“Is it just me, or do you get the feeling that we’re becoming immune to the statistics, but sadly not the virus?”
It’s a question I posed to some friends last weekend, and an idea that I’ve been exploring with clients and panelists who joined me at a keynote I hosted during the World Aviation Festival.
Contagion rates, hospital discharges, intensive care occupancy levels, job losses, GDP forecasts. We’re exposed to more data than ever before, and my concern is that with so much to process we are becoming immune to the real potential long-term impact of this COVID-19 crisis.
At times like these, uncertainty is inevitable. But we’re at a point where it’s important to be bold. To move first. To look at the bigger picture, assess your situation, and start taking action to come out of this crisis-of-a-lifetime with a better future.
Preparing for tomorrow
I’ve been working with my team to try and move beyond the numbers and paint a picture that goes beyond the statistics. An approach that allows us to consider what the business focus should be according to the different future scenarios that they might be faced with.
We’ve used Accenture proprietary and publicly available data to develop four future travel scenarios. They are not absolute, but they do reflect potential outcomes and impacts from key external factors that influence global travel demand. We’ve considered, for example, the availability of a vaccine, how governments and societies are acting concerning the evolution of the virus, consumer sentiment, and also the global economic climate.
Each of these scenarios paints a different picture of post-pandemic recovery and should be accompanied by different priority actions.
- Remarkable recovery: Companies must act to take full advantage of a burst in pent-up demand, which largely returns to 2019 levels by 2022.
- Collective coexistence: Along with the world, travel companies learn to coexist with the virus through discipline and containment, and travel makes a tentative return.
- Market mayhem: Amid permanent volatility, companies must shrink and refocus on remaining areas of demand to survive. Some companies fail.
- Darkest days: The uncontrolled virus upends the industry, and companies must radically rethink their business models. Many fail.
This is one of the few situations when I am very happy to be proved wrong. I sincerely hope that we don’t find ourselves in scenario 4.
How to pace yourself for the journey ahead
From speaking to different clients it’s clear to me that irrespective of the scenario you find yourself in, and the focus you have, I can only see a world in which our clients would have to be:
- More flexible with their cost structure
- Running on lower costs
- Offering a better and fuller service
This crisis is unique in that the aviation industry has to respond to all four requirements at the same time.
How the industry is reacting
It was fascinating to hear how my fellow panelists are preparing their businesses for the months ahead. All three touched on size and costs, and each gave examples of how they are making decisions that allow them to focus on future growth.
I was inspired by the emphasis that Brian Cobb, Chief Innovation Officer, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, put on innovation. He explained that by controlling costs they can make investments and drive new revenue streams. They are focusing on products that allow them to scale up and down and provide room for growth, and taking this opportunity to review and improve the customer journey.
Silvia Mosquera, Chief Commercial Officer, Avianca, explained that they are working tirelessly to regain customer confidence. It was great to hear her touch on a topic close to my heart: providing customers with more ways to pay and buy, as well as self-manage their journey through the airport.
Matt Callaghan, Customer and Operations Director, easyJet holidays, provided us with great examples of how being a truly digital business has allowed them to adapt quickly to the changing situation and drive flexibility. By adapting their call center operations to fit demand and creating a chatbot to allowing them to service customers in different ways, they have put their focus on remaining customer-centric.
I couldn’t agree more with Matt when he said, “It’s time to think differently. We need to think and act in a bold way.”
Preparing for tomorrow today
As my fellow panelists demonstrated, there are several areas that travel companies can focus on to address the four necessities I mentioned earlier.
From understanding how they can better sell their products and care for their customers, to taking advantage of cloud-based technology to reduce costs and increase flexibility, speed, and innovation. Travel companies need to consider the pace and order in which they adopt different strategies according to the scenario they find themselves in.
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I have nothing but admiration for how the industry is responding to a crisis so unexpected that “unprecedented” feels like an unsuitable word. But, as I said during our panel session, we must prepare for the marathon ahead.
Uncertainty doesn’t call for inaction. Quite the opposite. It calls for renewal. And gaining momentum—and outcomes—means setting clear priorities and taking action today.
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