The market is at least more stable, even if it’s not a story of growth. There was even a feeling in December 2020 that a baseline had been reached. Across the industry, there is a ‘can-do’ mentality, as opposed to last year’s uncertainty, when nobody knew whether there would be light at the end of the tunnel.
The first significant positive trend is that people have developed a clearer understanding of how to manage the situation. Airports have introduced systems to create space between people and separate passenger flows. Travellers are feeling safer as they pass through airports because distancing measures are now in place, and their comfort and security can be safeguarded.
Rapid testing has also been introduced at airports, which is building passenger confidence. It’s not what we’re used to, but at least people are making it work. Compare that to the height of the pandemic when there was a question mark over whether we could fly at all.
Without question, the most significant development has been the start of the global roll-out of vaccinations. While each national programme is being coordinated at a different pace, my discussions with airports have shown that there is renewed hope – even if it starts with holiday traffic, rather than business travel.
Of course, we’re facing up to the impact of new variants, which has brought back a small measure of uncertainty. It will be interesting to see whether passenger confidence has an impact on the summer market, as some airports were using the holiday period last year as a test case.
Acting as a partner
I am pleased that we can provide ongoing support to airports on two levels. The first is practical, such as running or maintaining the (IT) baggage infrastructure for our customers. Admittedly, it’s not quite business as usual, but what’s important to mention is that there is still activity at airports – they have not come to a standstill.
On the second level, it’s about consultation and acting as a trusted partner. Many discussions with airports revolve around the optimisation – or adaptation – of existing assets, or defining new business models. We’re working closely as a partner to understand how we can best support the industry in the future.
And we are still engaged in a number of capital projects around the world, such as the USA, Hong Kong and Australia. There, our on-site teams are a credit to Vanderlande. They are professional and dedicated wherever they work, often in difficult conditions.
Businesses always have contingency plans and worse-case scenarios, but nobody in my network had any idea that something like COVID-19 could unfold. If I look back; not procrastinating, moving quickly, and flexing resources certainly helped Vanderlande.
We were fortunate due to our strong position in the market. We had a healthy order book, and although some projects have slowed or postponed, nothing has been cancelled. Our priority therefore is to provide consistency and maintain an excellent level of service to our existing and future customers.
Having a degree of flexibility has been massively important and a lesson we’ve learned is that we must retain this across the organisation. In addition, our strategy centres on building long-term partnerships, so the value of having these relationships in place has really hit home over the past 12 months.
Appetite for travel
Personally, I remain confident and optimistic. While it will take some time before we have a global population that is immune to COVID-19, the vaccinations are bringing much-needed hope. Once the vaccines take effect, the appetite for travel will undoubtedly return.
It makes me smile to see that – even when passenger confidence raises slightly – holiday bookings accelerate quickly. Not far behind that, business travel will also pick up. Remote working has shown us that there is another way of doing business, but face-to-face meetings will still be important, especially given the nature of our long-term partnerships which involve investment over many years.
As ever, I remain optimistic. Airports will ramp up once more, but before then, we just need to remain patient.