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Travel and technology in the COVID-19 era

Travel and technology in the COVID-19 era

Credit: New Relic

Ben Goodman, New Relic Asia-Pacific & Japan SVP and general manager

In spite of a recent spike in the number of Omicron cases, international tourism is slowly beginning to open up again, with the industry breathing a (socially distanced) sigh of relief as we emerge into a new era of travel. 

Early in the pandemic, governments used technology to help stop the spread of the virus through the rollout of check-in and contact tracing apps, and have also enabled online vaccination booking services and certificates. But the world is not as it was before, and technology must continue to be called upon to facilitate safer travel and prevent the spread of Omicron and other possible mutations.

While inconsistency in travel policies between nations can cause a frustrating experience, the creation of apps that provide an all-in-one service for contact tracing, quarantine requirements, government entry policies and more will be crucial to the new era of travel; allowing customers to navigate multiple government jurisdictions and policies, and removing any ambiguity from testing requirements.

The importance of data

We all carry a mobile phone with us, with these devices able to broadcast our location and who we are interacting with through bluetooth and geotagging. Singapore’s COVID-19 contacting tracing app, TraceTogether, does this by generating anonymised IDs which can be used by contact tracers to send alerts for possible exposure to COVID-19 and advise next steps.

Government’s have leveraged contact tracing technology in their respective countries to try and stop the spread of the virus, with New Relic customer, the Government of India, working with volunteers from industry and academia to develop and deploy the Aarogya Setu contact tracing app.

After launch, the digital first responders behind the development of the app saw 50 million downloads in 13 days and at one point, recorded 7 million server requests in just one minute. Thanks to the contact tracing app, the government has been able to quickly scale services and understand the digital health of client engagement.

The Service NSW app in Australia is another example of how government has responded quickly to changing conditions of the pandemic. Originally created as a place to view licensing and registration information, the app was updated to include a check-in functionality; alerting users who were at a COVID-19 exposure site. Additionally, it includes vaccination certificates and other COVID-19 resources.

Creating a one stop shop for travel

A one stop shop requires end-to-end observability in order to manage the sophisticated nature of modern architectures. Observability builds on the foundation of traditional APM and infrastructure monitoring and helps to generate the data that governments - and travellers - need to react and respond quickly to issues, while at the same time providing the right level of oversight in regards to collecting sensitive information. 

While the creation of COVID-19 contact tracing apps has been vital to fighting the spread of the pandemic, the often standalone apps for different countries - and even different apps for specific cities within those countries - has in some cases made the end user experience clunky. The travel sector must look to create a scalable platform that includes multiple services such as flight information, vaccine certificates and quarantine requirements.

The use of telemetry data collected from citizens’ mobile devices can provide governments and travel providers with information to facilitate a seamless travel experience. Collecting this will allow tech teams within the travel industry to start building dashboards that clearly show how safe the global landscape truly is.

By building mobile apps that leverage this data and make it easy for travellers to know what they need to do before, during and after their travel, the industry can move past ambiguity to highlight risks in real-time. This information can be fed back to governments looking to monitor high-risk travel zones, and provide clear, consistent information to travellers on their requirements in these situations.

An era of the travel Super App?

Super Apps are massive in Asia, with GoTo in Indonesia, Grab in Singapore and WeChat in China just a few examples of industry leaders. Their popularity is tied back to their ability to allow users to send messages, order takeaway food and groceries, use ride sharing services and even purchase insurance all in the one place. 

When it comes to travel, an integrated app would be a game changer. Imagine being able to purchase travel insurance, arrange transport to the airport, make Duty Free purchases and book a COVID-19 test on arrival at a destination country all via the one app. Curating these services into one app creates a virtual checklist for travel; removing the risk and guesswork and enabling the travel sector to build simplicity into the customer experience. 

The devastation of the pandemic has provided an opportunity to rethink how things have been done and innovate. While it will take collaboration across borders and between technology companies, the public sector, airlines and hotels, if the ecosystem is able to look to app development to make travel easier and with greater peace of mind, the recovery of the entire industry will be far smoother.


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