Airlines, hospitality brands finding new ways to work but clear information needed to restore international traveller confidence

In the search for comparisons, travel industry experts have so far come up short. This has been unchartered territory. Most analysts agree, however, that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have hit international travel harder than 9/11 and the ruinous 2008 recession put together.

The good news is that the worst seems to have passed. Domestic travel is already starting to bounce back, while search data shows that people have not lost their desire to get on a plane. Innovation and technology are helping the recovery process, which will be further boosted by clarity around post-Covid travel requirements. Not out of the woods, but certainly in a position to ask: just how bad has this been?

“It was even worse than people feared,” says Máire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies with Enterprise Ireland, and one of the most knowledgeable voices in travel tech. “What made it so bad is that everything happened all at once. Travel just shut down, almost overnight.

“On the industry side, one of the biggest issues is that sellers were hit by an immediate wave of cancellations,” she says. “Pretty much anything that had been booked for April, May, early summer, was all cancelled and that had an immediate impact on cashflow. It was a lot to try and absorb all at once.

“But we’re seeing signs of recovery,” she says. “If we look at the data, it’s clear that in every country, domestic travel will be the first to recover. We can see that happening already in the US, where close to 90% of revenue is driven by domestic travel. We’re also seeing pick-up in the rental market including the likes of Airbnb and car rental.

“What’s going to take longer to recover is international travel and that’s primarily because of the 14-day quarantine rule,” says Walsh. “Search data is showing clearly that a lot of people want to start travelling again but as things stand, they are not sure what the rules are. I think most industry people would agree that we need clarification and consistency on what is allowed.”

In a bid to kickstart the tourism sector, the EU has now launched an app and website that provide travelers with real-time information about coronavirus rules and the status of infections in each European country. Disappointingly, the UK declined to be involved in the data-sharing project.

“There’s still a lot of confusion about quarantine and that’s going to push out the recovery timeline for international travel,” says Máire P. Walsh. “What will also take longer is the events industry. The smaller events, 50 people and less, is already starting to come back to life in a physical/virtual hybrid way but the bigger stuff, international conferences and exhibitions, will need more time to recover.

“The nature of travel is also going to change, we know that for certain,” she goes on. “To give one example, where previously we might have booked our holiday three to six months out, now we’re seeing nearly all near-term bookings, zero to 14 days out.”

In terms of disruption, this is the tip of the iceberg, with most experts agreeing that what 9/11 did for travel security, Covid-19 will do for health and hygiene regulation.

“Most airlines and hospitality brands are looking to innovate and there are a lot of Irish travel tech specialists creating solutions to satisfy that demand,” says Máire P. Walsh. “You’re going to see a lot of innovation focussing on journey touchpoints aimed at making people safer and bringing back confidence.”

She mentions i-Hotelligence, an Irish firm with a software platform that allows travelers to manage all aspects of their hotel stay, from check-in to room access to ordering food and drink, via their phone.

“There’s also Mobility Mojo, whose core product is a toolkit for hotel accessibility,” she says. “They now offer a hygiene rating feature for hotels, so travelers know what sort of hygiene protocols and criteria their hotel adheres to. This is the sort of information people now demand and it can help the industry to recover.”

Anyone who has set foot in an airport lately will be familiar with that new staple of the travel experience – getting temperature checked before being allowed to board. Here, Ventilux has developed a mass screening intelligent body temperature detection system using AI-powered sensor technology.

In a similar space, Daon is working with Denver International Airport to provide contactless and biometric solutions that enhance traveler safety (and confidence) and streamline airport operations. There will be a focus on biometrics to reduce physical contact throughout the journey, give travelers an opportunity to assert their health status, and provide touchless retail at airport stores and restaurants.

To monitor people movement as they travel, Taoglas CROWD Insights™ is a new analytics platform that gives hotels, airports and other venues real-time information about crowd sizes and social distancing.

