The team behind the DesignUp conferences recently hosted an online panel titled ‘The Travel 5×5: End of Wanderlust?’ YourStory was the media partner for the event (see Part I and Part II of our preview coverage).
In an innovative format, five speakers – from five cities and five different industries – shared five slides each on topics like travel choices, traveller preferences, digital design, and travel documentation. The panelists were from Bengaluru, Delhi, Bangkok, Sydney, and Singapore.
See YourStory’s coverage of DesignUp’s earlier online panels, The (not so) Secret Life of Designers, May the Fourth be with you and The pandemic’s impact on design as a business. See also our write-ups on the annual DesignUp conference editions from 2019, 2018 and 2017, and our d-Zen (‘Design Zen’) section for more design resources.
The speaker lineup for the travel panel featured Dorothy Di Stefano, Founder-Director, Molten Immersive Art; Srishti Gupta, Manager, Product Design, MakeMyTrip; Jayanth Sharma, CEO, Toehold Travel and Photography; Deven Grover, Senior Product Design Manager, Agoda; and Sebastian Mueller, Co-Founder, MING Labs.
Here are my key takeaways from the hour-long discussion on a rain-soaked evening in Bengaluru, also summarised in Table 1 below. The timing of the panel was apt, with India opening up domestic air travel this week and many countries planning international flights from July onwards.
The discussion on a Sunday evening was anchored by Shiva Viswanathan, Brand and UX Coach for Ogilvy PennyWise, and Jay Dutta, SVP UX Design at MakeMyTrip, and Founder-Curator, DesignUp Festival. See also the DesignUp report, Deconstruct: Understanding the State of Design-In-Tech.
Other issues that can be brought up in future forums are improving travel services for less-privileged communities like migrant labourers in India. In a fast-changing scenario, there are information gaps with respect to train departure dates and times, documentation needed to get on board, and connecting options by bus.
Deven Grover, Agoda
Countries are opening up domestic and international travel in phases. “Domestic travel will soar across the world as countries reopen intra-travel movement between cities and states. Domestic travel by road will be the choice of travel due to fears of flying,” explained Deven Grover, Senior Product Design Manager, Agoda.
“Marketing efforts will be on communicating safety measures and domestic pricing geared towards locals, as international tourism will not really take off till 2021,” he added. Regional and international travel will return in the latter half of the year or early next year due to fears of flying and restrictions by local governments.
“Consumer confidence levels will be at an all-time low. Travellers will look for online travel agencies and airlines to provide flexibility in controlling their booking dates, and have no fees for last-minute cancellations due to COVID-19 related delays,” Deven said.
He strongly believes tourists will travel like backpackers by travelling light and going to destinations not seen on typical lists of ‘Top 10 Destinations for 2021.’ The preference will be nature destinations, which do not have cramped social distancing implications.
“Technology will also play a major role post-COVID as many companies have learned how technology can streamline the communication between OTAs, hotels, and guests moving forward,” Deven explained. As digital examples, he points to tools to help guests self-manage bookings, and provide hotels and airlines with travel and medical history of guests.
“We are facing the most challenging period for travel, but I am strongly confident we shall overcome this crisis and adapt to the new normal,” Deven emphasised. “Expect travel to not take months or quarters but years to recover. But I believe we will discover a whole new world through the eyes of a backpacker. Stay safe, travel safe,” he summed up.
Srishti Gupta, MakeMyTrip
“Wanderlust, or the yearning to explore, predates modern interpretations like globe-trotting, jet-setting digital nomads. Even as hunter-gatherers, humans explored and roved the earth in search of knowledge,” explained Srishti Gupta, Manager, Product Design, MakeMyTrip.
Over the past years, the availability of better connectivity, faster and cheaper modes of travel, and plusher places to stay has made the remotest parts of the world more accessible to all. “Wanderlust will not end due to coronavirus. No, I don’t think so. It is an intrinsic part of the human experience. But the way we satiate this desire might change,” she added.
“As we have evolved, wanderlust evolved into what we call the travel industry. Aside from boons of modernisation such as cheaper flights and better hotels, another aspect is very important in travel – and that is TRUST,” Srishti emphasised.
Trust-based relationships with strangers at various instances of the journey are the foundation of travel. This ranges from flight crews to hotel staff. “It is this trust and social connectedness that COVID-19 has attacked,” she said.
Past pandemics have impacted and reformed society in different ways, such as the London sewerage systems that were built after cholera took thousands of lives. “COVID-19 has forced us to look at the gaping holes in our sanitation and public hygiene systems, overcrowding in transport, and urban planning,” Srishti explained.
The need for social distancing is changing the destinations people want to explore. “Recent studies suggest more people are interested in travelling to nature-rich, remote places than cities and other densely-populated areas,” she observed.
