Traveling Again – COVID 19’s Impact On Travel
Admittedly, most people thought I was crazy for getting involved in a Travel Product startup that is launching right in the middle of one of the biggest travel downturns we may ever see. That aren’t entirely wrong, at least on paper. Air travel is down 90% and AAA estimates that on the biggest travel weekend of the year, Memorial Day, we will see 50% less overall travel. An estimated 23% of people are deferring summer travel plans all together.
So why did I get involved in Go Connect anyway? Well, first I was compelled by what the Go Connect product had to offer. When getting involved in any business, you have to expect to weather some macro economic changes. We were already late in the economic cycle that lasted longer than any on record. It was clear we’d have some kind of recession during the life of Go Connect.
However, this blog post isn’t really about the unexpected events and how they might impact a product launch; it’s about how we’re already starting to travel again. How we will return to normal, even if normal is different than it was before. And it’s about how great startups are born in the midst of downturns.
The Future Is Born In Downturns
Airbnb, Slack, Uber, Square. Millions of people use these services and they are some of the hottest companies around. Each of them was started during the Great Recession of the late 2000s. This isn’t a trend unique to the Great Recession either, this has happened all through American business history. Hewlett Packard was founded during the Great Depression and FedEx took off during the oil crisis in the 70s.
While the personal impacts of a recession are always painful, for business they often bring new ideas and new companies. The economic impact of COVID will also spur a new generation of companies and products. Some will be born in reaction to the change in the market – people distancing, working from home or having to enhance safety protocols. Others will be born because a budding entrepreneur followed their passion when there more comfortable opportunities ran out. Still more will rise by improving on the products and businesses that are already in the market. This is where Go Connect fits.
COVID Makes This Product More Important
In fact, my belief in the value of the Go Connect product is higher than ever. I’ve personally struggled with the problems it solves. I’ve had a travel router I used religiously for business and personal travel that did some of what I needed, but was a burden. I’ve used the actual Go Connect product and experienced how much easier it is. Most importantly, I’ve seen how many of us turned to streaming entertainment during our time in quarantine.
We were already a culture headed towards wanting more streaming and the type of technology we experience at home while we travel. In addition, more and more of us are cutting the cord and relying primarily on streaming services for our entertainment. Every major media company (WarnerMedia – HBO Max, Comcast/NBC – Peacock, Disney – Disney Plus, Apple – Apple Plus) are launching a streaming service in addition to existing services that already have millions of subscribers.
My belief is that this won’t stop with streaming services. As we get used to voice assists in our cars, on our watches and embedded in our phones, we’ll want these features as we travel. Though as we’ve all experienced, hotels, conference centers and coffee shops will never be the best places to provide these services. The choice and connection to which services we adopt is too personal. This is why smart phones solved the connectivity and entertainment problems better than individual devices or iPod docks did in hotels. What if you didn’t have an iPod?
We’re Traveling Again
The return to travel is slow, but we are indeed traveling again. According to the most recent numbers available (end of May 2020) average miles traveled is up 38% from the COVID low. In addition pasengers per flight is up to 39 by the end of May compared to a COVID low of 11.
While there is are a variety of view points of just how slowly we should return to normal, one thing that is hard to argue is that we will return to normal. Some will return quickly, others at a more measured pace. But we are returning.
I recently had a conversation with a former business partner in one of my previous companies. He decided to take advantage of the light crowds and visit some Golf resorts he had always wanted to play at. He took stock of the risks and determined that Golf was generally socially distanced by nature and when he inquired at the resort they had few reservations. So he took the plunge.
He relayed back to me that he saw few other guests. As he said it, “I had the golf course and the hotel to myself”. He also expressed how the staff seemed genuinely happy to have the business. Our return to normal will require a balance of the economic needs against the safety needs. But in this instance the safety was there, so the economic benefit he provided brought joy.
He noted that the bar and restaurant were closed, but drinks and food could be ordered through room service. It was contactless room service. They dropped the food outside of his room by someone wearing PPE.
Impact On Product Development
Thankfully the vast majority of our product development hasn’t been impacted by the quarantine. Our team was already primarily remote. We have met as small teams (less than 5 people max) for critical meetings or to hand necessary equipment to each other.
There have, however, been some impacts. Our planned Alpha test with an initial set of customers scheduled for May has been delayed. Nobody was traveling. Now that travel is restarting we expect that to get underway soon.
Another impact has been our ability to meet with designers and manufacturers. While we’ve done our best to do these things remotely, there is simply no substitute for meeting face to face. This is absolutely true with manufacturing where seeing their facilities is important when selecting the best firm. Also designing around size and feel don’t come through nearly as well.
Regardless, these are minor bumps in the road. As we guide the leadership team here at Go Connect, it is clear there is more to gain from this time than there is to lose.
For me personally, I will continue to support the Go Connect team as they march towards a Beta release and presales. In addition, I will take some measured trips with summer with my family. We will travel smart and safe. I will also do my best to continue to support the economic needs for those I encounter and those whose livelihoods depend on travel.
One thing for sure, my family and I will absolutely be using our Alpha Go Connect devices as we travel. Even as a “still in development” product, its more reliable and easier than my previous travel router. And when my kids want to get on the internet and watch their favorite shows at the next hotel, they’ll thank me.