How Big Data Can Help A Post-Covid Tourism Industry

Written by Ameena Navab

With the explosion of the Covid-19 virus, the world has gone into lockdowns and travel bans. Amidst this chaos, how did the travel and tourism industry keep up, and how would big data help them and travellers get back in the skies once more?

How big data can help the travel industry recover from the major losses.
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With the world trapped in the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that a hefty percentage of the population’s workforce was negatively affected by lockdowns and restrictions that caused people to lose their jobs in all sectors. But the ones that have been severely affected were undoubtedly the tourism and hospitality industry.

According to the annual EIR from the World Travel & Tourism Council, the tourism industry’s contribution to the global GDP was down to an alarming 5.5% of the global economy which is 4.7 trillion US Dollars. By 2020, more than 62 million jobs were lost across the globe. Of course, this left the entire Tourism & Travel sector badly shaken with small and medium businesses more affected.

And it’s not just international travel. Lockdowns and the rise of remote jobs (and of course, the fear of getting in contact with strangers who could potentially be infected) has caused a major decrease in the use of public transport. In the Global Public Transport Report 2020 which is compiled by Moovit, the transit app and data business, 45% of public transport has been reduced, leaving the world at a stand-still.

Current Lockdowns & Vaccine Roll-Outs

Currently, the world is facing another rampage with the mutated form of the coronavirus. As of March 2021, several European and Asian countries have gone into another complete and semi-complete lockdown following the second Covid-19 wave. Although countries like France had eased their lockdown in June, 21 million people in 16 areas of the country had been under lockdown to ease the effects of a possible third wave.

African nations such as Kenya have warned of a possible full lockdown after Covid-19’s positive cases jumped to 22%, which is a 20% increase since January. The Philippines had reported 9,838 coronavirus cases, which was the biggest daily jump since the pandemic began. Countries like India, UK, Poland, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Malaysia, Australia, Vietnam, and Singapore have all gone into complete lockdowns to curb the second and a what-if future third wave.

But lockdowns are not the only measurements taken by governments and health authorities. With the arrival of vaccines, there is hope shining on the human population to control the fast-spreading virus.

People receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
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As of May 29th 2021, according to Bloomberg stats, more than 1.84 billion doses of vaccine have been given across 176 countries, which are enough to vaccinate 12% of the population. An estimated 31.5 million shots are registered a day, and if this rate keeps up, then it is predicted that within another year, we will eventually achieve a high level of global immunity.

But this is no easy feat. Delivering billions of vaccines to stop the raging coronavirus pandemic will be one of the greatest logistical challenges ever and the success of the herd immunity will depend on overcoming this challenge.

On the other hand, countries that are continuously administrating the vaccine have shown great improvement in reducing the cases. For example, Israel has shown that 84% of people older than 70 years have taken two doses. Deaths and infections declined rapidly. The UK has also shown similar results. Serbia is one of the 8 leading countries in administrating vaccines and the USA’s population of more than 50% has taken the doses.

How the Hospitality & Tourism Industry Has Been Keeping Afloat. How Did Demand Forecast Help?

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), global tourism suffered its worst year in 2020. When compared to the stats in 2019, international arrivals were down by 74% in the following year. This crisis put more than a hundred million tourism and hospitality jobs at risk, particularly in small and medium-sized businesses. Asia and the Pacific was the first region to suffer the impact of COVID-19 with an 84% drop in international arrivals in 2020.

So how did the tourism and hospitality industry survive this pandemic onslaught?

Like every other public place, hotels and airports had to first focus on health and safety standards like never before. Commitments to keep strict safety and hygiene protocols boosts trust in the brand’s customers. Another way that the hospitality industry has kept afloat was by extending staycations.

Although extended staycations were a norm before the explosion of the pandemic, the hospitality industry has found new ways to keep the empty rooms occupied by taking advantage of quarantines and travel bans. For example, travellers forced to quarantine for 14 days or more compare extended stay offers, and this data alone helped the hospitality industry to save themselves from hitting the ground.

Covid-19 precautions in the hospitality industry.
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Demand forecast also, perhaps, helped them ensure that services were available when future visitors needed them. The ability to forecast such events and their in-tourism demands can help them minimize the catastrophic effect on sales, income, employment and tax venue of a place.

How Big Data can Help Them Recover in the Post-Covid-19 World?

One sure-fire way to play out scenarios regarding the future of the tourism industry to deliver effective recovery plans is by data science. More than ever before, the industry is in dire need of being able to predict the possibilities of what could happen to successfully execute their business plans.

For example, according to techmedia.com, by using a data-led method, a North American airline has saved almost $100m in fuel efficiency. They were able to achieve this by increasing and improving their fuel forecasting.

A UK airline had used a similar data science method to take care of pricing and demand analysis, based on market dynamics and competitor pricing. This helped them reduce their analytical process from 19 hours to 1 hour. As a result, the airline has saved itself from losing unnecessary money or running flights with empty seats by building statistical and predictive modelling to ensure that it’s pricing every single flight at the correct value.

The world’s famous public transport app Moovit has also voiced out their thoughts of using big data to help people and public transportation:

“We’re living in a time where data is more important than ever before. Especially in the public transportation industry, big data can help cities and transit agencies gain insights into what riders need in order to increase mass transit use.”

