Cybersecurity in the maritime sector is of critical importance as sea routes accounted for about three-fourths of the EU’s imports and exports in 2022. The new Network and Information Systems Security Directive (“NIS2 Directive”) aiming to strengthen cybersecurity is expected to enter into force from October 2024 and will impact maritime companies with more than 50 employees or an annual revenue of over €10 million. The NIS2 directive, which will replace and repeal the NIS directive, expands the scope to cover a larger number of companies in the sector as it includes both medium and large-size companies.
Companies may feel burdened by strict NIS2 requirements
To comply with the new requirements, the companies would need to make cyber risk management a focal point for every business strategy and make cybersecurity measures a part of day-to-day operations. NIS2 adoption will not only demand additional investment but also change the way the business is done.
Increase in cybersecurity investments
A total of 156 entities in the water transport sector were subject to the NIS directive in July 2016, as it focused mainly on large enterprises. Under NIS2, this number is likely to increase to 380. In particular, the number of port and terminal operators covered in NIS2 will increase significantly. A senior IT executive from Port of Rotterdam indicated that while NIS covered only a few port stakeholders (~5 companies), more than a hundred companies would need to comply with NIS2.
European Commission indicated that the companies already covered under the NIS directive would need to increase their IT security spending by 12%, while for the companies that were not covered previously but would be covered under the NIS2 framework, the IT security spending would need to be increased by up to 22%.
Frontier Economics, a consultancy firm based in Europe, estimated that the costs of implementing the NIS2 regulation in medium and large enterprises across the water transport sector would be about 0.5% of the total annual revenue across the medium and large water transport companies, which amounts to more than €225 million per year.
Enhancement of OT security
The advent of digitization has resulted in rapid convergence of operational technology (OT) with IT systems, leaving critical OT infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks. OT helps to monitor and control mechanical processes, making them particularly important for the safe operation of ports as well as other aspects of the maritime sector.
ENISA, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, indicated that from January 2021 to October 2022, ransomware attacks on IT systems were the most prominent cyber threat facing the transport sector and warned that ransomware groups are likely to target OT systems in the near future. NIS2 imposes stringent requirements for critical infrastructure entities, including maritime companies, to beef up cybersecurity from the perspective of both IT and OT.
Traditionally, maritime companies have considered cyber security primarily in the context of IT systems, but now there is a higher focus on OT cybersecurity, and the NIS2 is going to ensure investment momentum in this space. For instance, the Maritime Cyber Priority 2023 report indicated that over three-fourths of the respondents suggested that OT cyber security is a significantly higher priority compared to two years ago.
While NIS2 adoption may seem taxing, benefits are likely to follow
Like any new regulation, the adoption of NIS2 comes with additional costs and implementation hurdles, however, the consequent benefits are likely to outweigh the challenges.
Harmonization of cybersecurity requirements
In August 2023, a senior executive from Mission Secure, an OT cyber security solutions provider, indicated that maritime operators would welcome stringent cybersecurity standards. The maritime industry operates on thin profit margins, making it difficult for companies to invest more in cybersecurity than competitors. Implementation of NIS2 would set cybersecurity standards harmonized across the EU and thus level the playing field in terms of spending on cybersecurity while reducing the risks and losses associated with cyberattacks.
A 2020 study by ENISA suggested that the EU organizations’ cybersecurity spending is, on average, 41% lower than of their US counterparts. NIS2 is expected to drive the necessary investments in cybersecurity.
Moreover, given the international nature of the maritime industry, the adoption of the NIS2 directive will help the operators keep up with similar cybersecurity regulations around the world. For instance, Australia reformed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in 2022 to address the evolving cyber threat landscape. The UK, while no longer part of the EU, is in the process of revising the cybersecurity regulation for critical infrastructure operators in line with NIS2.
Upon implementation of NIS2, maritime operators will need to invest in more effective cybersecurity requirements, potentially increasing costs in the short term. Despite this, the increased investment will result in a more secure and resilient industry in the long run, and companies that are able to invest heavily in security are going to gain a competitive advantage over those that are not able to do so.
Digitization and connected technology in the maritime sector are evolving faster than its ability to regulate it. Hence, the maritime sector should view NIS2 as just another measure to elevate the cybersecurity framework. Companies need to be agile and flexible to adapt to the evolving cyber threat landscape.
The shipping industry plays a vital role in global trade. Majority of goods is transported by sea and most shipping vessels currently rely on marine fuels such as Marine Diesel Oil (MDO), Marine Gas Oil (MGO), and Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO). One of the main reasons is that these fuels are cheaper and readily available, however, they are not environmentally-friendly. Shipping industry discharges a significant amount of carbon emissions, therefore, decarbonization and eventually reaching zero carbon emissions in this sector has become imperative. The United Nations agency responsible for regulating shipping, International Maritime Organization (IMO), aims to reduce ocean-vessel emissions to half by 2050. To meet the target, the shipping sector is looking to switch to alternative fuels, however, feasibility of this change still remains to be assessed.
Shipping industry accounts for vast proportion of global trade as a result of rapid growth in cargo transportation due to increased globalization and e-commerce. According to the International Chamber of Shipping, 90% of global trade is transported by sea, hence perpetuating carbon emissions in the shipping industry. According to a study published by the European Parliament, the shipping industry could be responsible for up to 17% of global carbon emissions by 2050. In comparison, in 2021, the sector contributed to about 3% of worldwide greenhouse gases. This significant increase in carbon emissions by the sector is resulting in increased pressure on the shipping industry to reduce its carbon footprint.
In an attempt to reduce emissions, IMO has adopted the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) rating regulations. While the EEXI is a rating system that assesses the energy performance of existing ships based on speed, power, and engine size, the CII rating uses a ranking system to monitor the efficiency of individual ships. Under the CII rating system, each vessel will receive a ranking from A (good) to E (poor), starting from 2023. Ships receiving grade D for three years or Grade E for one year will have to put a corrective action plan in place. These new sets of regulations have been in effect since January 2023, and are a part of IMO’s Greenhouse Gas Strategy (GHG) that aim to reduce the carbon emissions from international shipping by 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050 compared with 2008 levels.
Shipping is a highly capital-intensive industry with great dependence on fossil fuel. Most vessels are still dependent on traditional marine fuels and would require significant investment in infrastructure to transition to zero carbon emission fuels. A 2020 study by the University of Massachusetts estimated the total cost of decarbonization efforts would be about US$1.65 trillion by 2050 to create apt infrastructure to support zero carbon emission fuels. With shipping being the backbone of international trade, trade volumes are expected to grow continuously, resulting in increase in carbon emission, which will further push industry players to invest in alternative carbon-efficient fuel.
