Transcript: SOLUTIONS- The New Travel Experience
Airside Spokesperson Talks with Chad Shuford of Silicon Foundry About the New Air Travel Experience
August 25, 2020
Jodie Brinkerhoff, VP of Innovation, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport
Zeke Adkins, Co-founder of Luggage Forward
Chad Shuford: Hi, good afternoon, and welcome to Silicon Foundry’s SOLUTIONS webinar, The New Travel Experience. I would normally be speaking to you from Silicon Valley, but today I’m speaking to you from northern Idaho. There’s nothing like a wooden cabin to get the innovative conversation, so that’s the backdrop I’m bringing you.
Today we’re discussing the new era of air travel that is upon us and the changes that are surfacing within the industry. My name is Chad Shuford; I’m a partner at Silicon Foundry, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. For those of you not familiar with Silicon Foundry, we’re a membership-based advisory platform headquartered in Silicon Valley. We work with a range of multinational corporations, including Ford Motors, British Petroleum, Southwest Airlines, Delta Airlines, just to name a few. Our work has to do with discovering, connecting and engaging our members with leading startups and emerging technologies, with the goal of bringing about outcomes, including partnerships, investments and acquisitions.
Today’s discussion is part of Silicon Foundry’s Solutions Series, where we bring together experts and startups to share their opinions on critical technologies and the expected consumer behavior shifts that are creating new, more resilient systems against today’s most pressing challenges. Which brings us to air travel.
I think we can safely categorize air travel as one of today’s most pressing challenges, as it has been one of the industries most affected by the events of the past few months. I’ve seen reports that the industry experienced a decrease in traffic by as much as 95% during the past few months, which is an unprecedented drop. What this type of interruption will mean for the industry has yet to be determined, but undoubtedly this will bring about enduring change.
While the headlines around air travel focus on the gloom and doom, highlighting the reasons why we shouldn’t fly and highlighting the financial challenges that airlines are facing in the near term, our panelists and the other insiders I’ve met with are focused on a different story, one that has to do with the pandemic being an effective catalyst for much-needed change, which is what we’re here to discuss today. So, before we get started, I’d like to have each of the panelists introduce themselves. Let’s begin with Jodie and then we’ll go to Zeke and Jessica. If you all would share a little bit about your respective organizations and your roles within those organizations, that would be great.
(2:28) Jodie Brinkerhoff: Good afternoon, or good morning, everyone. My name is Jody Brinkerhoff. I’m the Vice President of Innovation at DFW Airport in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It has been a very interesting couple of months where we are. I’ve been in this role for about a year and a half. Last April–year ago April–we started a new innovation team here at the airport with the intent to build upon DFW’s long history of innovation success by putting in place a discipline and helping the organization build an innovation muscle. So you can imagine what the new team, many new to the innovation or to the airline–or airport–space, it’s been a crazy couple of months. Prior to joining DFW, I was at MasterCard in their labs organization in New York City, and before that, did the startup thing out in the Bay Area for quite a while. So happy to be here and thanks, Chad, for having me.
(3:22) Chad Shuford: Sure.
(3:25) Zeke Adkins: Thanks, Chad. Hello, everyone. I’m Zeke Adkins, co-founder of Luggage Forward. Luggage Forward, as the name would suggest, is a doorstep-to-destination luggage delivery service. We started the business in 2005, leveraging the network to UPS, FedEx, DHL, and others to collect folks’ luggage–could be suitcases, golf clubs, skis, bikes, anything you’d otherwise check on the airplane–collect that right at your doorstep and deliver it virtually anywhere in the world; could be a second home, hotel, cruise ship, ski resort, golf course. When we started the company, the core market were folks trying to avoid what had become a sort of cumbersome and less-reliable process of checking bags at the airport, not necessarily folks that were trying to solve for the checked-baggage fee.
We subsequently, in 2014, acquired a company called LugLess, which we have relaunched and refocused towards more of the mass market, so we go to market with two brands: Luggage Forward in the premium luxury space, and Lugless in the domestic mass market space.
Like with the rest of travel, we’ve had a very interesting past few months and it’s been some– some of it has been very much expected, given the travel environment. And some of the trends that we’ve seen and we’ll talk about today, have very much surprised us in terms of the changes in behavior and changes that came from February, then to the depths of April, and what we’ve seen since then. Chad, thanks for including us in this discussion and look forward to chatting.
(5:10) Chad Shuford: Excellent.
(5:12) Airside: Hi, everybody. Airside is a digital identity company that is best known for our first consumer program, which is called Mobile Passport, of which I know many of you use to fast pass through the passport control and customs process in 30 locations around the country. And what we’ve been focused on the last couple years is to expand our digital identity network to bring that same user-controlled, privacy-driven concept into other areas of travel and our lives. And so it’s been an interesting journey for us because as we’ve been creating a broader digital identity network enabled by our new namesake app, Airside, to help individuals to control the exchange of any of their sensitive information–put the control in their own hands–the pandemic arose. And so we were looking at a variety of use cases already, some of which have become increasingly relevant during COVID, such as the ability to enable biometrics in the airport and allow the passengers to retain control over their own biometric information. Some have emerged out of the COVID situation and so where digital identity was really originally designed around identity documents and traditional attributes such as your status as a student or a senior citizen, we’re now able to add things like your COVID serology or virology test results, symptomology, and so on within our app. And so we’ve certainly taken that same privacy-driven digital identity network concept and started to apply it to helping our peers in the travel industry recover through a variety of means, while ensuring that the passengers continue to feel the level of trust and safety that they’re accustomed to. Thanks, Chad.