“Another piece of Irish innovation is from HaloSOS, which started as a live reporting mechanism for major events but which can now be deployed to inform staff if they have been in contact with a Covid-19 infected colleague,” says Maire P. Walsh.

On the customer service front, Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has deployed Cation Consulting’s leading ‘conversational AI’ platform Parly to automatically handle thousands of customer enquiries every day, and provide meaningful, instant responses to those enquiries before they reach any contact centre. They handle all messaging channels including web, email and social, in multiple languages as well as IVR/Phone and smart speakers Alexa and Google.

Finally, with a surge in data attacks targeting loyalty programmes, Irish fraud specialist UrbanFox is helping travel brands to identify weaknesses in their information management and safeguard their data.

“Companies are looking to do things better and create a more compelling travel journey,” says Enterprise Ireland’s Máire P. Walsh. “Well, the whiteboard is now clean and there’s an opportunity to do that. Crisis creates innovation and we’re definitely seeing green shoots starting to reappear.”

Discover more in the upcoming webinar The Digital Customer Journey is broken. Let’s fix it.
With Travel Industry Analyst, Henry Harteveldt and Enterprise Ireland’s SVP Digital Technologies, Máire P. Walsh

Thursday, 6th August, 11am ET – Register now

As countries around the world seek ways to live alongside Covid-19, social distancing becomes more important than ever.  For organisations and businesses, achieving it while minimising damage to productivity is vital.
A raft of highly effective solutions has emerged from Ireland to help.

For innovation watchers, that’s no surprise. A recent international survey placed Ireland 6th in a global ranking of countries responding best in terms of innovation to the pandemic, just behind innovators such as the US, Canada and Israel.
Enterprise Ireland client companies have been leading the way.

That includes companies such as UtilityAR, which specialises in augmented reality (AR) solutions for Industry 4.0, working with clients in sectors such as manufacturing, pharmaceutical, utilities and data centres.

Right now it is enabling workers separated by Covid-19 – either because of social distancing or because one may be in quarantine – to continue to work together.

As UtilityAR CEO and founder Patrick Liddy explains: “Over the past couple of months the buzzword has been business continuity. We are now moving to return to work and the issue is how that can be done safely.”

“We produce systems for technical workers to help them get the job done in cases where, traditionally, they would have worked side by side, whether for oversight, guidance, trouble shooting or simply to have a second pair of eyes.”

Its high tech AR eye glasses allow the wearer share what he or she is seeing with a colleague on another part of the site, allowing socially distanced collaboration.

With fewer workers expected to work alongside one another as a result of Covid protocols, including staggered start times and shift changes, it allows workers to receive guidance or ensure they are following correct procedures, and allows co-workers or advisors to assess their progress remotely.

Irish construction services technology company GoContractor quickly identified challenges for the construction industry in relation to induction and training.

Much of this traditionally takes place in person, either in a work trailer or classroom environment, and involves the sharing and copying of documents. Clocking on too, whether paper based, touch screen or turnstile, risks spreading germs.

Prior to Covid-19 GoContractor’s contractor management platform automated and moved a construction site’s orientations and registrations online, saving safety and project management personnel thousands of hours of teaching and registration time over the life of a project.

Since Covid it has been enabling the construction industry to get back to work by providing a socially distanced ‘no touch’ method for site orientations, registrations and access control.

Instead of a worker having to physically provide documents to site safety personnel or a site manager, GoContractor allows workers to upload their credentials directly to the GoContractor platform, from anywhere. Instead of having to show up a work trailer to do paperwork, a worker can complete everything online the night before so they can stay socially distanced and safe during the registration process.

 It solves the problem of training too by allowing workers and subcontractors to login to GoContractor to undertake all their training and orientations online prior to coming on a worksite, removing the need to break social distancing protocol to be properly on-boarded onto a site.

For clocking on and off, GoContractor allows site security or other check-in personnel to scan a QR code to pull up their information, making sure they are properly trained and registered to be on site, and then checking them into the worksite.