IMO 2023 – Shipping Industry Sailing towards a Greener Future but Unsure of the Route by EOS Intelligence
Alternative fuels have limited availability and cost restrictions
Currently, there are three primary fuels that are used in ships – MDO, MGO, and HFO. All three fuels are made from crude oil and emit carbon when burnt. Hence, the sector is actively looking for alternative fuels to replace these fuels with the introduction of IMO 2023 regulations.
Methanol could be a suitable alternative but availability could be a challenge
In pursuit of sustainable and greener fuel, the shipping industry is moving towards using other fuels – one of which is methanol. As per a Finland-based technology company Wärtsilä, methanol usage in ships, when compared to HFO, dramatically reduces carbon emissions and is easy to store. Considering this, the shipping giant, AP Moller-Maersk, headquartered in Denmark, has ordered 19 methanol-powered vessels. The company estimated that they would require about one million tons of green methanol per year to run these vessels, which will generate annual carbon emission savings of about 2.3 million tons. Another shipping company based in Beijing, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), has ordered 12 container ships, worth US$2.87 billion, which use methanol as a fuel.
However, the availability of methanol is also to be considered while assessing it as an alternative fuel. As per the world’s largest methanol producer, Methanex, the shipping industry would require about three million tons of methanol annually to fuel vessels. Therefore, it is not enough to build vessels that run on methanol but also ensure its availability to fuel the vessels.
Keeping such requirements in mind, Maersk has partnered with six companies across the globe to source at least 730,000 tons of methanol annually by the end of 2025. The six companies are CIMC ENRIC (China), European Energy (Denmark), Green Technology Bank (China), Orsted (Denmark), Proman (Switzerland), and WasteFuel (USA). Additionally, in 2018, COSCO partnered with the US-based IGP Methanol and China-based and Jinguotou (Dalian) Development to construct two methanol plants in IGP Methanol’s Gulf Coast Methanol Park. The plants are planned to have a capacity of 1.8 million tons of methanol per year each. COSCO is ensured to fuel its 12 newly ordered vessels through these two partners
Most methanol produced today is derived from fossil fuels. There are primarily three kinds of methanol – grey or brown methanol derived from natural gas, green methanol made from biomass gasification, and blue methanol derived from natural gas combined with carbon capture and storage technology (CCS). With the help of CCS technology, the carbon emitted is captured and later transported and stored deep underground permanently, hence reducing carbon emissions.
Both green and blue methanol are considered to be the most environment-friendly. However, most methanol available and used currently is either grey or brown. The availability of blue and green methanol is estimated to be less than 0.5 million tons annually in 2022, which is considered to be severely inadequate to power current fleet of vessels. While Washington-based, Methanol Institute estimated that renewable methanol production might increase to over 8 million tons annually by 2027, it is still unlikely to be sufficient to replace diesel as the go-to fuel.
Methanol as a fuel also has its challenges in terms of cost. Depending on the type of methanol consumed, traditional bunker fuels can be up to 15 times more expensive. Assuming the limited availability of methanol the cost is likely to increase. Further, industry players need to ensure methanol availability and feasibility before switching away from traditional marine fuel.
LNG – most likely a transitional fuel
While some players are looking at methanol as an alternative fuel, other players are considering LNG. LNG is 20-25% less carbon intensive than HFO and emits fewer nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides.
Rio Tinto, a mining company based in London, announced plans to add nine LNG dual-fueled Newcastlemax vessels in their fleet that transport bulk cargo, such as coal, iron ore, and grain, in 2023. The company started a one-year trial and is already seeing a reduction of about 25% in carbon emissions.
The main driver to convert to LNG fuel is the reduction in fuel costs. According to S&P Global, an energy company based in the UK, LNG prices vary from US$213-$353 as compared with MGO prices, which vary from US$550-$640. While LNG is cheaper, bunkering LNG to the vessel could be a challenging operation as there is lack of LNG bunkering infrastructure. Another significant drawback in the usage of LNG is methane slip, which is the discharge of unburned methane from an engine that could poison aquatic life.
As per World Bank, LNG as a marine fuel is most likely to play a limited role given its drawbacks. However, a combination of lower prices and the increasing number of LNG dual-fueled vessels might support bunkering demand in the future.
Ammonia at the nascent stage of adoption
Unlike LNG, ammonia is turning out to be a viable option as infrastructure is already taking shape. As per a 2020 report by Siemens, German industrial manufacturing company, 120 ports are already dealing with the import and export of ammonia worldwide. However, even with the infrastructure, only green ammonia is a zero-carbon fuel and it is not produced anywhere at the moment.
Looking at the fuel as an alternative option, Grieg Maritime and Wärtsilä (Norwegian and Finnish shipping companies, respectively), are jointly running a project to launch an ammonia-fueled tanker producing no greenhouse gas emissions by 2024. The project is also being supported by the Norwegian government with a funding of US$46.3 million. The partnership aims to build the world’s first green ammonia-fueled tanker. The partners plan to distribute green ammonia from a factory based in Norway to various locations and end-users along the coast.
There is a wide range of alternative fuels that are yet to be examined from the point of sustainability. Hydrogen is also one of the fuels that is considered as an option for shipping vessels. We wrote about it in our previous Perspective: Hydrogen: Future of Shipping Industry?
Other synthetic fuels combining hydrogen and carbon monoxide are also present and already used extensively in other industries such as agriculture. However, their viability is yet to be tested in the shipping industry. Moreover, transitioning to alternative fuels is not easy. Several factors are needed to be considered before switching. To be a practical replacement for diesel, it needs to be readily available and price competitive with traditional fuels.
The global shipping sector was already on its toes since the IMO’s 2020 sulfur regulation that limited sulfur content in a ships’ fuel oil to a maximum of 0.5% (from pervious 3.5%). After the IMO’s sulfur regulation, players started to gradually switch to other fuels and phased out high-sulfur fuel oil from their operations. The new 2023 regulation again brings the shipping industry to heel. The key challenge the marine industry faces in decarbonization is the limited availability and high cost of alternative fuels. Additionally, infrastructural changes are also required while adapting to these new fuels. Ships modifications require major capital investments, while construction of new vessels takes several years.
MGO is shipping’s primary fuel today and is hard to match in terms of existing scale and commercial attractiveness as it already is a well-established fuel and has been in use for decades. Other viable fuels, such as methanol, LNG, hydrogen, and ammonia, although present themselves to be better options for achieving IMO’s 2050 target, are likely to be costly and would require much higher supply to meet the demand to power the vessels. Future fuel scenarios are likely to be determined by both supply and demand side dynamics.
