image. But while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have extended a no-sail order on cruise ships until at least September, smaller luxury travel companies are already hitting the water.

While many hospitality-based operations have been greatly reduced or ceased altogether, luxury companies have actually seen increases in business. For example, the CEO of BoatAffair, a company that offers high-end yacht experiences, claims the company has seen a double-digit increase in bookings. And Royal Yacht Brokers has seized an opportunity as demand for private yachts has become a socially-distanced alternative to crowded cruise lines.

However, it should be asked: Can the factors drawing consumers to the luxury yacht industry be transferred to larger travel businesses?

Companies without the built-in benefit of isolation are turning to increased Covid-19 testing, hand sanitizing, social distancing, air filtration and temperature checks. These are quickly becoming the norm, but are they enough? Enter new tech.

The rise in disruption management services is addressing concerns before passengers ever set foot on a ship or plane. New AI-powered mobile solutions are reducing load on call centers and streamlining rebooking and refunding through process automation. Several of these apps are also offering pre-trip health and safety tips and advice, as well as real-time monitoring of case spikes.

While controversial, countries like China are already implementing infrared fever detection and tracking. And while overreach and privacy concerns rise when this technology is utilized en masse, there could be a practical application because temperature screenings could be completed with minimal physical contact.

Here in the States, companies like Infrared Cameras Inc. are already partnering with the likes of Carnival Cruise Line to use thermal cameras to screen crew member and passenger temperatures within 0.01 to 0.03 degrees Celsius of accuracy.

While these new technologies are preparing travelers before their trip, there is much to be done onboard. That’s where the use of UV light disinfectant and mobile movement tracking are quickly emerging.

Columbia University is at the forefront of ultraviolet tech, which could prove to be a game-changer in fighting the spread of coronavirus.

Germicidal UV light has long been used within hospitals and labs to kill viruses, but those rooms have to be unoccupied due to health risks the rays pose to humans. But lamps developed by Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research emit a low dose of ultraviolet light, known as far-UVC, which is showing signs of promise in fighting off the virus without harmful effects to humans. That means these lamps can be safely placed in high-traffic public spaces, killing pathogens before they are ever inhaled.

As of right now, demand greatly outweighs supply. These lamps are relatively inexpensive, which has caught the eye of the travel industry. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York already uses UV light is after hours to sanitize its transit vehicles.

Within the mobile space, data intelligence also hopes to restore this damaged industry through tracking and alerting passengers in the event of onboard outbreaks. 

Data collection through Wi-Fi and cellular signals can offer a complete mapping of crowd density, color coding clusters and identifying areas where greater social distancing measures need to be implemented.

Apps can also aid in contact tracing, giving airline/cruise line operators insight into the path of an infected person, allowing for quick response decontamination of the area while also being able to alert those that may have come in contact.

This tech is already being released through giants like Apple and Google, whose contact tracing apps warn users if they’ve been exposed to the virus.

Of course, these only work through widespread adoption, and as of now, most mobile users aren’t willing to give these companies the kind of access to personal information that will make them truly effective.

Regardless of measures adopted (or because of them), travel businesses on both a large and small scale will look very different for a very long time. This disruption is felt on an individual level by those who have made a career out of traveling and showcasing destinations through write-ups and social media.

As a consultant and traveler to over 114 countries, Sarah Gallo of The Five Foot Traveler saw her business decimated alongside the travel industry by Covid-19. Gallo is a prime example of the entrepreneur’s need to pivot during times of crisis.

She was able to shift her business from full-time traveling to consulting and strategizing within the travel industry. She’s now working with small businesses and large corporations on how to build an online presence, proving that true entrepreneurs thrive despite adversity.

This small-scale entrepreneurial spirit is what needs to be applied across the board. Corporations and small businesses alike need to resist the pull to cut their innovation budget despite the pressure on their bottom line, because it’s innovation that will ultimately save them.

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