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Experts just released guidelines to help restart the travel industry — here's what's in store

May 04, 2020
8 min read
Empty airplane seats on a flight from Amsterdam to NYC
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Today in a call with the press, the U.S. Travel Association -- a national, nonprofit organization that represents and advocates for all components of the travel industry -- unveiled new industrywide guidelines to help travel-related businesses of all types reopen despite threats from the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.

In recent days, we've seen new hotel sanitization processes and procedures put in place by the likes of Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. And, most U.S. airlines now make it mandatory for crew and passengers to wear face masks. The future of travel is changing and hotels, airlines, cruise lines, tour providers, restaurants and other service providers are at the forefront of figuring out ways to make consumers comfortable with the new norm.

In concert with the federal government's "Opening Up America Again" plan, USTA's "Travel in the New Normal" creates an industry roadmap for promoting the health and safety of all travelers.

It offers three key takeaways for industry insiders and travelers alike. One: Going forward, travel vendors must be at the fore of health and safety measures and must become a trusted partner with the traveler. Two: Travel won't resume until consumer confidence is higher and, for that to happen, the public needs to consider the travel brands it selects as trusted partners. And, three: The future of travel is based on shared responsibility between the travel vendor and the customer.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates

Let's dig into the suggested guidelines to be implemented across various parts of the industry in a moment. But let's first look at why it's so important for the travel industry to restart as soon as possible. USTA says that the ability for people to easily travel again is paramount to the U.S. economy and jobs recovery. Helping the travel industry in America is critical to boosting the U.S. economy as a whole. The organization predicts that "travel industry losses will result in a GDP impact of $1.2 trillion in 2020." And, travel declines this year "will result in a loss of $80 billion in taxes this year."

So while we all miss traveling and exploring the world, there is a real tangible economic cost as we all sit home and employees at a variety of travel companies are sidelined -- either laid off and trying to collect unemployment or making due with reduced hours. The key to restarting the travel industry lies in a cohesive set of strategies and procedures that will engender trust with consumers.

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USTA's suggested guidelines are built on four pillars -- transmission barriers, enhanced sanitation, health screenings and food and beverage guidance -- and six action items within those segments. Let's look at each part of the new guidelines.

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Create transmission barriers

No. 1: USTA says an important first step is creating "transmission barriers" and encourages businesses to "adapt operations, modify employee practices and/or redesign public spaces to help protect employees and customers."

Here are specific recommendations that do appear in the guidelines:

  • Reinforce hand hygiene, which the organization says can decrease the risk of transmission of respiratory viruses by about 50%
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and gloves
  • Install physical barriers, like transparent screens, to provide separation between customers and employees
  • Encourage physical distancing via signage, discourage gatherings and congregating in crowded areas, and reconfigure public spaces and/or limit the number of employees and customers in various areas
  • Think about creative ways to limit staffs' physical contact with customers where practical while continuing to deliver superior service by way of things like online ordering, curbside service, automated entrances, etc.
  • Educate both employees and customers about their shared responsibility to help protect each other in a COVID-19 environment

Related: Where you can buy face masks for travel right now

(Photo by AJ_Watt/Getty Images)
Passengers wearing face masks and observing social distance at an airport. (Photo by AJ_Watt/Getty Images)

No. 2: The guidelines also encourage using technology to implement touchless solutions to limit the possibility of virus transmission. Travel businesses are looking at touchless solutions for things like ticketing, identification, check-in, payments as well as ordering and pick-up.

Enhance sanitation

No. 3: "Travel in the New Normal" also recommends that travel businesses adopt upgraded sanitation procedures. USTA realizes that many different types of businesses populate the travel sector and each will need to custom-design its sanitation procedures. However, it asserts that every segment needs to establish a policy that includes more frequent hand-washing by all employees, more frequent sanitization of high-touch services and the distribution of hand sanitizers in public areas.

Travel companies may also need to modify business hours to perform additional disinfection measures and may need to offer new training to employees while continually researching technological innovations that can help protect its employees and customers from the novel coronavirus.

(Photo courtesy of Marriott)
Enhanced cleaning measures. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Promote health screening

No. 4: While not recommending mandatory health screenings, the document suggests that travel companies promote them for employees with possible COVID-19 symptoms. This boils down to finding a way to monitor employee health and encourage anyone that's ill to not report to work. That could include self-isolating if they were to suffer COVID-19 symptoms.

Likewise, travel companies should communicate COVID-19 symptoms to customers and encourage them to stay home and postpone travel if they feel ill. Companies need to have resources at the ready to refer to travelers regarding testing or treatment. Signs should also be posted that communicate COVID-19 symptoms.

No. 5: Every travel company needs to establish a procedure and checklist for when an employee or customer tests positive for COVID-19. Procedures should be in line with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Related: I tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies... so now what?

Follow food and beverage service guidance

No. 6: Even before statewide shutdowns and shelter-in-place measures, casinos, airline lounges and hotels were discontinuing buffet service. Other food and beverage practices will also change going forward. The U.S. Travel Association recommends that its members follow the FDA's Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants and Food Pick-Up/Delivery Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the National Restaurant Association's COVID-19 Reopening Guidance (link to PDF).

Great House breakfast buffet (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Will the buffet go the way of the dinosaur? (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

The U.S. Travel Association and its partner organizations are focusing on measures to lift up the travel industry during the unprecedented impact of the novel coronavirus. It hopes to continually update its "Travel in the New Normal" guidelines as conditions change on the ground.

Right now, USTA has its eye on how Las Vegas is planning its reopening. The city is a major player in America's tourism industry and as goes Vegas, so goes consumer travel says USTA's president and CEO Roger Dow. TPG will watch as Las Vegas welcomes back travelers in the near future and will report on the city's progress.

Finally, USTA's new guidelines offer some perspective on the shared responsibility of responding effectively to COVID-19. Its report says:

"Our guidance reflects the essential role the travel industry must play to help promote the health and safety of our customers and employees. But no industry can overcome this challenge alone.
Travelers also have a responsibility. They must adopt new travel practices and follow science-based guidelines to help protect the health of their families and those around them, including fellow travelers and industry employees.
In the spirit of collective action needed to defeat COVID-19, we urge travelers to do their part and follow government and industry guidance to help protect themselves and others.
By working together, we can overcome the challenge, begin to reopen our economy and responsibly get America traveling again."

What measures are you looking for the next time you fly, check into a hotel, visit a casino or spend a day at a theme park? We'd love to know your thoughts. Comment below.

Featured image by Getty Images