For now, the key question for the players remains the availability of cleaner fuels at a cost that is acceptable and has the potential to replace traditional fuels. This further opens up the scope for partnerships between the players and fuel producers to jointly build a roadmap to ascertain fuel availability and bunkering infrastructure. With the players already moving towards adopting cleaner fuels, it is safe to infer that more partnerships between the fuel producers and the players are likely be seen in the sector in the years leading towards meeting IMO’s 2050 target.
Just like many other carbon-emitting sectors, the shipping industry is also working to reduce its contribution to greenhouse gases and get closer to carbon neutrality. For this, the sector is pinning its hopes on hydrogen-based fuel. Being one of the most polluting industries in the world, the shipping sector is also one of the most difficult ones to introduce such a profound change. This is owing to the massive size of commercial vessels, long distances, hydrogen storage issues, and commercial costs. Although small-level adoption of hydrogen fuel has already begun, it remains unknown whether it will be functional in large commercial vessels as well.
As per the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the shipping industry was responsible for 2.9% of the total anthropogenic emissions in 2018, up by almost 10% between 2012 and 2018. It is expected that the sector’s contribution towards global greenhouse emissions will significantly increase by 2050 if proper efforts are not made towards decarbonization. To counter the situation, the IMO has set a global target to cut annual shipping emissions by 50% by 2050 (based on 2008 levels). In response to this, shipping corporations and other stakeholders across the shipping industry have been exploring different ways to reduce their impact on the environment. One of the most critical aspects in this is replacing fossil fuel with a greener fuel. This is where hydrogen fuel might find its place.
As we discussed in one of our previous articles (China Accelerates on the Fuel Cell Technology Front), hydrogen fuel is considered to be the fuel of the future for the transportation sector, as it produces zero emissions. Moreover, with regards to shipping, it is one of the only conceivable options at the moment.
That being said, using hydrogen fuel alone cannot solve the issue of reducing the sector’s carbon footprint, as it depends on how the hydrogen fuel is produced. Currently most of the hydrogen that is produced (and used in other industries), is produced using fossil fuels, while only a small portion of it is produced using renewable energy. Hydrogen produced through renewable energy is much more expensive, which keeps the production levels low. If ships run on hydrogen fuel produced using mainly fossil fuels, while the fuel itself would produce zero emissions, the whole process will not carbon efficient. However, with the shipping industry making real efforts to consider a change in fuel, it is expected that production of hydrogen through renewable sources will ramp up, which in turn may reduce costs (to some extent) owing to economies of scale.
At the moment, several leading players have pledged to develop new or modify existing vessels so that they can run on hydrogen fuel, however, these are currently either prototypes or short-distance small vessels. Antwerp-based Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB) Group, which is one of the leading maritime groups in the world, commissioned the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry in 2017, named Hydroville. It is currently operational between Kruibeke and Antwerp. It runs on a hybrid engine, with options of both hydrogen and diesel. CMB, which has been a pioneer and advocator of clean fuel for the shipping industry, also partnered with Japanese shipbuilder, Tsuneishi Group, to develop and build Japan’s first hydrogen-powered ferry (in 2019) and tugboat (in 2021). Moreover, it launched a joint venture with the Japanese firm to develop hydrogen-based internal combustion engine (H2ICE) technology for Japan’s industrial and marine markets. In another move to find a strong foothold with the shipping fuel of the future, CMB Group acquired UK-based Revolve Technologies Limited (RTL) in 2019, which specializes in engineering, developing, designing, and testing hydrogen combustion engines for automotive and marine engines. Moreover, CMB is building its own maritime refueling station for hydrogen automobiles and ships at the Antwerp port, which will produce its own hydrogen through electrolysis.
Similarly, in November 2019, Norwegian ship building and design company, Ulstein, developed a hydrogen-fueled vessel, called ULSTEIN SX190. The vessel is the company’s first hydrogen-powered offshore vessel providing clean shipping operations to reduce the carbon footprint of offshore projects. The vessel, which uses fuel-cell technology, can operate for four days in emission-free mode at the moment. However, with constant development and investment in the hydrogen fuel space, it is expected that it will be able to run emission-free for up to two weeks, post which it will have to fall back on its diesel engine. Ulstein also launched another hydrogen-powered vessel in October 2020, called ULSTEIN J102, which can operate at zero-emission mode for 75% of the time. Since Ulstein used readily available technology in developing the J102, the additional cost of adding the hydrogen-powered mode was limited to less than 5% of its total CAPEX. This vessel design is expected to cater to the offshore wind industry.
A leading oil corporation, Shell, also announced that it is looking at hydrogen as the key fuel for its fleet of tanker ships in the coming future as the company aims to become carbon neutral by 2050. In April 2021, the company commenced trials for the use of hydrogen fuel cells for its ships in Singapore. The trial encompasses the development and installation of a fuel cell unit on an existing roll-on/roll-off vessel that transports wheeled cargo such as vehicles between Singapore and Shell’s manufacturing site in Pulau Bukom. Shell has chartered the vessel, which is owned by Penguin International Ltd, however, Shell will provide the hydrogen fuel.
In addition to this, several other companies across Europe and Japan are undertaking feasibility studies to understand and assess the use of hydrogen fuel to power ferries and also the production of hydrogen fuel from renewable sources for the same purpose. For instance, in 2020, Finland-based power company, Flexens conducted a feasibility study to generate green hydrogen through wind farms in order to fuel ferries in the Aland group of islands. Similarly, Japan-based companies, Kansai Electric Power, Iwatani, Namura Shipbuilding, the Development Bank of Japan, and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, are collaborating on a feasibility study to develop and operate a 100-foot long ferry with hydrogen fuel. The ferry is expected to be in operation by 2025.
Apart from small ferries, hydrogen fuel is also making a slight headway with commercial vessels. In April 2020, a global electronic manufacturer, ABB, signed an MoU with Hydrogène de France, a French hydrogen technologies specialist to manufacture megawatt-scale hydrogen fuel cells that can be used to power long-haul, ocean-going vessels. While most of the currently operational hydrogen technology is used in small-scale and short-distance vessels, this partnership, which builds on an already existing 2018 collaboration between ABB and Ballard Power Systems, is expected to bring this technology for larger vessels (which in turn are responsible for most of the carbon emissions).