(7:19) Chad Shuford: Thank you. Thank you all.
One call out for those listening in: if you have any specific questions you’d like answered, feel free to submit those via the Q & A chat. We’ll try to weave them into the conversation as it develops. If we don’t get to them, we can get back to them at the end of the conversation. Okay, so let’s get to it.
The outline of our discussion today is going to be in two sections: we’ll begin with what we are experiencing now and what we are learning right now from both an industry and passenger perspective, and then let’s discuss what we can expect in the coming years and months, both from an industry and passenger perspective.
Jodie, let’s begin with you from the perspective of the largest airport in the country. Just recap, what are we experiencing right now? You said you were at the airport this morning. And it may be beyond that, from an industry perspective, what are we learning about the industry, based on its response to the pandemic?
(8:25) Jodie Brinkerhoff: Thanks, Chad. First, I want to say we’re the busiest airport right now, but normally, we sort of rank in the top. Over the course of the last couple of months, we’ve seen the pandemic result in a massive drop in passenger volume, which you alluded to when you opened up. I think at one point, on any given day during the summer, we might normally have 200,000 passengers, and on I think our lowest day we got down to between 8,000 and 10,000 passengers. The good news is that’s rebounded, and we’re learning how to travel, despite this virus. We’re putting measures in place to ensure that passengers remain safe and secure, which has always been our focus, but we’re learning how to be resilient in the face of something like this. So I’m happy to report that today, DFW will have over 75,000 passengers passing through. Whether or not that pattern continues for the next couple of months is still too soon to say, but we are learning to live with this and enable people to make connections and travel and see family despite it.
In terms of what we’re seeing, I mean, we’re seeing a lot. We’re seeing the best of our employees come out. We’re seeing resiliency in a way that we’ve not been forced to demonstrate in recent years, although certainly people have seen it in their careers. And we’re also seeing that we can move quickly. And I know this will be something that we talk about–being “agile”– but this environment has really forced us to band together to collaborate with our partners within the ecosystem; the age of federal agencies, our airline partners, our partners such as the folks on the phone, and really think about how do we put our heads together to create an environment that is conducive to bringing travelers back into our environment. So there’s been a lot of creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
(10:22) Chad Shuford: Yeah, it’s–let’s pass that along to Zeke. I’m curious.
You know, Zeke, you referenced there’s been some interesting trends happening. What have you all seen from Luggage Forward’s perspective?
(10:36) Zeke Adkins: Yeah, so, when sort of everyone stopped traveling in late March, early April, we saw what most people saw: things dropped, basically, to zero. We saw negative revenue days, like I think some of the airlines–I’m sure someone else–did, where we said, “Look, cancel for any reason that you want. We understand the situation.” We bank on the long-term relationship with our clients. We interestingly saw over half of our clients canceling, accepting future credits versus taking their money back. And that, to us, points to specific optimism, with folks being very eager and optimistic about getting back to travel at some point.
But we saw a very interesting divergence in our key brands. So with our luxury brand that works with most of the major cruise lines and served a lot of international travelers, (we’ve) seen a pretty slow but steady march back. We’re operating something between 30-50% of where we were in terms of bookings last year. Starting in late April for our domestic mass market brand, we actually saw a very, very sharp increase starting in late April and it continues today. So, if we use February as a benchmark–that was sort of our last normal pre-COVID month–our domestic brand, LugLess, is booking about two and a half “x” the shipments that we were in February. And that continues–that trajectory continues through the month of August.
What we attribute that to, and what people are telling us, is anything they can do to reduce frequency, duration of contact points at the airport, they’re going to do. So if that means I can ship my luggage ahead, I don’t need to go through the bag-check process, I don’t need to stand around at the crowded baggage carousel, and I can get in and out of the airport quicker, that’s important to me. And so when you take that growth compared to airline travel during that period, –which is at about, down about two thirds–as a function of air travel, we’ve seen demand for the service grow about six or seven “x.” And so it’s interesting to see–we haven’t markedly changed our go-to-market strategy, so it’s interesting to see people, see travelers independently and proactively seeking out solutions to make the air travel experience more safe, in their view, as they go through the airport.
(13:15) Chad Shuford: Do you think–do you expect this trend to continue?
(13:19) Zeke Adkins: You know, I think it will continue, and particularly as more travel opens up, what we anticipate is we’re going to see sort of a step-change in our business. So there’s a lot of new users coming through our business. We’ve been around for 15 years, we think that we had a very strong value prop before this sort of new use-case emerged. So we do see it continue. And there’s not only a lot of room left to get back to normal, but we agree with, I think, what’s the prevailing sentiment, there’s a lot of pent-up travel demand. So when we get back normal and when people feel comfortable traveling again, we think it goes not only back to 100%, but in some areas, far past that as people kind of hit the road.
(14:13) Chad Shuford: Jessica, do you want to share a little bit from Airside’s perspective? The current status of what you’re up to and what you’re seeing?
