By Andy Beasant, Managing Director of Travel Experiences at Collinson
In 2019, global tourism hit record highs. It seemed like nothing would ever get in the way of people and their love for travel – until 2020, when everything changed. It’s been nearly 12 months of lockdowns, restrictions and uncertainty. Instead of planning next month’s tropical excursion or alpine adventure, we’re gazing longingly at old travel pictures and dreaming about the good times we enjoyed and the amazing people we met along the way.
With a new year just around the corner, the future of travel is on many people’s minds – and there are plenty of reasons to feel positive. Every day, new strides are being made to develop a vaccine. Airlines, airports and governments are increasingly adopting pre-flight testing, as well as opening new travel corridors. Further, a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has shown that air travel is “as safe or substantially safer” than other routine activities, thanks to plane ventilation systems. But perhaps most important to recognise are the sustained efforts of the industry to introduce new health and safety measures that make the travel experience safer and more contactless.
Indeed, “contactless” is the key buzzword behind many of the safety measures that are most important in travel today. But just because the future of travel is lacking in contact, it doesn’t need to be lacking in connection – and that’s thanks to the tireless efforts of the many unsung heroes across the travel industry, including our very own, Lounge Legends.
Who are these ‘Lounge Legends’? They are the hardworking but often unrecognised staff in airport lounges around the world, who help travellers love the journey by creating memorable experiences. As digital and contact-free services have become ever more important in the COVID era, the Lounge Legends are the people behind the technology delivering contactless innovation together with comfort and assurance. They are implementing strict new sanitation and contact-free procedures, while still going above and beyond to bring real empathy and a personal touch. Every day, they show the world how we can preserve the memorable, face-to-face moments that make travel special, while creating an airport lounge experience that’s comfortable and safe.
From Asia to Europe to the Middle East and beyond, we are seeing a glimpse of what this new world of travel will look like. Collinson recently interviewed on-the-ground airport lounge staff in four airport lounges in the Priority Pass network, in four different locations around the globe, to understand more about how they are addressing the challenges of COVID and meeting evolving traveller needs in these unprecedented times. What we found is that airport lounge teams are even more committed to creating that personal, human connection with travellers today. They understand first-hand the challenges that travellers and the industry are facing, and they are passionate about ensuring that lounge guests not only feel safe, but also have the opportunity to enjoy the comfort, care and connection that makes all of us love travel in the first place.
Back in June, we introduced a new set of global health and safety standards for airport lounges within the Priority Pass network. Today, the Lounge Legends who look after airport lounges worldwide are ensuring that these standards are adhered to – including universal PPE usage, increased cleaning and disinfection, and introducing new seating layouts and floor markers to ensure social distancing between different traveller groups. They take their job extremely seriously and deeply understand how important their role is in providing the same guidance and comfort guests have always needed, while at the same time creating a safe and hygienic travel experience for travellers and themselves under the ‘new normal’.
Digital innovation for more contactless experiences is another avenue to protect health and safety. Many lounges are now investing in new technology, and while the transition will take time, exciting progress is already evident. For example, with self-serve airport lounge buffets closing amidst the pandemic, Lounge Legends are focused on helping guests access lounge dining in other ways, including via their own mobile devices. New pilot solutions like ‘Ready 2 Order’ let travellers scan a QR code or tap an NFC-enabled device on table signage to see a lounge menu and select their food and beverages for direct table service. It’s not the end of complimentary dining service in the premium airport lounge – it’s just a different way of doing things, and no doubt, there will be plenty more people-led innovation in the future.
While it’s been a tough few months, we’re hopeful for the future and excited about the personal touch that Lounge Legends – and indeed, customer service staff across the industry – are ready to bring to returning travellers. As much as the new world of travel will require strict hygiene standards and contactless solutions, it’s the people behind these measures and technologies who are the real legends. They are the ones who have always created our most memorable experiences when we travel: be it the flight attendant who went the extra mile to comfort our child when he was scared of flying, the hotel concierge who helped us find the perfect restaurant, or the bartender who took the time to recommend the best local beers.
In airports around the world, Lounge Legends are already ushering in a safe and effective travel recovery. They’re attentively implementing health and safety precautions, while looking for new ways to put a smile on travellers’ faces – even if it is hidden by a mask. Like all of us, they can’t wait to see the airport lounges safely bustling once again and to share in the exciting spirit of travel everyone in the industry loves, has missed and can’t wait to get back to. When we’re ready to return, they’ll be waiting.