In April 2021, French inland ship owner, Compagnie Fluviale de Transport (CFT), in partnership with the Flagships Project (which is a consortium of 12 European shipping players), launched the first hydrogen-powered commercial cargo vessel, which will ply the Sevine river in Paris. The vessel is scheduled for delivery in September 2021. In 2018, the Flagships project was awarded EUR 5 million of funding from the EU’s Research and Innovation Program Horizon 2020.
While several companies are bullish about hydrogen fuel being the answer to the industry’s carbon woes, others are skeptical to what extent hydrogen fuel can replace the current traditional fuel, especially given the challenges with regards to large commercial vessels. For instance, Maersk, global player in the shipping industry, does not feel that hydrogen fuel is suitable for container ships as the fuel takes up a lot of physical space in comparison with traditional bunker oil.
As per estimates, hydrogen fuel takes up almost eight times as much space as gas oil would take to power the same distance. The more space is occupied by the fuel, the less space is left for carrying containers, and this negatively impacts its container-carrying capacity and revenue per trip/ship. Moreover, container vessels travel extremely long distances across oceans, and carrying that much hydrogen fuel in either liquid or compressed form at this moment is not physically and commercially viable. To be stored as a liquid, hydrogen needs to be frozen using cryogenic temperatures of -253˚C, which makes it expensive to store. Currently about 80-85% of the sector’s emissions come from large commercial vessels such as cargo ships, container ships, etc., and considering that hydrogen can play only a limited role in these vessels, its adaptability and effectiveness as a tool to reduce carbon emissions may be restricted.
However, that being said, the industry is open to alternative fuels and one such fuel is ammonia, which in turn is also produced from hydrogen. Thus using green hydrogen to create green ammonia is another option to explore. Ammonia can be used either as a combustion fuel or in a fuel cell. Moreover, it is much easier and cheaper to store since it does not need cryogenic temperatures and takes up about 50% less space compared with hydrogen fuel, since it is much denser. Thus ammonia seems to fit the needs of commercial vessels in a better manner, however, at present most of ammonia being produced (mainly for the fertilizer industry) uses hydrogen obtained from fossil fuels. Moreover, it further uses fossil fuels to convert hydrogen into ammonia. Thus, to create green ammonia, additional renewable energy will be required, which adds to further costs.
Given the industry’s vision to reduce its carbon footprint and the ongoing efforts, investments, and feasibility studies, it is safe to say that hydrogen will definitely be the fuel of the future for the shipping industry, whether used directly or processed further into ammonia. However, how soon the industry can adapt to it is yet to be seen.
Moreover, the industry cannot bear the cost of the transition alone. To transition to a greener future, the shipping industry needs support in terms of on-ground infrastructure and investments in production of green hydrogen. Till the time production of green hydrogen reaches economies of scale, it will definitely be much more expensive compared with traditional fuel. This in turn, will make shipping expensive, which would possibly impact all industries that use this service. While the shipping industry may absorb a bit of the high costs during the transition phase, some of it will be passed down to the customers, which is likely to be met with resistance and in turn will impact the overall transition.
On the other hand, green hydrogen projects are expensive to set up and require significant investment and gestation period. Hydrogen companies do not want to rush into making this investment, unless they see global acceptability from the shipping sector. Thus while the transition to a more carbon-neutral fuel is inevitable, it may not be a short-term transition. Unless governments and regulatory bodies come up with strict regulations or a form of a carbon tax on the sector to expedite the transition, the change is likely to be slow and phased, especially when it comes to large commercial vessels.
COVID-19 has disturbed practically every business vertical across the globe, and travel and tourism sectors were one of the first ones to fall prey to the devastating effects of the pandemic. Complete lockdowns made taking a leisure trip or planning a vacation impossible for a long time to come. Not only were people unable to travel, but also multiple businesses serving in the tourism sector closed down temporarily, with some shutting their doors for good. Recently, leisure travel started to resume, but at a snail’s pace. In many countries, businesses, local authorities, and government agencies are developing a coordinated approach to aid economic recovery of the sector. The actions and approaches taken in these uncertain times will lay the foundation for the future of the tourism sector.
The travel & tourism industry contributed US$ 8.9 trillion to the global economy in 2019. Leisure travel made up the majority of total travel & tourism revenue standing at 78.6%. The trend was expected to follow in 2020 but the coronavirus outbreak crippled the entire leisure tourism sector as travels were canceled globally for at least three months (mainly from April to June, though in many locations those cancellations have continued at least till autumn, and again at the end of the year).
Demand for domestic leisure travel is expected to rise as people are likely to be less inclined to travel to international destinations due to safety, hygiene, and uncertainty concerns. Unwillingness to spend on international travel in the immediate future also suggests that people are less inclined to make trips to international destinations. Self-driving trips to nearby destinations and weekend getaways are likely to increase in popularity.
In terms of traveler type, the group travel segment (irrespective of the size of the group) has always generated higher revenue for the global leisure travel market, in comparison to the solo traveler segment (in 2018, group travel segment contributed nearly 73% of revenue to the global leisure travel market). Travelers were always able to take advantage of group discounts offered by hotels, resorts, airlines, and vehicle rental companies.
It is anticipated that group travel will continue to be a common practice among travelers (both during the pandemic and post-pandemic). However, to avoid crowded places, it is highly likely in the future, travelers would need (and perhaps also desire) to travel in smaller groups. This trend is expected to continue in the distant future mainly due to the growing acceptance of social distancing norms as the new normal for sanitation and hygiene purposes globally. However, whether or not this type of travel arrangement will be monetarily favorable to various market stakeholders (in terms of discounts and margins when compared to larger group travels) and what discounted rates would consumers receive is yet to be seen.
It is highly likely in the future, travelers would need (and perhaps also desire) to travel in smaller groups. This trend is expected to continue in the distant future mainly due to the growing acceptance of social distancing norms as the new normal for sanitation and hygiene purposes globally.
Demand for private charter flights is also rising among leisure travelers. Wary of flying with regular flights, people are turning to charter planes for taking a vacation trip to safe destinations (for both short and long-distance locations). However, this trend is expected to be short-lived mainly because only upper-class travelers will be able to afford such travel and most of the demand for charter flights come from business travelers (which is also limited to need-only basis, for now at least).
Moreover, interest in trips to off the beaten path locations and niche tourism (such as adventure tourism, wellness tourism, and heritage tourism) is also expected to grow as these locations are likely to be considered safer to travel to in comparison to famous tourist locations, at least for some time in the foreseeable future.