(14:25) Airside: Sure, yeah. So on the Mobile Passport side of things, we’ve of course, seen the same kind of decline that my peers here have referenced. With the reduction in international travel, we, of course, have fewer people that are leveraging Mobile Passport. That being said, we’ve been really heartened to see how many folks are still, though, coming into our membership and continuing to renew their membership, and I think a big part of why that’s happening is in anticipation of travel coming back, they recognize that these digital, touchless solutions are the safest way to go back. And so when they’re ready to do international travel again, using the fast-pass lane where they’re not spending as much time amongst their peers, using a fully digital solution that’s on their own phone that they can control the safety–the cleanliness and safety of–in a fully digital submission that doesn’t require touching any kind of kiosk is, I think, appealing to many. So, we’ve seen that on the Mobile Passport side.
On the digital identity side of things–kind of the broader network–we’ve seen, actually, a growing interest. So where I think biometrics in the airport, for example, was something that was previously looked at as either the sexy new innovation that helped with either passenger satisfaction or operational efficiency, or really collectively as an industry, we looked at it as a way of meeting the anticipated, increased demand for 2030, where we were expecting passenger traffic to double and we needed technology to help meet that capacity. There’s sort of this acceleration to adopt these things because now the view on it is it’s less about the operational throughput and more about the fact that it’s enabling touchless–touchless entry or touchless throughput, if you will, throughout airports and throughout other points in the journey. So we’re seeing an increased interest in people piloting biometrics programs.
And then, from a COVID-sharing perspective, there’s a lot about safety there, where I think there is an increased level of comfort amongst folks that feel like they’re traveling amongst others that have also been tested, that have also demonstrated themselves to either be symptom-free or negative, and yet, they’re looking to do it in a way in which their data is protected. So there were some questions in the beginning about if I’m sharing such sensitive health results, how is that being kept safe?
And so we are seeing people ask the questions about their data security, and yet there is that increased interest, whether it’s in travel or–we do a lot of work outside of travel as well–but just a lot of people see that ability to test frequently and share those test results frequently and securely as part of this return to life, if you will, across a variety of areas of our life, including travel. So we’re definitely seeing the increased demand for these newer innovations, I think, an acceleration and an increased open-mindedness in what used to be more of a broad new innovation, now this is actually probably a technical criticality to being able to recover to to our former levels.
(17:52) Jodie Brinkerhoff: And Chad, can I just jump in here and riff off of something that Jessica said, and Zeke said? You know, we talked a little bit about getting back to normal, but this notion that this environment has actually accelerated people’s desire to go to digital solutions, I really have a hope that that is a transformational outcome of this whole environment. Before COVID hit, we had a focus area that was around automation and efficient mobility, and now we’ve doubled down on that. So it was always part of our strategy before; this has just given everyone around us the opportunity to rally along the same causes, and it’s given me the counterpoint, which is the customer desire to get there.
So in an environment where a large percentage of our passengers may be retirees and not super digitally savvy, well, now you’ve got folks like my dad, who are all of a sudden downloading these online apps and he’s willing to use them to travel in a way that he never was before. So I think that that’s a really positive outcome of all of this: that together we can lean in on that and transform the industry coming out of this.
(19:04) Chad Shuford: Yeah, in hearing and talking with you all in the past, this all started out a couple months ago as, “Let’s figure out what solutions are required.” And it’s fun to think about, just in a vacuum, what is going to be required and what we think is going to be adopted by passengers. But in talking to you all now and seeing that it’s actually happening, like there has been some consumer behavior shifts, it’s very encouraging. And I think from the passenger perspective, we’ve kind of touched upon, “Okay, great. Look, everyone’s willing to adapt, everyone wants to use these contactless solutions,” but from a industry perspective, I’m curious: are you seeing similar shifts in behavior? You know, we’ve talked about collaboration, maybe among complementary startups or even airports working with one another. Is that a little too far-fetched to think that there is going to be some industry-wide collaboration, or is that going to be another potential enduring outcome of this?
(20:21) Jodie Brinkerhoff: I can speak from my perspective, I think there’s been no better time for collaboration. The speed of change over the course of the last couple of months has been admittedly really hard to keep up with, and the volume of potential partners out there surfacing, wanting to get together, +it’’s really just hard for anyone, one person, one team, one airport to keep up with, and so we’ve actually reached out to partners like the AAAE–the American Association of Airport Executives–and said, “What can we be doing together? Because if every single one of us is spending hours and hours evaluating cleaning and sanitization technology, is there an opportunity for us to collaborate?”
We’ve had increased conversations with our airline partners. And to the extent that there is a consistent experience that we can deliver for passengers who ultimately are starting their day in perhaps New York, connecting through Dallas and ending up in San Francisco, the more of a consistent experience that they can have right now, I personally think is better. But also just the pace of change and keeping up with everything has been really hard. So I’ll turn it over to my colleagues here to see what they think. But from my perspective, definitely a unique opportunity for collaboration.
(21:38) Zeke Adkins: Yeah, I think I have a little bit of a different sort of touch point on this. But what we’ve seen, we work with travel partners from cruise lines to hotels tour operators, golf courses, etc., and of the ones we don’t network with, we’ve seen a number of them reach out to us and say, “Hey, look, we got to get people here. People want to be here, and we want people here. It’s obvious that your solution is appealing, and how do we incorporate that in our pre-existing messaging, or even on-site, where we can say, ‘Hey, look, if you’re if you’re anxious about flying, we can take one piece of that anxiety out of it by having you not worry about your luggage, ship your golf clubs or ship your luggage right to the hotel, get through the airport more quickly.’” And the suppliers are eager to differentiate in that way, rather than compete on price in order to fill inventory. So we’ve certainly seen that from our travel industry partners, not specifically from an airport perspective, but it’s from folks trying to do what they can to generate travel demand.
