With Covid-19 on the wane and the Ukrainian conflict affecting air travel around the world, how is that influencing the airport lounge experience? I asked David Evans, Collinson Group’s joint CEO. Collinson owns Priority Pass, a network of airport lounges.
Let me start by asking you about your operations in Russia and Eastern Europe. How have they been affected by the situation in Ukraine? Are you still operating lounges in Moscow and other Russian cities?
Like so many other international businesses, we’re suspending our operations in Russia. We’re deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in Ukraine. We’ve joined the many voices from around the world calling for an immediate end to the conflict, and for peace. Collinson has conducted business in Russia for many years and knows that many Russian people are also calling for peace.
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Are you planning to resume operating lounges in Russia?
The suspension of products and services is temporary and will include Priority Pass, LoungeKey, Lounge Pass, LoungeGateway and SmartDelay programs that are issued within Russia, as well as access to lounges and experiences within Russia for all customers globally.
We will continue to monitor and comply with all relevant UK, U.S. and EU sanctions moving forward.
Our thoughts remain with everyone who has been affected by this conflict, and we hope for a swift and peaceful resolution.
Right now, airlines and tourism authorities are pushing for the removal of Covid testing. What do you think about that?
At Collinson, since the pandemic began, we’ve been focusing on helping keep the travel industry afloat while making traveling as safe as possible for passengers during this difficult time. This has included launching testing facilities both at airports and in city-center locations across the UK, Asia and U.S., including at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) airport.
Travel testing was designed to be a temporary band-aid to help the struggling travel sector and enable those that had to travel to continue to do so safely. For a long time, testing has been the best way to do that.
Around the world, there can’t be a “one size fits all” approach; different countries have different situations when it comes to case numbers, handling the virus and restrictions. In the U.S., including Hawaii, we expect testing and vaccination requirements to coexist for some time. Rather than the removal of one or the other, both need to form part of a comprehensive approach to ensure the safety of all travelers while people keep moving worldwide.
You added a total of 183 airport lounges and experiences to your global network in 2021, including 36 locations in the United States. Can you give me a sense of how many lounges you have worldwide?
Of course. Adding the 183 lounges and experiences means we now have more than 1,300 lounges in the Priority Pass lounge network globally. Thanks to those additions, we can say that Priority Pass customers now have access to lounges and experiences in 95% of the world’s most popular airports. But it’s not just about expanding into new locations: we’ve also expanded with a host of new experiences and services.
What are the benefits to air travelers?
Our key goal last year was to bring more premium, digitally enabled travel experiences to our members, helping them feel a bit of luxury and boost their confidence while traveling during a difficult time. So, whether adding more spas, fine dining, or even gaming experiences to our offering, our aim has always been to make getting from A to B more seamless and enjoyable for all travelers. I think it’s safe to say the new additions over the past 12 months have done just that.
Airport lounges can be crowded places, which raises concerns about the spread of Covid and other infectious diseases. Can you walk me through the precautions you’ve adopted during Covid?
A survey we conducted recently actually showed more than a quarter (27%) of people would pay for airport lounge access to improve their well-being at the airport, due to it being more of a safe haven away from the crowds.
That said, we took many steps to ensure the safety of our members throughout the pandemic, including the introduction of health and safety standards for all of the lounges across the Priority Pass network.
These standards included developing and sharing new furniture layouts with our partners in keeping with social distancing guidelines, asking them to switch air filtration systems to 100% outside air where possible, and introducing contact-free services.
We also rolled out Ready2Order across several markets to help our lounge partners replace buffet services with the ability for members to use the Priority Pass app to order food and drink from their seat. As well as reducing contact, it also means fewer people are walking around the lounge, which is better for distancing, and was very well received.
This year, Priority Pass is focused on creating more premium experiences such as new dining, sleep and spa offerings. Can you talk about that a little? Also, are these experiences included in your membership, or do you pay extra for them?
We have several categories of experiences within our membership program. These categories cover lounge, eat, rest, and unwind. Experiences in these categories include dining outlets, spas and sleep pods, and customers can access these depending on their inclusive entitlements.
We also have a range of additional offerings in our app which are provided through our chosen partners and are charged at an extra cost. These include car rental and airport transfers, duty free shopping, and Covid testing.
Many frequent travelers have access to Priority Pass lounges through their credit card. But occasional travelers have to decide if they should get a new card with access or pay for membership separately? What are your thoughts?
I think this all comes down to what benefits a customer is looking for. Many of our banking and credit card clients offer Priority Pass as the hero benefit on their credit card offering, alongside other travel-related benefits. But of course, some are looking only for Priority Pass, and we’re pleased to offer this as a standalone, sold directly to customers.
Priority Pass’ owner, Collinson, has partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) Foundation for their Go Give One global campaign, which aims to assist countries with little or no vaccine access. How will that benefit travelers?
Supporting the Go Give One collaboration is a great example of the critical role members of the travel industry play-making corporate contributions – and how travel industry leaders need to work together to increase vaccine equity around the globe.
It’s important that everyone, everywhere, have access to vaccines if we are to end the Covid-19 pandemic. With the emergence of new variants and updates in restrictions, it’s important that vaccination rates in developing countries increase for the recovery of travel to continue. Vaccine inequality is a challenge that requires a global, coordinated, multi-sector response. That’s the only way to truly enable the global travel and tourism industry to recover.
Many Americans are traveling for the first time since the pandemic. Do you have any advice for them, other than buying a Priority Pass membership?
I’ve begun traveling myself for business in the past couple of months, including to and from and within the U.S., and so have some personal observations here – all of which align very well to our research findings.
My top piece of advice would be that you can’t plan enough when traveling in this environment. A number of changes and added precautions were implemented at airports during the pandemic, so even the most seasoned fliers might find traveling now slightly different from what they were used to.
Firstly – particularly if you are flying internationally — ensure that you thoroughly understand any local requirements for testing, as well as the requirements to re-enter the U.S. Be sure to understand what type of test you need, as well as the time it takes to receive results, as some tests return results much faster than others. That can make things a whole lot less stressful.
While testing requirements from governments can change quickly, the current requirements to enter the U.S. allow for a lateral flow antigen test either administered by or observed by a trained professional. Collinson and other providers offer these tests via a video call and return results within an hour.
Where you previously might have turned up at the airport an hour before your flight, you might want to give yourself more time to navigate these changes. I noticed that most retailers, restaurants and lounges that may have closed during the pandemic have now reopened, so there are a lot of opportunities to enjoy the airport experience if you have arrived a little earlier than usual.
If you’re nervous (our research showed nearly half think flying this year will be more stressful than last year), then take advantage of the services that airlines have to offer to give yourself more space and time. We found a third of people (30%) are keen to pay for extra legroom on the plane, likely to give themselves a bit more space during this time. Lounges themselves offer a comfortable place to get away from the crowds should you need to be in the airport for longer than before. Make the most of that time: Relax, catch your breath, and take advantage of what’s on offer.