Governments to the rescue
Travel and tourism businesses have been hit hard as they had to temporarily close business operations (many small and medium-sized business players are permanently out of business) and suffered heavy revenue losses. To mitigate the impact of coronavirus (on both the travel and tourism sector and economies), many governments have offered aid packages to help the sector.
Governments globally have taken a range of measures to revive the sector in order to shield the economy and to protect employment. For instance, Italy, one of the most popular tourist destinations and also one of the worst-hit economies by the first wave of pandemic, announced a relief package to revive businesses in the travel sector. The package includes a US$ 645.7 million fund for the aviation sector, a US$ 129.1 million fund to support regions that generated lower revenue owing to lower number of people paying tourism taxes, US$ 19.3 million for tourism promotion, and subsidies worth US$ 129.1 million for museums and other cultural sites to recover lost ticket revenue for 2020, among others.
Similarly, under the Hong Kong government’s Anti-Epidemic Fund, licensed travel agents will receive a subsidy ranging from US$ 2,580 to US$ 25,803, travel agents’ staff and freelance tourist guides and tour escorts will receive a monthly subsidy of US$ 645 for six months, licensed hotels will receive a subsidy of US$ 38,705 or US$ 51,607 (depending on the size), and tour coach drivers a one-time subsidy of US$ 1,290. Additional US$ 90.3 million has been allotted to the Hong Kong tourism board for tourism promotion.
New Zealand announced that for the losses borne by travel agents for canceled travel plans by their consumers, the government will pay 7.5% of value for cash refunds or 5% of credit value to be capped at US$ 31.4 million.
In another example, the Australian government allotted a package of US$ 177.2 million for regional tourism which will include US$ 35.4 million to support businesses in regions heavily reliant on international tourism and remaining US$ 141.8 million to boost local infrastructure in regional communities, of which US$ 70.8 million will be used for tourism-related infrastructure. For regional tourism rebound, the Western Australian government has allotted US$ 10.2 million in the form of two funds – US$ 7.3 million as one-off cash grants of US$ 4,608 to up to 1600 individual small businesses and US$ 2.8 million as grants of US$ 17,723 to US$ 70,894 for tourism operators.
To revitalize tourism, some countries are assigning special reserves for campaigns as well. The UK initiated a US$ 12.9 million ‘Kick Start Tourism Package’ for the recovery and renewal of the tourism sector wherein businesses can access government grants of up to US$ 6,462 to restart operations. Similarly, Norway allocated US$ 19.9 million for rebounding the country’s internal tourism businesses while Denmark assigned US$ 7.8 million for international tourism campaigns.
Various employee training programs and digital technology management processes are also being implemented to support the sector. One such example is the Singaporean government’s move to fund up to 90% of the training course and trainers’ fee for employee upgrading and talent development through its Training Industry Professionals in Tourism fund.
With minimal to no action happening in the travel and tourism segment, all these efforts are likely to not only protect jobs but also give the necessary push to restart the businesses, albeit from ground zero, in some cases.
Tourism-dependent least developed economies in deep waters
Considering that out of the 47 least developed countries identified by United Nations, 45 consider travel and tourism of significant relevance to their economies in terms of job creation, growth prospects, and overall development, COVID-19 has a real potential to adversely affect these vulnerable countries.
In January 2020, through the ‘Visit Nepal Year 2020’ campaign, Nepal expected to attract two million visitors and generate US$ 2 billion in revenues in 2020. It should be noted that in normal circumstances, travel and tourism contributes nearly 6.7% to Nepal’s GDP. However, with the onset of the pandemic, not only was the campaign suspended but also the tourist arrivals declined drastically – 177,975 tourists visited Nepal up until August 2020, only 24% of what had arrived during the same period in 2019 (739,000 tourists arrived between January and August). Also, nearly 20,000 tour and mountaineering guides risked losing jobs due to the cancellation of all mountaineering expeditions.
In Cambodia, where travel and tourism contribute nearly 26% to the nation’s GDP, the effects of the virus have also been damaging. The country may lose up to US$ 3 billion in revenues as the inflow of international travelers was down by 52% to 1.16 million in between January and April 2020 (2.41 million visitors in 2019 during the same period). Up until May 2020, more than 45,000 jobs had been affected due to the pandemic.
Likewise, for countries such as Kiribati, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Madagascar, Tanzania, Solomon Islands, Rwanda, and Comoros, travel and tourism sector forms a key contributor to their economies by contributing 18%, 17.7%, 16.2%, 11.8%, 10.7%, 10.5% 10.2%, and 10.1%, respectively, to the countries’ GDPs.
In normal scenario, majority of the travel and tourism revenue in these countries is generated by leisure travel (for most of these countries leisure segment generates >50% of the revenue) as against business travelling. The sudden onset of the pandemic prohibited the entry of travelers (for vacationing purposes) within these countries stopping cash inflow thus hampering revenue generation.
Governments in most of these countries, through relief funds and aid packages, attempt to cushion the negative impact of the virus on the sector and the livelihoods of people involved. However, they are far from being able to fully offset the devastating repercussions, considering that these economies had already been at a disadvantageous position with limited growth and development even prior to the pandemic.
Covid-19 has altered most travelers’ perspective on vacationing, a fact that is unlikely to change in the short term. It is now upon the various stakeholders operating the leisure tourism sector to ensure that travelers will have an easy and reassuring path back to the sector’s services.
In the current scenario, regions where governments have been able to contain the spread of the virus, even if to a small extent, leisure traveling is slowly resuming. However, reduction in disposable income (due to unemployment), safety concerns, and overall economic slump are causing people to plan affordable regional trips rather than international vacations.
Globally, the impact of the pandemic on leisure tourism has been detrimental to the latter’s growth, to say the least. In some regions, people are slowly keener on booking vacation trips again but the volumes are low. They are likely to remain so, at least in the near future, especially with the returning spikes in number of infections and increased travel restrictions that follow.
Safety is not the only factor holding people back from traveling. Equally important is the financial crunch, fueled by the job losses and uncertainty about the future. Travel and tourism industry stakeholders are observing this trend and trying to alter their strategies and business models, in collaboration with government agencies, to survive in these changing, challenging, and uncertain times.
Safety is not the only factor holding people back from traveling. Equally important is the financial crunch, fueled by the job losses and uncertainty about the future.
More so, partnerships among tourism industry stakeholders’, regional communities, government authorities, and private sector enterprises would also contribute to the sector’s recovery. For instance, in October 2020, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) partnered with Google to launch Goggle’s Arts & Culture collection called ‘Tour Nigeria’ which is an online exhibition that includes videos, photographs, and commentaries highlighting the country’s scenic beauty and cultural festivals. This collaboration aims at providing online training programs to small businesses and impart digital skills training to individuals in order to support the local tourism sector. As part of the initiative, a video series named ‘Explore Nigeria’ was also launched wherein social media influencers are roped in to publicize ‘best of Nigeria’ in order to reach large number of viewers via influencers’ social media followers.