(22:44) Airside: And so from our perspective, we concur that there’s an increased collaboration, increased need for collaboration. So we’re participating in a lot of recovery work groups, both in domestic associations and with globally facing associations, and I think one thing that’s coming out is there’s been this great acceleration of technology adoption. And yet, because everyone has adopted their own technology, what we’ve inadvertently done in the short term–I think it’s in the process of being fixed–is accidentally create a different kind of friction for travelers, to a point I think Jodie made earlier, which is if you’re doing New York via DFW to SFO, and you now have to potentially have three different technologies and four different cleaning solutions and be these two biometrics providers or whatever the case may be, and the more that we can create interoperable standards or collaborate with each other where we’re all adopting similar approaches, I think the better it’s going to be.
So we have seen that, the next phase of…first it was like, “Let’s run toward a solution,” and I think people have really done that and really demonstrated their ability to adopt new technologies quickly. And what we’re now seeing is, what I’ll call like a “phase two” of our innovation journey for our industry is, “Okay, great, we’ve all done something, but can we work together on some sort of common standards or common approaches that even eliminate another level of friction for travelers?” And so we’re seeing more and more, for example, the AAAE that Jodie mentioned, or WTTC, or ACI or any of these associations that are coming together to say, “Let’s put out some frameworks that say, ‘Okay, great. If we’re all doing biometrics, let’s make sure all the biometrics have the same kind of data standards and security standards and privacy standards, and whatever app you choose can work with any of these hardwares.’” Or if we’re all using a webform, “‘Hey, can the same webform, the same data, be reused for this country’s landing and that country’s landing and that country’s landing?” And some of that thinking is starting to come forward in which we all come together, and I think even different parts of the industry–so air and hotel and so on–to create some of these standards or these interoperable technologies that really remove a layer of friction to even further help accelerate bringing our travelers back to our industry.
(25:16) Chad Shuford: Yeah, and to take it one step further, Jessica, you and I’ve talked about how it’s–that collaboration is not just specific to one industry, but then taking it from air travel to cruise lines to lodging to dining to entertainment. And it’s an exciting concept, and I think all industries are kind of in the same boat, which is like a rising tide lifts all boats, so certainly something to continue pursuing, and to keep our eye on. And along those lines, as we shift from what’s going on now to forward-looking, and maybe Jodie again, starting with you, what are going to be some of the enduring outcomes of this from a technology perspective? You know, we talked about contactless, we talk about sanitation tech. From DFW’s perspective, are there certain areas that you all are more focused on than others right now?
(26:19) Jodie Brinkerhoff: I think from my perspective, we’ve actually tried to double down on things that were focus areas for us before COVID, and we’ve amplified some of them to address COVID. So I feel really good about the fact that we had a good plan coming into this to create resiliency and operational efficiency throughout the organization. This has pushed us to move a little bit faster in some of those areas, and I hope that the resulting outcomes, those things become the new normal or the transformative change, results in a more connected, more intelligent, more predictive, personalized, seamless, customer experience.
So, you know, I do think digital identity and the passenger-held credentials is something that we want to continue to explore and work with our partners on. I do think you’ll continue to see evidence of cleaning and sanitization. I think, in many cases, it was there before–the airport was always clean–but we didn’t have to sanitize and disinfect the way that we have to today under the environment that is COVID-19. And I think that again, this has been really positive and that it’s given people a different view towards enabling automation. And that’s, for me, been a really positive outcome. It’s led to conversations with business unit partners that we might not have talked to before. Because if we all rally around this one customer experience–and Chad, you made the point, it’s cross-industry collaboration–but if you put yourself in the shoes of the customer–that customer, they engage with the car rental companies, they engage with the airline to the cruise ship to the restaurants. And so their experience is ultimately one, and an experience–we all play a part of that, in many cases. So if we keep that as our true north, then we’ll continue to do the right things despite the virus being around us.
(28:23) Chad Shuford: Jessica, what is Airside seeing going forward? You all are very much in the middle of this; not just within the air travel industry, but in others. Are there certain collaborations or areas of interest that you all are migrating to? Or is it head down–is it more of a head-down strategy?
(28:46) Airside: Yeah, I would say from a travel perspective, where it’s really starting–and I think, honestly, they were already the tip of the spear for digital identity–is in the airlines and airports space; they were already ahead of the game with these passenger health credentials. And the thought was always in the broader journey, as thinking about the passenger psychology at various kinds of points of friction throughout their trip, that a common ask from them is the more seamless airport experiences and things like that. And so, we continue to see an increased interest there and continue to lean into that. I do think that there’s an acceleration of viewing some of these technologies in hotel or cruise or, to Jodie’s point, seeing it as a one-trip view of the passenger ideally wants to leave their couch with their passenger health credential–in whatever way that looks like–and get to their destination, have every experience in their destination, make it back to their couch having used that one same piece of tech, and so that does require a lot of collaboration and a lot of working together on (a) common standards sort of thing.