GoContractor also allows for hard hat stickers with QR codes, meaning workers can simply have their hard hat scanned on the way in and out of a site to be checked in and out at a distance.

The company has clients in the USA, Canada, UK and across Europe, including  some international construction companies such as Lendlease, AECOM and Skanska.

Irish software firm Solgari has an integrated communications solutions for the fintech sector offer voice, video, chat, SMS and co-browsing options that are both fully integrated with Microsoft Dynamics 365 and support regulatory compliance, from GDPR to MiFID II, to customers around the world.

Since Covid-19 the company has been helping distance-working by ensuring that all company communications are recorded, and the data extracted efficiently, regardless of geography or medium. This means companies whose staff are working remotely can keep up to date records of all client interactions.

Internet of things specialist Taoglas has launched CROWD Insights, an IoT solution that supports social distancing. Its cloud-based analytics platform uses existing WiFi infrastructure to measure, monitor, predict, alert and notify social distancing breaches in public gatherings in both indoor and outdoor venues.

The solution can also provide a CROWD Insights Wearable Tag, similar in size to an identity badge worn with a lanyard, that delivers automatic contact tracing capability. This is proving vital to business and factory owners as they deploy solutions to ensure business continuity in the event of further outbreaks.

“We believe this will be vital in the days and months to come, to allow people to move around safely without fear and to get the economy moving again and help business to stay open,” says Ronan Quinlan, co-chief executive and founder of Taoglas.

The solution is quick and easy to install, using existing Wifi systems and collecting anonymised data via smartphones. It offers same day deployment – remotely – via a cloud management platform, whether to healthcare facilities, venues, retail stores, restaurants, airports, cities or towns.

Where social distancing breaches occur, software company NearForm’s mobile tracing app rapidly notifies those who have been in contact with someone who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.

The new real-time symptom tracking and digital contact tracing app helps curtail the spread of the virus and eliminate the growth of clusters.

Lastly, because social distancing doesn’t reduce the risks posed by the shared use of touch screen devices, Irish coatings specialist Kastus pioneered a solution.

Such devices see high public usage at airport terminals and fast food restaurants. Kastus’s patented technology uses ambient moisture and light as a fuel source to generate oxygen radicals, a type of unstable molecule that contains oxygen, which attach to bacteria and viruses and works to kill them.

Its antimicrobial surface coating is already used by makers of floor tiles for residential, commercial and healthcare settings.

For Kastus founder and CEO John Browne, news that independent testing had proven its efficacy against the novel coronavirus was no surprise. “Our coating is designed to kill superbugs such as e.coli and MRSA but we had a strong degree of confidence that it would work against coronavirus too, and it does,” he says.

Kastus ensures our germs too remain socially distanced.

With Enterprise Ireland’s NexTech19 event in London, the agency set out a unique offer for UK companies who can benefit from Ireland’s talent acquisition technology. The agency’s Global Lead for talent management, David Corcoran, is excited about the range and breadth of innovative solutions presented.

Few things are certain in life, and fewer still in the year ahead – but the acceleration of decisions in recruitment is pretty much guaranteed. More hires, faster hires, smarter hires, the pressure to find the very best candidate in a fiercely competitive and noisy marketplace continues to build and has had tech platform builders hard at work. Now we see a world-class array of companies offering specialised software and cloud solutions. In the talent management sector, it is an open secret that the best and brightest of those solutions are coming from Ireland.

Irish companies have cornered the market for talent platforms with speed and agility, thanks in part to a highly skilled tech workforce seasoned in attracting global companies and multinational HQs. Add a culture of entrepreneurship and a need for SMEs to scale up and punch above their weight very quickly and you have a winning combination. UK companies who need very particular solutions to their talent issues now have world-class technology operators on their doorstep.