There are also changes in people’s choice of accommodation. “People might prefer booking villas and apartments over traditional hotels, because the turnover rate of guests is higher in hotels compared to vacation rentals,” Srishti said.
The role of personal protective equipment (PPE) has also increased in our lives. “A recent user research at MakeMyTrip revealed that guests expect PPE to be provided in hotels, at least premium and 5-star ones,” she observed.
“Maybe in the near future, the hotel kit will also include masks, gloves and mini-sanitiser bottles. These are short-term solutions – but they may alter the direction in which technology evolves. The warm welcoming smile from behind a plexiglass may soon change into an automated response of a kiosk,” Srishti predicted.
As other tech trends which do not seem so futuristic any more, she pointed to self-driving vehicles, retinal scans, and radar for detecting hand movement.
“In a world that needs physical distancing, these technologies might become a part of our daily lives much sooner than anticipated. But if we are not careful, we might just be designing ourselves into isolation,” Srishti cautioned.
She summed up with a provocative question that all designers and product makers of the travel industry must ask: “How might we design for social connectedness in an increasingly contactless world?”
Dorothy Di Stefano, Molten Immersive Art
“In a sector that thrives on in-person connection, the loss of an audience due to this pandemic has been disastrous,” lamented Dorothy Di Stefano, Founder-Director, Molten Immersive Art. Yet, this pandemic will not spell an end to location-based entertainment (LBE) attractions and destinations as they fulfil a basic human need for which there is no real substitute, she added.
LBE is defined as entertainment that takes place in a specific location outside of the user’s home. Digital experiences can enhance the value of visiting the venue, eg. via VR, AR and other immersive experiences which convey the perception of being physically present in a non-physical world.
“LBE will continue to provide a unique form of value that nothing else can. The physical act of the voyage and return, both near and far, is hardwired into our brains and culture. The idea of the journey to an extraordinary world is central to all our storytelling,” Dorothy explained.
“Our desire to roam, play, and experience will never leave us,” she affirmed. However, the LBE industry will inevitably need to adapt in order to survive, prosper and continue to deliver value in the future.
For example, many destinations have expanded their virtual and digital offerings during the pandemic, exploring the idea of virtual tourism. “These experiences, to date, have not been about monetisation. Destinations are doing their best to offer something of value in a time of crisis and maintain a presence in people’s lives,” Dorothy observed.
Providing free, high-quality digital content is a win for both the public and the institution. She cited survey results from the US and Australia to predict that people will initially return to cultural institutions that are closer to home.
“My feeling is that they won’t restrict their spending, but venues will have to accommodate smaller crowds. They will need to install hand sanitising stations, update their safety procedure for social distancing, and have guests wearing masks,” Dorothy explained.
Visitors will expect to clearly witness the venue’s commitment to these policies and procedures firsthand, and witness staff enforcing the new rules. This can be reinforced through repeated and clear communication to guests via channels like kiosks, videos, social media posts, websites, and apps, Dorothy emphasised.
Events like the Immersion Design Summit share market research, insights and case studies in the immersive experience sector. This includes XR home devices and segments such as interactive art museums. Notable examples include Meow Wolf (Santa Fe), Museum of Ice Cream (US), and teamLab Borderless (Tokyo).
Dorothy described examples of immersive experiences for the Mona Lisa exhibit at the Louvre, and even ‘Gogh in your Car’ for immersive art. Google Arts & Culture is helping many museums with online walkthroughs. Streaming audiences are increasing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Vienna State Opera.
Going online attracts international audiences to local venues, as seen in the National Portrait Gallery of London. Half of their 1.2 million followers on social media and 42 percent of their five million annual web visits originate from outside of the UK, Dorothy explained, citing industry data.
“Virtual and digital offerings are developing rapidly but are, at this stage, an addition to the venue experience. People will be reluctant to travel afar, preferring to attend local attractions,” Dorothy summed up.
Sebastian Müller, MING Labs
One of the trends of the COVID era has been the rise of videoconferencing and online collaboration for social and business purposes. “Remote collaboration has turned out to work very well, and even partially better than in-person workshops in some cases,” explained Sebastian Mueller, Co-Founder, MING Labs.
Business travel will reduce thanks to online collaboration – especially with groups that are already familiar with each other, he added. Though there is some webinar fatigue with people feeling like ‘Zoombies,’ the use of virtual worlds for meetings is gaining traction. “We expect to see more creative uses of virtual worlds in business, and potentially fully business-targeted virtual worlds,” Sebastian predicted.
Based on conversations MING Labs is having around scenario planning and forecasting, there seems to be a movement toward a ‘fractured world’ situation. “It looks like countries are negotiating and opening up travel corridors bilaterally with a partner country that is seen as safe and needed,” Sebastian explained.
However, some countries are keeping entry points closed to many others. “While we will see national travel rebounding more quickly, international travel will likely suffer long-term from this fracture effect,” he cautioned.