You know, other things that we see in the future are–I get asked a lot, “Well okay, it’s great that you’re sharing the COVID test results. Does this even make sense? What about the upcoming vaccine?” And the counterpoint to that, and a lot of–kind of the opposing view that we hear a lot is that there will be a new normal of how we share our medical records, right? And so this is stemming from a few different areas. There is the “How can I share my COVID, virology or serology results to–whether it’s the airport, the airline, the hotel or any other tour group or any other part of my trip,” to trends in telemedicine or the way that we’re all going to doctors now and how we’re going to have to carry forward our medical records from 2020 and partially 2021 into our future medical lives, to hey, hopefully soon, when this is over, because a very effective vaccine has been made available and made available globally, it’s still the case that we’re going to have to demonstrate that we’ve been vaccinated, right?. And so I think there’s this view forward to, it’s not just about being able to digitally share your COVID test results, but your digital health record of this digital yellow card concept, right now, and until now, right? So my personal vacation which I was supposed to have gone on this year, which sadly, has been moved, is a bucket list trip to Uganda, which obviously requires a certain number of vaccines and shots and all kinds of attestations in order to go, and it’s the kind of thing where it would have been probably my physical yellow piece of paper that showed certain vaccines, or showed certain shots that I had had, it’s now the case I think I’m going to be able to do that along with my COVID vaccine in some kind of digital format. And so I think that there’s sort of this view on “Well, do we do XYZ just for this COVID period? Hopefully it’ll end soon.” And I would argue that a lot of this stuff is what is going to become the “step one” to a broader transformation of the industry to adopting these types of technologies.
(32:15 )Chad Shuford: Zeke, what do you think, from a luggage perspective, going forward?
(32:21) Zeke Adkins: Yeah, we’re in a position here where we–our sort of traditional legacy business has been put on hold, the international and the cruise stuff, like I mentioned previously. But we’ve seen new demand, right, for this new use case in trying to get to the airport. We’re in a phase where we’re really focused on execution. We’re focused on earning the loyalty, frankly, of the new customer base, we’re focused on executing on conversations with our travel industry partners that we think expands and broadens the awareness and the usage of luggage delivery services.
(33:01) So for us this has gone from a really bleak vector to a pretty interesting window of opportunity, where we just have our noses to the grindstone, trying to make sure that we execute properly.
The only other thing that I’ll add to this is we’re seeing–we have visibility into where people are going, for how long, what they’re sending, and that sort of thing. And we’re seeing the profile of trips that people are making changing, and I mentioned this to you the other day, Chad. Normally our–the use case would be: I’m gonna send two pieces of luggage to destination x for seven days, and then I’m coming back. Now we’re seeing folks maybe sending stuff for a couple months or sending stuff one way, but they’ll be sending four or five cases, indicating to us that folks are seeing travel differently. I’m going to go spend time with my parents in Maine for two months because I can work remotely. And the question for us is, does that change, will that change forever? Will the types and profile trips that people take and the way that they get the things there, and the number of things you bring for that duration, change? So we have our eye on some of those different trends as well.
(34:16)Chad Shuford: One more question, and then we’ll get to some questions coming in from the audience.
If the pandemic ended today and customer traffic came back, do you think this has been enough of a shock to the system for enduring changes to be adopted or is true, significant enduring change require a longer period of accelerated, open-minded collaboration and agility and adoption? I’m just curious where we are in that kind of stage, because I hear this from other industries, which is, the longer this goes on, the more effective this is as a catalyst for change.
Jodie, it seems like you wanted to jump on that.
(35:13) Jodie Brinkerhoff: I mean, I’m hopeful; I’m hopeful that it’s enough. You know, we think about… a friend of mine uses the analogy of a rubber band, right? And the longer you hold that rubber band stretched out, the less likely it is to snap back. But I think this has been a really good awakening, and it’s given us an opportunity to think outside the box. It’s been amazing to me how fast our teams have maneuvered. We used to joke around… we’re government, right? And it’s not very fast. But at the end of the day, we’ve proven we can move quickly.
Now, there’s been changes to the environment that allow us to move quickly, given the circumstances, but we’ve proven that we can do it and that we can connect with one another and make really good decisions. And I hope that the flavor of that is something that people are drawn to after this gets back to normal, if you will. Because again, I really think it’s a positive outcome, the collaboration, the likelihood to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I’m seeing this. Are you guys seeing this? Yeah, let’s work together on that.” And so I do think there will be enduring change.
(36:22) We’re doing things right now, like designing construction. I think it’s really interesting, because in our environment, infrastructure takes years to plan… years, so it can’t be as reactive. And so when we’re having conversations about all of our doorways and new portals and things like that, they’re talking about doing to design this for social distancing. Arguably, airports are not designed for social distancing at any sort of mass capacity. So those conversations are happening, and they’re trying to put plans in place that give us flexibility for the future. But it is that–Jesscia mentioned “interoperability”–for us it’s interoperability, but it’s also the flexibility that we build into spaces so that in the event that we needed to go to a social distance scenario, we would be able to flex to that and then flex back to a more utilized space plan.
(37:21) Chad Shuford: Sure.
(37:23) Zeke Adkins: I would just answer that by saying the duration definitely matters, but I think more so, you need to be exposed to whatever the solution is. It needs to work, and it needs to matter. And I think that can happen as two at one time, right? And you look at something like grocery delivery, grocery pickup. Before this, a lot of people hadn’t used Instacart or Prime Now or whatever it is, but if you used it, and it worked, and it saved you time, there’s no going back. So I think duration matters in that more people will be exposed to more solutions, but for any given solution, if it works and if it matters makes a difference in your experience, then I think you’re hooked.
(38:07) Chad Shuford: Jessica, did you want to say anything?
