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Facilitating responsible travel in times of pandemics (Part 4)

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Part 4: the travel industry in change

Both domestic and international travels have been heavily limited in the fight to limit the spreading of COVID-19 and breaking the curve. Many countries and their population managed this in the first wave quite well, thanks to their strong economy and wealth. Others, as many as 100 countries and especially their poverty stricken population are struggling, forced into compromises.

This series of publications seeks to spark further thoughts into a responsible international travel scheme during this and future pandemics.

Part 1 covered the general assumptions and boundaries, reflections on risk management and commercial impacts. Part 2 studied tools and processes that might lead the way to an open new normal. Part 3 expanded on some select case-studies currently deployed and discusses some up- and downsides. Part 4 elaborates on the travel industry in change. Part 5 sheds some light on various solution components and how they fall in place.


By Stephan D. Hofstetter, Managing Partner SECOIA Executive Consultants Ltd


In part 3 of this series we reviewed selected and specific national implementations. The main focus was on the Advanced Passenger Health Declarations, also known as Passenger Locator Forms (PLF) or Health Declaration Form (HDF). Lessons could be learned from the variety of implementations.

In this fourth part, views from various organisations and think tanks are collected and combined with the findings from the previous articles. We are still at a stage with many assumptions, little stable knowledge and understanding of interdependencies. The global system of travel and its impact on the local society is very complex. Companies and with them the lives of individuals depend on finding a solution. However, the emphasis is on "returning to what we had before".

The VUCA approach

The leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, summarized under the acronym VUCA, can be helpful. VUCA stands for "volatility - uncertainty - complexity - ambiguity". This summarizes the fragile status we are in. The solution-oriented, agile approach applies VUCA with new meanings: "vision - understanding - clarity - agility".

Volatility can be countered with vision. What is "the new normality"? The authors would describe it as "managed risk", where absolute security is biologically, financially and ethically unattainable or desirable. It could be a situation in which at least the travelling population is no more infectious or contaminated than in the destination country. This threshold seems to be in line with the travellers' willingness to take risks. And although it does not have a disproportionate impact on the destination country, it could have an impact on the capacity of its medical care. Nevertheless, in the new normality, we will no more be able to rely on a more reasonable or self-contained society than before COVID-19. So once the shock has subsided, travel habits are likely to return in the leisure market, and after some time also on business trips, regardless of the health risks. With this assumption, the processes and infrastructure must be able to withstand this new reality. Success factors are easily accessible tests with reliable, immediate test results. These are relevant data for risk assessment and prevention of spread during travel. Much attention is being paid to various contactless service points in airports, such as biometric border control or boarding. Given the sheer endless number of contact points throughout the journey, we doubt that the introduction of contactless checkpoints are a part of the strategy to contain the pandemic, and will not have a really serious impact on overall air safety. However, it is rightfully part of the oneID strategy, contributing to user-friendliness. Also, it addresses expressed needs of airport and aircraft operating staff for their safety (IATA survey), and it carves out any pretext and concerns of passengers that might refuse to interact with contact-based operations.

For the sake of getting some metrics on the expectations form the stake holders, again the IATA analysis shall be used. Though their insights represent only a part of the industry, it is a noteworthy starting point, based on flight operators and passenger reviews.

© IATA (Taken from webinar "Ready for Push-Back - Restarting Ground Operations", 15/07/2020)

From the vision comes the opportunity to transform uncertainty into understanding by bringing all stakeholders to a common mindset and understanding of how they can contribute to success, along with key working principles that promote active communication and widespread participation practices. Ironically, COVID has changed the speed of engagement and offers a shier endless number of open and closed webinars and workshops on eConferencing, e.g. from IATA, ICAO, ID4Africa or Terrapin. Never before have public authorities, industries and interested groups been so willing to listen, develop understanding and even actively contribute to a broad audience as they are today. Despite the challenges associated with network connectivity and technology in general, this could be even more inclusive as costs and travel restrictions are not no more a considerable issue.

Complexity can be countered by clarity, which is the result of constantly reinforcing real priorities. The change brought about by the current pandemic brings with it enormous complexity - therefore, the organisations and industries involved must be careful not to create and maintain internal complexity and must share a common commitment to simplicity. A great opportunity to reduce complexity and increase clarity lies in data integrity and a shared view of its reliability and impact.

As the last part of the acronym, ambiguity can be met with agility. The term agility has found its renaissance in IT project management as a response to a strict waterfall approach. It is based on a clear mission, clear boundaries and role models, without going into the details in an early stage. This leaves room for growing insights and lessons.

Unified approach

On April 8, 2020 IATA / APCS conducted a virtual Think Tank meeting focused on two main topics: a) How can passenger confidence be restored and b) What new standards, best practices or processes will have to be considered post crisis. From the report can be taken, that emphasis was on information / situation awareness. The rapid changes on national level, sometimes even airport / border crossing level on one hand, and evolving knowledge on the virus itself on the other hand make this kind of intelligence key for implementing effective processes. Within this situation of highly fragmented regulatory landscape Joseph Suidan, Head Ground Operations IATA mentioned during an IATA Webinar 15.07.2020 a noteworthy assessment:

"It is not the time for customized processes. The passengers want a simple and harmonized process."

And it is safe to say: It is not only the passengers seeking clarity and simplicity. The airline operators are facing immense challenges with nearly daily changing rules applicable between any two countries.

In view of health related credentials for travelling, above mentioned ThinkTank produced these ideas (selective listing):

  • Health Certificate: safe to fly status (like ready for carriage on cargo) / health certificate / Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) equivalent via web portal

  • Technology for Health Certificates: Use of general ledger (Blockchain) for Health certificate to enable flying.

  • Legal Implications of Health Certificates: Carriers not responsible to verify health / provide guarantees/ just to verify. Also: Self-declaration versus authority-based health “credentials”

  • OneID: some standards exist but not yet all connected. The key element is that we as airlines have to establish your identity based on your PP. One ID will bring this closer and so COVID accelerates the OneID principles

The emphasis of these measures lies on the "Pre-Flight", departures "Airport arrival" and destinations "Airport Departure" (See graph below). Other measures are needed, but not in the focus of this article. The OneID initiative spans also over these phases.

A considerable impact on the travel experience lies with the COVID situation in arrival destination. Frequent changes to local regulations creates uncertainty for all involved. A worst case scenario for the flight operators and passengers: Diversion of flight or flight cancellation. Guides and tools for this are provided by IATA, too. Two are referenced here: IATA "Guidance for ground handling return to service" Ed1, 08.05.2020 and a public version of TIMATIC (know before you go and a COVID situation map)

Please do not hesitate to comment in a constructive and solution-oriented manner. We look forward to further developing the approach together with the professional community.


About SECOIA Executive Consultants Ltd

We are a network of experienced professionals working in the public sector and specialized industry. Our mission is to consult the involved parties and join needs and solutions as match makers. We oversee the identification of requirements, development, evaluation, search and implementation.



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