Yovav Meydad, Moovit’s chief growth and marketing officer

According to Moovit, 43% of people in Singapore want to know how crowded public transport is before deciding whether they should get on it or not. In this regard, big data that predicts how full services are and information on when and where there are crowds on trains and buses could help people feel more confident about using public transport as per their own safety measures.

Other possible areas where data science can help would be:

Route Optimization 

For customers who prefer direct flights rather than layovers and connection flights, companies can use various optimization algorithms such as Linear Programming with Data Science and AIML.

This will help the airline industry run direct flights instead of connecting flights with a layover on airports where most of the customers prefer direct flights due to safety reasons amidst a pandemic-recovering world. As for benefiting the companies, the overall cost will be reduced as fewer logistics will be needed when there is no layover.

For example, a study done by Pankil Patel and Dr. Ahad Ali states that Lingo programming and Solver for Integer programming can help identify the number of flights required between two cities to maintain direct flights and get maximum profits for budget airlines. With steps like these, airlines can operate more efficiently without wasting resources.

The same kind can also be used for bus and train services. Bus services can change the frequency of the bus running across the city or country. Train services can also be used to optimize in a similar way to run across the majority of the country.

Contactless Travel

Contactless options are becoming more widespread due to Covid-19’s “no touching” caution. Although airport check-ins and immigrations are still manual, automation across the entire travel industry is expected to become the new norm. Biometrics is already a solution that is widely accepted for identity verifications.

Possible Covid-19 screening checkpoint for travellers and customers.
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The use of fingerprints, as well as iris and facial recognition, could also come into play as a regular method. Industry experts say Data Science and Artificial Intelligence technology will be a key tool in the hustle of a futuristic travel world, with electronic passports and IDs, boarding passes, medical screening and robot cleaners being used to limit physical contact between people and surfaces.

In the aviation industry, AI, ML, and robotics are being used as virtual assistants for customer services and queries, logistic operations, airport security, aircraft monitoring, facial recognition that replace biometrics for security checks, and self-service kiosks that are built with augmented reality.

According to a recent survey, 97.2% of aviation companies are working towards using big data and artificial intelligence with 76.5% of the firms using the value of collected data and empowering AI for cognitive learning initiatives.

For example, a humanoid robot developed by a Bangalore-based startup called Sirena Technologies is being used in the Bangalore Airport for assisting travellers with their boarding. Other airports around the globe, like Singapore and Hong Kong airports, are using thermal screening for monitoring passengers and robots to sanitize the airport.

Etihad Airlines in the Middle East has been working on creating interactive automated kiosks that are an all-in-one system to check travellers’ temperature and heart rate before issuing their tickets and can process the massive volume of biometric data. This is all done to reduce the impact of Covid-19 and to keep the safety of travellers through contactless travel.

A Los Angeles airport has said that they are using an advanced biometric self-boarding solution to help passengers travel securely with no contact. 

Digital health passports

Health is of major concern right now and its effects are said to draw out well into the future. Health could be embedded in every aspect of travel in the post-Covid era. According to a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), measures such as visible sanitizing, screening, and masks all increase passengers’ feelings of safety when thinking about travelling after COVID-19.

Some companies are said to be considering developing smartphone apps or systems to provide travellers with digital health passports that contain their medical clearance for Covid-19 and proof of vaccination for gaining entry into public places, such as a hospital, theatre, or shopping mall.

IATA has gotten a step closer to releasing a full digital travel pass. Launched in December 2020, the IATA Travel Pass is designed to be a platform for travellers to store their verified Covid-19 test and vaccine results securely and link them to their digital identity. 

Seeing the advantage of the digital travel pass, 27 airlines (such as Emirates, Etihad, International Airlines Group (IAG), Air New Zealand, Korean Air, and many more) worldwide had announced that they will use the pass as a trial. Meanwhile, Singapore has become the first country to accept the use of the digital travel pass as a form of Covid-19 status certification for entry into the country, following successful trials by Singapore Airlines.

And it’s not just IATA, a number of other solutions have climbed onto the digital health passport bandwagon in the past few months. Suppliers like AOKpass, CommonPass, Daon’s VeriFLY, CLEAR Health Pass and IBM Digital Health Pass are just to name a few.

But in the end, it’s up to the governments to implement the use of digital health passports and establishing a trusted framework. If these health passports do come into place as regular use, then it will change the future of biometric identification at airports.

What’s the future travel plan?

The beautiful view from a flight window.
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Before this unseen virus erupted, exploring a city with a crowd, meeting different strangers without worry or bumping into people in a crowded market would have been nobody’s concern.  Now with the old model broken, an industry that has its eyes set on the future must have a greater sense of responsibility for both the people and its planet.

With social distancing and minimal contact, it is certain that the tourism and travel industry needs to head for a sustainable approach for both the human population and the planet. With each pandemic the world has faced, a new effective health system arose and now with the Covid-19’s appearance, more healthy and hygienic practices will be evident.

This will, of course, be beneficial for travellers, for the good of the community and the practice will undoubtedly help tourism go back into its full operational swing safely and sustainably while producing more benefits for the industry as a whole.