(38:10) Airside: Sure, just really quick. Building Zeke’s point, I think early adopters are going to be a lot steeper, right? So it’s not a “I’m an early adopter of an interesting new tech,” it’s a “This is what is available that solves an immediate problem that I don’t have another solution for.” And I think because of the steepness of the adoption curve, that more of this tech will stick is one thing.
So, I think looking at the root of this technology, it’s not COVID related, it is safety and cleanliness and trust related. And those are three things we’re going to keep wanting, even when the pandemic is over, right? We’re all going to want to continue — we’re all more aware and we’ll maintain awareness of the cleanliness of our environment. And we’re all going to be really aware of how much we trust our business partners to keep us safe, and we’re all going to continue to be aware of the operational efficiency or the safety that’s required. So, I mean, yes, it’s unfortunate that this is a pandemic, but it’s not like we haven’t had other epidemics that impact travel in the last decade. And, so as people look forward, it’s going to be a “This will continue to keep me safe. This wasn’t COVID related. This is safety related, and this is a continuation of that safety.” And I think, I know this is a webinar based on technology, but I’ll kind of end it with one non technology-related theme that I think hopefully will sustain as well, is actually sustainability.
So, I’m on the board of a travel sustainability nonprofit called Tourism Cares, and we’ve been really heartened to see that one of the lasting changes that we expect is that there’s a deeper awareness from destinations and travel providers on sustainability and choosing sustainable solutions, and how that’s possible. And a deeper awareness from travelers, as well, about sustainability of different destinations and what their travel providers are doing around sustainability. And the reason I think that one is going to endure is where we were talking about — and Jodie made a point earlier of we’ve had the time and space to come up with these solutions — is there’s been this demand for that sustainability. And yet, this unfortunate situation gave us the positive breathing room that was necessary for some of these destinations to finally be able to go in between tourists and say, “I’m going to make these fixes to make myself more sustainable,” or “I’m going to –,” or businesses that say, “You know what? While we have lower traffic, we have the ability to implement X, Y, or Z solution during a downtime where we have the ability to focus our resources on these things.” And so I think both the technology adoption and a more sustainable view on our businesses are things that I, maybe also optimistically, as Jodie said, but I’m full of hope. I’m optimistic that those will continue to endure.
(40:53) Chad Shuford: Yes, don’t waste a good crisis, right?
Ok, well, there’s–we have plenty of questions here–and I might just take them as I see them–but there’s a question that says, “What kind of alternative or new business models enable successful pilots and POCs to scale, considering the uncertain demand?” I feel like that might fall into Jodie’s lap.
(41:19) Jodie Brinkerhoff: Sure, I’ll take that. I mean, one of the things that we’re thinking about is the fact that so much of what is new is tied to actual passenger volume. And so when we talk about the importance of innovation, and growth, and sustainability from a business perspective, we do think about what are the business models that we could pursue as an airport with more space than the island of Manhattan. But we also want to make sure that what we do, it fits within the core business, makes sense for us.
From a POC or a pilot perspective, DFW has always had innovation as a pillar of its core brand. We have an appetite for trying new things, and we do; we try things pretty frequently. And now is definitely a good time for us because, again, I think everyone’s eyes are open to the fact that the world is changing, and it’s changing quickly, and if there’s anybody in the organization that hasn’t been bombarded with emails from my friends, salespeople, and other organizations about all the new opportunities to help us, then they haven’t been paying attention. And so, again, to use the word “hope”–and hope is by no means a strategy–but the reality is I’m hoping to leverage that new awareness in a way that lets us try some things a little bit more fluidly. And I’ve got some great partners across the airport, you know, in our procurement groups and our legal groups, that are also mindful of this. And therefore they’re really helping us get to some of these pilots and proof-of-concepts more efficiently than ever before, at least in my experience.
(43:06) Chad Shuford: Yeah. And Jodie, internally I know with our work at Silcon Foundry, with our member organizations, the past few months we have definitely had a front seat and it’s given us–there’s been more attention to innovation in general, but just kind of external solutions that are coming out of some of the innovation hubs.
I assume at DFW…are you seeing the same thing? Has the innovation group been more readily accepted into other conversations, or was that already the case and it’s just business as usual?
(43:45) Jodie Brinkerhoff: It’s definitely not business as usual. We definitely are getting more people sending us, “Hey, I heard from this vendor.” I think..it’s been tough. And I alluded to it before, it’s been really hard to keep up with the volume of people. And you’ve got some great companies that are coming out of various accelerators and such, like Silicon Foundry, and they’re pivoting to take advantage, or to help, and they can move faster, and they are very agile. And that, seen by an airport environment, typically is, “Ooo, they haven’t been in business for a long time” or, “Ooo, they don’t have paying customers today, so do I want to take that risk?” And so the risk management conversation is very different in this environment than it might have been four or five months ago, but I think that, again, it’s a good thing, and yes, our experience has been different the last six months, but it’s been collaborative, it’s been more open, there’s been more spirit-of-partnership than what I experienced in the twelve months prior.
(44:54) Chad Shuford: “What is the worst-case scenario for the industry you are considering in your scenario-analysis strategic planning?” You can all throw in your input on that one.
Jessica, do you all have that?