Post the lockdown, stakeholders in the travel and tourism landscape restarted their operations by evolving their product offerings (hotel stay packages with increased flexibility or airlines not flying to full capacity thus practicing social distancing), experience services (such as tours and excursions or offering upgrades at no or minimal fee), and overall business approach. However, in some regions, this re-opening was short-lived, and was paused by the second wave of pandemic (with the third one on the horizon for spring 2021).
In the foreseeable future, it would not come as a surprise if the customers can book a service provider for a leisure trip based on hygiene and sanitation rating associated with it. Businesses are therefore being promoted on the basis of adopting upgraded cleaning procedures. It is highly likely that the pandemic may push tourism councils and governing bodies to come up with a hygiene assurance standard, either on a global or national level, that all players in the travel industry might need to abide by – this could be a bit of a stretch but such an initiative, if taken, is very likely to be embraced by many travelers.
Automation, though already at the forefront of travel and tourism, is likely to pick up pace. Travelers can expect to witness increased contactless interactions such as contactless check-in or check-out and usage of mobile apps as hotel room keys, virtual reality for sight-seeing, and chatbots and robots for concierge services. Usage of contact tracking apps to monitor traveler’s health and automatic disinfectors will also increase.
Adoption of digital identity and biometric tools will drive the travel industry in the future. Consolidated technology solutions offering transparent and seamless flow of information ensuring travelers’ safety are essential. One such digital identity tool is the Known Traveler Digital Identity (KTDI) that holds the potential to offer a secure and seamless travel experience. An initiative by the World Economic Forum, KTDI not only aims at optimizing passenger processing experience but also manages risks in real-time by monitoring a traveler’s health records.
Nevertheless, while it is optimistic to think that once the vaccine is widely available, the virus will be eradicated and travel will resume as before, one thing that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is that adaptability and adjustment is the key for travel and tourism sector players to keep their businesses running.
To contain the spread of coronavirus, many governments globally implemented country-wide closures resulting in discontinuation of large part of business activities. As a result, business-related travels also came to an abrupt halt as flights got cancelled and hotels temporarily shut down. Even after partial reopening, the continuing travel restrictions and the fear of contracting virus while travelling have restrained people from taking work-related trips. The shift towards working from home and conducting meetings virtually furthers the need to not travel. Thus, to revive the business travel sector, various stakeholders are devising new short and long-term strategies to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on corporate travel.
Business travel spending was expected to reach US$ 1.6 trillion in 2020. However, as per Global Business Travel Association’s estimates, due to coronavirus, the global business travel market is expected to lose US$ 820.7 billion in revenue in 2020. China, the epicenter of the pandemic, is expected to lose US$ 404.1 billion followed by Europe (US$190.5 billion) in revenue from corporate travel.
For the most part of 2020, tourism sector took a beating due to the multifaceted crisis presented by coronavirus. Governments globally are devising new travel practices to facilitate economic recovery for the business travel industry. This new form of international travel consists of green lanes, travel bubbles, and air bridges which essentially facilitates the reopening of international air travel between countries where the COVID-19 outbreak is under control. Furthermore, each business traveler must go through strict health screening at entry and exit points to ensure safe travel.
Governments’ globally are devising new travel practices to facilitate economic recovery for the business travel industry. This new form of international travel consists of green lanes, travel bubbles, and air bridges which essentially facilitates the reopening of international air travel between countries where the COVID-19 outbreak is under control.
The key idea behind these new travel corridors is primarily to bestow normalcy to the tourism sector with travels currently being reserved for business travelers for whom travel is a necessity rather than an option. Such planned travel movements are an effective means to give the necessary push to tourism sector, thus economically aiding the countries, even if to a small extent.
Singapore is one such country which carefully weighed its reopening options and as of late September had the following agreements in place:
Fast Lane Agreement with China and South Korea – enabling essential business and official travel between both countries for travelers carrying a Safe Travel Pass issued by a company or government agency of the respective country
Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) with Malaysia, Brunei, and Japan – facilitating short-term essential business and official travel between both countries for up to 14 days carrying a Safe Travel Pass issued by a company or government agency of the respective country; RGL with Japan is also referred to as Business Track
Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) Agreement with Malaysia – permitting residents of both countries holding work passes in the other country to enter that country for work
Air Travel Pass with Brunei and New Zealand – allowing short-term visitors (including foreigners who have remained in either of the two countries in the last consecutive 14 days prior to entry in Singapore) entry into Singapore and the travel reason may extend beyond official business
Under all agreements, all travelers entering Singapore have to abide by strict health measures such as pre-departure and post-arrival testing (to be paid by the traveler), serving stay-home notice, using the TraceTogether app (that allows for digital contact tracing by notifying the user if they have been exposed to COVID-19 through close contact with other app users), and adhering to a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days of stay (being prohibited from using public transportation).
Other than Singapore, Thailand had also planned to allow foreign business travelers from Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and some provinces of China into the country from July as part of its business bubble travel approach. However, the discussions were delayed amid rising cases of coronavirus in East Asian countries where previously the outbreak was under control.
Hospitality players bending rules to appeal to corporate travelers
Business travel is of great importance for both airlines and hotels. Corporate travelers purchase high-value airline tickets, airport lounge access memberships, and reside in business hotels forming a major chunk of their clientele. However, hotel and airline industries have taken a major hit due to the ongoing pandemic.
Also, travelers currently show an unprecedented concern about their health and safety, and demand assurance that they can get on a plane or check into a hotel without worrying about the risk of infection. For hotels and airlines, safety has gone up their priority list, as they are developing premise-scrubbing protocols and ensure clear information about cleaning and safety procedures to their guests.
For years, hotel industry had been rigid in regard to guest’s arrival and departure timings, cancellation policies, etc. However, in the current scenario, corporate travelers’ expectations for hotels to offer flexibility have greatly increased. Thus, hotels are focusing on extending flexible services such as round the clock check-in/check-out option, accommodating refunds in case of room cancellations, and being more pliable to room upgrades (for free or at a minimum charge) so that guests can still work in case of event cancellations (or if they have to be in quarantine when traveling internationally for longer durations).