However, that range and quality of choice also brings its own challenges. In a busy marketplace, where AI, machine learning, and cognitive computing tools are becoming the norm, making a distinction between one service provider and another has become a difficult hurdle to negotiate. Irish companies in the talent tech sector offer real track records in personalised experiences, optimisation, speed of execution, value and insight but finding the right one for your business can be a daunting prospect.

It inspires a curious question; if hirers turn to talent acquisition specialists to home in on the staff they need, then who do the specialists turn to? In the UK, more and more of them are turning to Enterprise Ireland for guidance on the best in talent management technology, for everything from remote working solutions to referral systems. Enterprise Ireland also supports UK companies in their digital HR and future of work journeys by offering a gateway to connect them to the most disruptive Irish HR tech providers.

Anyone in doubt about the speed of change in both HR and recruitment should see how the talent landscape has changed in just the last few months. The drive for talent acquisition is fast being matched by the need to retain and reward talent once hired. And it’s the companies that specialise in employee engagement who have been providing some of the most stimulating discussions at industry gatherings in the first quarter of 2019.

Irish veteran Globoforce, rebranded as Workhuman,  and Dublin-based employee engagement specialist Wrkit are two very different companies that give complementary slants on the same objective.

Workhuman offers a cloud-based performance management platform with peer-led approval or social recognition as a key element. Making employees feel valued, with not just a sense of connection through tech innovation, but positive reinforcement and appreciation from colleagues, is now crucial. Platforms that acknowledge the need for human-centric work cultures are set to dominate retention strategies.

For its part, Wrkit is clear that cracking the problem of creating a happy work culture is a major business win and uses the phrase ‘holistic engagement’ to differentiate its product. It integrates employee benefits in financial wellbeing, nutrition, mental health or fitness in the workplace with an accent on retention as a key advantage for employers. With over 200 companies signed up, it boasts a 93% retention rate.

It’s a cliche that a company is only as good as its people, but it is a useful one to appreciate that constant change in business is inevitably affected by the changes in the working life of the people who run it. Technology, culture, demographics, and new products shape increasingly dynamic workforces that HR and recruitment professionals have to keep up with. Ireland’s tech sector offers an unrivalled diversity and sophistication of talent management tools to equip companies in the race to do that. Supporting them in choosing the right ones is the team at Enterprise Ireland.

Ireland was named top performer in the area of skills and innovation in the European Commission’s Small Business Act Fact sheet 2017.

The latest ranking builds on Ireland’s leading international reputation for innovation. The European Commission’s 2017 Innovation Scorecard also ranked Irish small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) first for innovation.

Small Business Act (SBA) Fact Sheets are produced annually by the European Commission, with the aim of improving understanding of trends and national policies affecting SMEs across the European Union. The SBA is the EU’s flagship policy initiative to support SMEs and focuses on key performance indicators and policy measures organised around 10 principles, including entrepreneurship, internationalisation, state aid and public procurement.

Ireland’s SBA profile continues to be competitive, with the EU Commission’s 2017 Fact Sheet showing significant improvements on last year’s performance.

Ireland is one of the top four EU performers in entrepreneurship and has the highest EU score in two separate entrepreneurship indicators. On the high status given to successful entrepreneurship, Ireland records the highest percentage in the EU (83.1 %) compared to the EU average (66.6 %). Ireland’s pro-business environment is also evident in the Fact Sheet’s finding that it has the least burdensome government regulations in Europe

In eight of the SBA areas — entrepreneurship, ‘second chance’, ‘responsive administration’, state aid and public procurement, access to finance, single market, skills and innovation and internationalisation — Ireland performs above or well above the EU average.

Earlier this year, Eurostat research found that Ireland has the highest proportion of high-growth enterprises in the EU, ahead of the UK, Portugal, Hungary and Bulgaria.

Customers and partners of Irish companies worldwide leverage this innovation to increase efficiency and productivity in ways that enhance their product portfolios.

The Irish government continues to put innovation at the top of its agenda with the implementation of its Innovation 2020 strategy.

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