(45:09) Airside Worst-case scenario… I think from our perspective, so much of what we do is based on international air travel, that the worst-case scenario is some combination of it’s reduced any further or it’s extended any further, right? So there’s always some estimates around how much recovery there is and how quickly. And some restrictions are starting to be lifted by certain borders and things like that, but effectively our worst-case scenario is the more borders that are restrictive, the longer the pandemic goes without a vaccine, or the fewer travelers that are willing to take a chance to come back to our industry, the tougher it’s going to be. So I don’t know that I have any specific numbers around it, but ours is usually anchored in international travel.
(46:04) Zeke Adkins: I would sort of echo that. In our view, we hope that the worst is either here or behind us. Our business model has a lot of variable costs, so we feel that we run pretty lean in the normal course of things, but we’ve taken every measure we can to extend cash and really just be good to our clients and make sure when things turn around, people come back.
(46:33) Jodie Brinkerhoff: And I’ll just add, Chad, we’ve looked at a variety of different scenarios, but when you break it down and you look across the globe in the political and the economic and the social factors that go into typical scenario planning, there’s a lot of moving parts right now and therefore, a lot of uncertainty, so we’ve looked at things like if there is a resurgence of the virus. And really, what that means is how do we build a more resilient business? So how do we stand up our operations in a way that allows for flexibility so we can shift on a–not necessarily on a dime–but you can open and close faster, you can be more nimble with regard to how you are planning.
The good news is there’s enough driving forces that we can monitor and we can see the direction that things are going, from consumer confidence scores to housing starts, and all those macroeconomic things that can give us some indication as to what’s likely to happen in terms of bookings. But it’s definitely made us look at “How do we be more nimble?”
(47:45) Chad Shuford: Another question from the audience box is from DCNO: “Are you seeing any shifts in dynamics (i.e., destinations, origins) different from typical? What is your view on macroshiftings and regional trends?” Maybe Zeke, you’ve kind of alluded to that.
(48:02) Zeke Adkins: Yeah, I touched on this a little bit. We’re seeing different lengths of stay and destinations that are less a major metro area, which shouldn’t be a surprise; I think people are looking to get to places that are a little bit more remote, like northern Idaho, and it will be interesting to see if that changes. I think part of that is that’s what’s available, right? You maybe had a plan to go to Italy this summer and that’s not happening, so you have to go somewhere else. And I think there’s going to be winners and losers in that in the short-term, but the trick will be to figure out if that’s the new normal. How much of remote working will continue on into the future? Will people spend long periods of time in other places? So we’re certainly seeing shifts. It would be a little early to say there are specific, definitive trends that will last over the long term, but without a doubt, things are different.
(49:02) Jodie Brinkerhoff: Just to add onto that, we’re definitely seeing, at least over the last couple of months, travel coming back, but it’s been largely leisure travelers; it’s been a younger segment than what we typically see, and again, to Zeke’s point, too soon to tell what the fall and the winter brings. I think a lot of that is going to depend on the environment of the virus and certainly what countries are opening up. We’ve seen changes in the quarantine rules and different CDC guidelines and such, just day to day, but that definitely has an effect. So yes, we’re seeing changes in destinations, but largely driven by what’s been available, and that’s driven by the airlines and then the political environment.
So again, too soon to tell how this nets out and when it nets out, but certainly seeing shifts in patterns. Personally, I don’t believe that business travel is as effective, and I also think there’s cause for countries to want that business travel back because it leans–it leads to innovation. There have been studies out about that recently. So, do I think it goes away? By no means. But right now, it’s not come back at a pace that we would like to see it, obviously.
(50:25) Chad Shuford: Question from Nathan Simms: “What’s the next major shock, and how is the industry prepared for it?” Man, I would love to hear what the next major shock is!
(50:41) Zeke Adkins: Yeah, I’m not going to go out on that limb, but I’ll say that–and I think this applies for most businesses–I think you’ll see travel, in particular, but a lot of businesses running their balance sheet more conservative. It is important to have deployable cash on hand for a number of reasons. And look, we, like a lot of folks, came off a really good five-, six-, seven-year run. 2019 was amazing; we were geared up, ready to go, scaled up. And you just don’t want to get too far out over your skis, and I think this is a good reminder of that.
So being financially prudent in preparing for the next thing, which I think is the smartest approach since we don’t know what it will be. A pause–we’ve seen a few pauses in travel over the past couple of decades, and it’s always hard to tell where the next one comes from.
(51:41) Chad Shuford: But you know what’s been, what’s great to hear from you all, is look: Luggage Forward is outperforming right now; Airside has completely reinvented its–a new product that’s already gained traction; DFW, from at least an innovation perspective, you all are having this moment to accomplish things that you’ve had on the plate and haven’t been able to get at. Like everything–and it’s not just the panelists here–but there’s this feeling–it doesn’t get acknowledged much in the media or in the headlines–but there’s massive building going on and growth going on, and I feel like there are going to be some very meaningful winners that come out of this. And I don’t know if it’s the passengers, if it’s the industry in general, but am I misreading that? Or is this–we talked before we got on the call, this is a fascinating time and it’s–in some ways, it’s something we might have already been more prepared for than we thought.
Zeke, from a small business perspective, you all survived the first few months when there was negative cash flow, and now you’re growing.
(53:04) Zeke Adkins: Yeah, I think that over time you see a lot of innovation come out of times like this. Some of it’s out of necessity, some of it’s out of people that were doing something no longer have that role and they go pursue the thing they’ve always wanted to do. And some of it is out of companies that see the opportunity to pivot, right? You have a great product, you haven’t maybe gotten traction where you thought you would, but this presents a new opportunity. So I think historically it’s been true that we’re going to look back in 18 months or two years or three years and say, “This amazing thing that we all use everyday came out of a necessity created by COVID.” That’ll be the silver lining.