Other than offering generous discounts on flight tickets and hotel stays, airlines and hotels are highly likely to offer extra perks and bonuses such as fee waivers, extension on rewards redemption dates, bonus reward points, and upgrades, among others, as part of loyalty programs for corporate clients. Extension on expiration date of loyalty programs also make business travelers feel welcomed.
For hotels and airlines, safety has gone up their priority list, as they are developing premise-scrubbing protocols and ensure clear information about cleaning and safety procedures to their guests.
Corporates shake up travel maneuvers
Traveling priorities changed overnight during the coronavirus pandemic driving companies to reconsider their travel protocols and develop contingency plans. It is expected that 5-10% of business-related travel will be permanently eliminated as companies reduce their travel budgets and embrace virtual interactions, wherever possible, avoiding the need to travel. Moreover, companies are working on developing robust travel policies to account for safety before sanctioning any trip.
As a result of these changes, reliance on travel management companies for corporate travel is likely to increase, however, working with a trusted partner will be key to ensure travel safety. Companies will look for partners that can help them strategize travel plans, prioritize safety, and monitor spending. Round-the-clock travel support staff, flexibility to authorize last-minute itinerary changes, ability to track employee location online via an app, and expansive portfolio of hotels and travel partners to choose from in case of replacements, sudden cancellations, etc., are some of the key requirements corporates would expect their travel partners to offer. Availability of a single digital platform for travelers, agents, and company travel managers comprehending all travel-related information will make it easy to plan and track employee’s movement.
Availability of a single digital platform for travelers, agents, and company travel managers comprehending all travel-related information will make it easy to plan and track employee’s movement.
Many companies plan to resume their travel plans on a need-only basis with sales and marketing related trips being the first ones to recommence. Companies are keen to adopt a remote work location approach, wherever applicable, to limit the number of trips their employees take and to keep them safe. Additionally, including specific COVID-19-related do’s and don’ts around booking trips (via air, rail, or road), lodging, and rentals in the travel policy will prevent companies from being at litigation risk.
Corporate events take a backseat
Restrain on public gatherings and travel bans hit the corporate event industry the hardest. Many events were cancelled or postponed indefinitely while many events gradually shifted to virtual platform. It is anticipated that between mid-February and mid-March 2020, the corporate event and conferences industry globally lost US$ 26.3 billion and US$ 16.5 billion in potential contracts and revenues, respectively. With the rising number of virtual events, some of which might never return to the real world, the corporate events industry is in troubled waters, at least in the foreseeable future.
As of now, the fear of contracting the virus at an event and the comfort of participating in an event remotely will continue to stifle the recovery rate for the event industry. However, in the medium term, a blended approach (in-person attendance and digital medium) may offer some respite. Organizing multi-location small gatherings, wherein small groups of people (located in a particular area or smaller region) connect online with other such groups to form a larger event could be a successful model for conducting corporate events.
Demand for business travel is most likely to elevate gradually. Domestic travel entailing client meetings and site visits are likely to resume first. Even when travelling within the country, travelers will prefer to undertake self-driven trips and same day return tours to avoid using public transport or rental vehicles and staying at hotels. International trips are likely to take much longer to rebound owing to diverse government regulations and quarantine procedures in each country. Moreover, it is highly probable that travel related to global events and conferences may never return to pre-pandemic levels.
It can also be expected that for some time, the business travel industry will revolve around the degree of flexibility and sanitation standards offered to customers. Business travel industry stakeholders will have to continuously readjust their business policies, product offerings, and day-to-day functions as situation improves (or worsens) to accommodate changing customer needs. For instance, while some hotel chains may decide to temporarily shut their properties, others may offer them for quarantine purposes for travelers visiting for longer work durations.
Similarly, it is up to the airlines to decide which routes to fly, how frequently to fly, and how much to charge (they can offer to sell premium and business-class tickets at much discounted rates to attract travelers, to at least recover some costs, if not to make profits). Modifying their offerings to appeal to business travelers (when travel is neither necessity nor priority) during these uncertain and volatile times would be of great merit for players operating in this space.
Nevertheless, the road to recovery for business travel sector is bumpy. Business travel will certainly pick momentum but the recovery is likely to be slow. However, whether the sector will reach pre-COVID revenue levels (and how many years it will take) is still debatable. This being said, stakeholders in the business travel industry who are adaptable and operate around customer expectations are the ones who have a higher chance to sail through this less damaged.
Blockchain technology has captured the interest of several industries and aviation is no exception. Its decentralized, secure, and immutable nature makes blockchain technology ideal for many operational aspects and verticals within the aviation industry. In fact, most of the blockchain-based solutions in the aviation sector extend beyond basic financial transactions and range across security and identity management, ticketing, maintenance, baggage management, and loyalty programs. Various stakeholders in the aviation industry, including airlines, airports, aircraft manufacturers and maintenance providers, and airspace technology providers, etc., are partnering together to explore and develop blockchain-based capabilities across the industry’s value chain.
Blockchain technology is fast emerging as the revolutionary technology in the aviation industry with most airline and airport CIOs investing huge resources and effort in exploring this space. As per Air Transport IT Insights 2018 report by SITA, one of the world’s leading air transport communications and information technology company, about 60% airlines have invested in blockchain-based pilot projects or research programs for implementation by 2021. This shows an increase from 2017, when only 42% airlines invested in blockchain-based research programs. Moreover, airports are also exploring this technology, with 34% airports planning blockchain-based R&D projects by 2021.
Owing to its decentralized, scalable, transparent, and secure nature, blockchain technology’s capabilities align well with the needs of the aviation sector, especially in the fields of ticketing, maintenance, luggage tracking, loyalty programs, and identity management.
Blockchain to streamline security and identity management
Passenger identity management is one of the most sought-after uses of blockchain in aviation. As per the SITA study, about 40% airlines and 36% airports claim passenger identity management to be one of the most prominent areas of application and benefit of blockchain technology.
Blockchain technology has the ability to streamline the identity management of passengers through the combined use of blockchain, biometrics, and mobile (or wearable devices). Currently, a passenger needs to pass several checkpoints where different parties (airport staff, airlines, control authorities, etc.) verify their physical IDs. This process is cumbersome, time consuming, and also vulnerable to human errors. Moreover, it results in a great amount of duplication of data as each stakeholder stores and verifies passenger information at their own level.
Blockchain, owing to its immutable, decentralized, and secure nature, helps solve these issues by validating identities using biometrics. Blockchain with security wrappers ensures that the information stored in the system is protected and helps share it with all the stakeholders through the use of authorized access protocols. Thus, blockchain and biometric-based ID management help eliminate the need for paper documentation (such as passport and visa) across the entire journey. This will facilitate a smoother and quicker travel experience for the passenger, as compared with the current verification and multiple checkpoints. Moreover, it will reduce security lapses as the need for paper documents (that can be forged) and human intervention is low.
