By Anil Aggrawal, CEO of Milestone
I took a trip a few days back for the first time since the shutdown began. We rented a car from Hertz at San Jose Airport and drove from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle, stayed overnight at the Seattle Airport Marriott, and flew back to San Jose, CA on Southwest Airlines.
Having not traveled for the last 4-5 months, I definitely had some apprehensions prior to taking the trip. However, the whole journey has made me believe even more strongly that travel is coming back, thanks to all the travel and hospitality industry players who have adjusted what they do to make their guests safe.
The Hertz rental car had a “Clean” sticker on the door to indicate it had been cleaned and not used since. The most interesting and reassuring part was the 14-hour drive from Bay Area to Seattle. We were concerned about the bathroom breaks at the convenience store locations along the route. It was fantastic to see how every single store we stopped at had gone the extra mile to keep their bathrooms clean. I didn’t feel unsafe even for a minute.
Surprisingly, the parking lot at the hotel was almost full, suggesting very high occupancy and the fact that other people are also feeling safe to travel. The hotel experience felt very safe with clear social distancing guidelines in place. The best was the airport experience where there were hand sanitizer stands almost everywhere you looked. Southwest boarded 10 guests at a time, rather than their typical 30.
I had seen the statistics on the increases in hotel and flight occupancy, but experiencing it first-hand made me recognize and believe so much in our adaptability and resilience, and how we are all collectively going to get out of the current challenging times for the travel industry.
Now that two vaccines have been approved and we are well into the vaccination of essential workers with tiers of regular workers coming next, the recovery is under way. By mid-year, travel will be around normal levels, especially with the pent-up demand from all the travel we did not do in 2020.
I hope to see you on the road, at a hotel, or at a local attraction in 2021.