(54:00) Chad Shuford: “What tools or processes”–this is from Anonymous–”what tools or processes have you used to prioritize and capitalize on all the new ideas coming to your teams?”
(54:12) Jodie Brinkerhoff: I can take that from the airport’s perspective. A year and a half ago, we built a team that instituted a scoring process that is very similar to what you would expect; it has to do with:, is it commercially viable? Is it something our customers will want? Is it something that fits within the strategic plan for us? And that algorithm, if you will, that comes out of it gives us a score.
In this environment, we’ve not pivoted, but really just given a little bit more focus to those things that build employee and passenger confidence, that make them safe and secure, things that are operationally efficient, and things that might have a new revenue opportunity to them. The scoring and the way that we do it has actually remained the same; we just give a little bit more talk time to those that fit into a couple of those categories. I would argue we jumped in and helped a little bit more with the core business/reationary sort of things. Like Chad mentioned earlier, the cleaning technology, those are things that it was all hands on deck and everybody just jumped in to say, “Okay. Who’s got the capacity to take this on? Okay, we’ll take that one, but you guys take cleaning standards,” and we’ve had real partnerships. So again, a little bit more focused on the core business, the now, but pretty truthful to our core focus area as from pre-COVID times.
(55:47) Chad Shuford: Another anonymous question: “Common solutions are great if they’re consistently implemented and enforced. I’ve traveled and done research on what specific airports are doing to address COVID, like requiring masks. However, when I transit, I discover that the mandates are not being enforced by the airport. That makes me question anything that the airport says they are doing regarding cleaning.” Thoughts?
(56:16) Jodie Brinkerhoff: I think that I would argue that every single one of my colleagues and every single one of the people that we work with that are employed by us in any capacity all want the passengers to be safe, and they want the employees to be safe. I have also seen it when I go through an airport where you might see someone has their mask down; I’m hopeful that it’s down for a moment and then coming back, but I do believe they’re trying really hard. We’re seeing 96% compliance with those rules. This is a big change to everybody, and it’s laced with all sorts of personal opinions as to whether it works and whether it doesn’t. My opinion is that it’s a rule and therefore we will comply with the rules. And I’ll hold my colleagues and I’ll hold others accountable for it. So I can only hope that’s where–as you look across the industry, you can only hope that everyone is doing the same while we’re in this period of time.
But I do know that the customer experience is upended when they see these differences; it’s one of the reasons why we’re actually going out to the AAAE and trying to work with AAAE and actually going to be launching a program where we’re hopeful to partner with other airports to work on generating customer insights around what matters. Like what is the customer perspective and how do we collectively work together to rebuild customer trust in doing what people love, which is getting on a plane and going to visit friends and family?
(58:01) Chad Shuford: Yeah, I certainly understand that sentiment. Looking at time, we’re about ready to wrap up, and I’d say, summarizing, it’s exciting to hear about collaboration, the need for agility–it seems like we’re moving more towards that or already have. And hopefully, I guess on the “wish list” is potential standardization across the different assets within the travel industry.
Are there any final comments from either of you all, summarizing or points or anything we didn’t get to that are worth acknowledging?
(58:51) Zeke Adkins: Yeah, Chad, I’ll just say real quickly, there’s a lot of–there’s some doom and gloom out there, but I think there are a lot of positive trends, and like we’ve talked about today, I think there are just a lot of silver linings. I think that history will look back at this as a very interesting time when a lot of useful, meaningful innovations that make a difference have come to the fore. And like I said, I think that when we look back in a couple of years, this will be the time that a lot of those things were introduced to people and will be implemented.
(59:32) Airside: I was just going to echo Zeke’s point. I think that this is an opportunity for us to catalyze innovation and certainly come together as an industry to adopt some of these things and to make some of these seamless technologies and sustainable actions more the normal and the standard than just things that we’re trying out. So there’s the time and space right now to use this as an opportunity, as a catalyst, even though it’s an unfortunate situation we’re in. I think there’s a unique set of circumstances here that will allow us to accelerate some of this thinking.
(1:00:13) Jodie Brinkerhoff: And finally, I’ll just double down on that. To Zeke’s point, silver linings. We’re seeing more of our day-to-day employees on the front lines raising their hand and saying, “Hey, have we thought about this?” So they’re getting involved in the innovation process because it is an all-hands-on-deck sort of situation. Again, I’m inspired by the collaboration I’m seeing and continue to be inspired by the solutions that the marketplace is bringing to us.
I apologize if I am not returning calls; it’s been really, really busy, but my word to everyone is “Keep out there, keep doing it.” And to Zeke’s point, let’s look back on this period of time and point to all of the amazing inventions that were created and the consumer behavior that we led because we wanted to, because it was ultimately better for the customer.
(1:01:03) Chad Shuford: No question about it; silver linings. I like that. So that brings us to time.
Thank you, Jodie, Zeke and Jessica, for your insights. Thank you to everyone who listened in; we’ll be sharing the recording afterwards. There’s some more questions that didn’t get answered and I’m going to share them with our panelists who can respond to them if they are more company-specific questions. If you have any additional questions or would like to get connected with any of these companies, you can shoot an email to [email protected].
Have a great day, everyone, and keep safe.
(1:01:40) Zeke Adkins: Thanks, everyone.