In the world of global manufacture, some international supply chains are disintegrating. “Corporations are looking to move to local sourcing, while reducing the global exposure they are facing. This will, again, lead to more national and pan-national movements, with a reduction in the international movement,” Sebastian added.
In sum, the world of business will be impacted by the rise of online meetings and collaboration, reducing the need to travel. “We see technologies on the rise that allow us to set up a collaboration between organisations with way less friction, and hence less need for physical meetings and trust-building,” Sebastian concluded.
Jayanth Sharma, Toehold Travel and Photography
Wildlife tours and photography have been severely impacted by the pandemic, as explained in a presentation and subsequent chat by Jayanth Sharma, CEO, Toehold Travel and Photography. Many tour companies are offering virtual tours as an option. “Virtual wildlife tourism isn’t a replacement for actual tours. I see it as an additional touch-point for a lot of people who will never be able to go in person,” he said.
“Nothing can replace the excitement and adrenalin of finding and observing wildlife physically, in person,” he said. He shared photographs of senior citizens travelling all the way from Europe to see gorillas in the wild in Rwanda.
But virtual tours to places like the Arctic are the next best thing for those who can’t go in person due to physical or financial limitations, or pandemic impact. “Trust me – you can’t physically go everywhere every weekend. This limitation will make sure the wildlife addicts get what they enjoy through virtual tours and games,” Jayanth summed up.
Many photography courses are also moving online. “I don’t think pricing has changed. Basically, people pay for the instructor’s time. Virtual or in-person, time is limited. So our virtual classes are similarly priced to their physical counterparts,” he added.
Jayanth has also realised that recorded online video learning at a smaller ticket cost is way more effective, as with lower cost volumes can increase. “So in the lockdown period, I have created a bunch of online video courses to help people learn photography,” he said.
The speakers called for more close collaboration between the travel and health industries to work together for the safety of people. Questions and answers flowed back and forth in the chat window during the one-hour webinar.
How can we ensure consistency and quality of information across the myriad of travel and booking apps? What are the legal recourses available for people who get stuck in a place mid-travel due to cancellations by airlines? What tech solutions enable physical distancing?
With more traveller data required to be submitted online, what are the privacy and security measures mandated? How will passengers not be victimised by increased airline industry costs?
How will the travel industry invest in the volume and frequency of necessary market research? Will much will wanderlust be replaced by ‘virtual-lust’? How effective and affordable is e-learning for travel photography classes?
Shiva Vishwanathan shared the link to an NPR podcast called Invisiblia by Bernie Krause. Bernie asks: What can we learn about ourselves and the world around us if we quiet down and listen?
“OTAs will have to ensure hotels are complying with local government and CDC recommendations and there will have to be a check-in balance system in place,” Deven explained. However, passengers will be responsible for ensuring they are up to date on travel advisories and restrictions based on their travel history and medical history.
“Companies will have to comply with data privacy rules and will follow the rules of hospitals to ensure that private data is not shared or sold. Only relevant data for flying or hotel check-in will be shared with them,” Deven said.
“The travel industry will have to invest in technology for social distancing and safety. This includes apps for hourly hygiene checks,” Dorothy said. “By investing in technology and with relevant communication with guests, hotels and airlines will build a line of transparency and trust. More self-service options will drive down the cost for the travel industry,” Deven added.
For inclusive immersive experiences, Dorothy cited the example of ‘SoundShirt.’ It allows deaf and hearing-impaired audience members to experience music and AR-enhanced by touch sensations.
The online experience for many business conferences that have moved to virtual mode is quite commendable. “I happened to attend the Nielsen Norman Group’s London and New York virtual conferences recently. Both content delivery and group activities were done very well. The only downside is that I couldn’t bond with people as much as I could have in a physical space,” explained Praveen Bandaru.
Effective webinars deliver insightful content and trigger off lots of discussion and ‘feel-good’ emotions. But how can the momentum be sustained through follow-up action, and how can webinars be improved in this regard?
“I think there are tactical takeaways and conceptual takeaways in every event – the how to do and how to think. Most often, the tactical ones are actionable and the conceptual reinforces or expands foundational knowledge,” explained Shiva Viswanathan, Brand and UX Coach for Ogilvy PennyWise.
“We are trying to balance this with our content. The next event with Jan Chipchase on Remote Research is clearly more tactical than conceptual. We are also considering podcasts with specific guests or panelists as extensions of this event. This will give us an ability to offer more knowledge and nurture collaboration. Watch this space,” Shiva said.
The DesignUp team is also exploring other topics like healthcare and wellbeing, which certainly need thought and conversation. “Mental health in these times of isolation or anxiety of economic slowdown and job loss in the creative industry is something that needs to be addressed. We are considering this in June,” Shiva signed off.
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