Blockchain start-up Sho Card, which provides digital identification cards through blockchain, has partnered with SITA to develop a digital identity card as a proof of concept, wherein the traveler obtains a single travel token for his journey.
Under this concept, the traveler undergoes an initial check at the travel counter, where he is positively identified using biometrics and issued a travel token. A photo of the traveler is also taken for verification. This information (biometric ID information, travel token, photo) is stored on the travelers mobile or wearable device and replaces the requirement of any physical/paper identification. When the traveler approaches any gate or checkpoint, he presents the travel token via a QR code on the SITA traveler app. The agent at the checkpoint scans the QR code and validates the travel token and the individual matches to that in the photo. The traveler is allowed to pass if the information matches. This significantly reduces costs and time taken at several checkpoints for document validation. Moreover it reduces the human liability around documents check.
Other blockchain players, such as UK-based ObjectTech and VChain Technology, have also entered into agreements with Dubai’s Immigration and Visa Department and International Airlines Group (AIG), respectively, to provide blockchain-based solutions to streamline passenger data management for the aviation sector.
Blockchain and biometric-based ID management help eliminate the need for paper documentation (such as passport and visa) across the entire journey. This will facilitate a smoother and quicker travel experience for the passenger, as compared with the current verification and multiple checkpoints.
Smart contracts to ease out ticketing
Airlines currently sell paper-based or electronic tickets through their centralized ticketing system. For each booking, there are multiple touchpoints, which include airlines, travel agencies (online and offline), banks and card providers, and government agencies. Upon the sale of a ticket, each party stores passenger data at their individual level, which makes the process complex and vulnerable to errors. In addition, ticketing information being currently stored in a centralized database by airlines and airports makes it vulnerable to hacks and glitches, which in turn can result in reputation and revenue loss for the airlines or airport. This was seen in case of Southwest Airlines in July 2016, when the centralized ticketing database failed, resulting in the cancellation of about 2,000 flights and a revenue loss of US$82 million.
The use of blockchain-based smart contracts helps eliminate the need for paper tickets and e-tickets can be tokenized. Tokenized tickets can have their own set of embedded business logic and terms and conditions associated with how they are sold and used including pricing and timings for the flights. Moreover, further stipulations can be added to the ticket such as the class of the ticket, lounge access, etc. The decentralized nature of blockchain insulates it from hacking and system failures and also mitigates data sharing errors. Furthermore, it allows for the sale of tickets in real-time from different partners across the globe. It also improves customer experience and cost effectiveness of service by automating time consuming tasks, streamlining payment process, and reducing settlement times.
The use of blockchain-based smart contracts helps eliminate the need for paper tickets and e-tickets can be tokenized. Tokenized tickets can have their own set of business logic and terms and conditions associated with how they are sold and used including pricing and timings for the flights.
In July 2018, Russia’s second largest airline, S7 Airlines partnered with Russian commercial Bank, Alfa Bank, to build and sell its airline tickets over an ethereum-based private blockchain platform. The use of blockchain enabled the airlines to securely connect its online booking system with the bank’s payment processing systems, thereby speeding the payment processing time (from about two weeks to less than a minute) and reducing manual paperwork. In July 2019, the airline’s blockchain-based ticketing platform witnessed sales of US$1 million, indicating the success of the venture.
Blockchain to enable luggage tracking
One of the areas where airlines are constantly working on improving customer service and reducing costs is cargo and passenger baggage management. A passenger’s baggage passes through several automated and manual processes before being handed back to them and data about the cargo/luggage’s journey is usually stored in a non-standardized form on an individual level by multiple players that handle the cargo/luggage, including airlines personnel, transportation companies, airports, and local authorities.
This process results in passenger luggage being often lost or misdirected, a fact that impacts the airlines both in terms of reputation and cost. As per SITA’s Baggage Report 2018, this translated into additional costs of about US$2.3 billion for airlines in 2017.
Blockchain, which functions as an online record-keeping system maintained on a peer-to-peer network rather than a central agency or authority, can help airlines tackle the issues of lost luggage. Using blockchain, customers (and airlines) can track the luggage throughout its transfer process, which provides full transparency to the process. Thus if a bag is misplaced, the airlines can track back the entire journey of the lost luggage to identify the point where it went missing and why.
In November 2017, Air New Zealand partnered with Swiss-based start-up Winding Tree (which is a blockchain-based distribution platform for the travel industry), to explore applications based on blockchain technology that could help the carrier improve the efficiency and security of booking and baggage tracking services. The potential applications that Air New Zealand is looking to explore include cargo and baggage tracking, retail distribution, and loyalty program opportunities.
Another use of blockchain in baggage management is in determining lost baggage compensation. Through the use of smart contracts, airlines could automate insurance claims for lost baggage and instantaneously compensate customers. Rega, a blockchain insurance platform, has been deploying blockchain to create a “crowd-insurance” platform in which the risk of lost luggage is shared across the community. This works primarily as a peer-to-peer insurance that uses smart contracts and smart tokens to insure baggage for a group of passengers without the need for any insurance companies, agents, or intermediaries. Through this method, it has managed to reduce lost baggage premium to about US$12 annually for a coverage of up to US$5,000.
Blockchain to better manage maintenance history and spare parts sourcing
Flight maintenance is one of the largest cost-heads for an airline. As per IATA, in 2017, airlines globally spent US$76 billion on MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul), representing about 11% of total operational costs.
Currently, the MRO process is extremely complex, with the value chain encompassing multiple players such as manufacturers, component traders, airlines, service providers, and regulatory authorities. Moreover, each of these bodies store information in separate databases or physical ledgers. This makes obtaining information about components and maintenance extremely challenging and time consuming. Moreover, it can lead to data discrepancy (as it is stored at individual levels by the various parties), which in turn questions the reliability of this data and the safety of the component. In these cases, the worthiness of the component is established through an expensive and time consuming investigation, testing, and recertification process.
Blockchain’s decentralized, immutable, and transparent nature, makes it ideal for managing MRO records for airlines. Blockchain digitally logs and stores data regarding aircraft spare parts and maintenance, from the time the part is manufactured, to when it is installed, to every time maintenance or repair occurs. This decentralized, transparent, and real-time storage of data ensures that the information is available to all authorized parties (from airlines to MRO service providers) in a prompt and accurate manner, thereby saving on time and costs while achieving better safety and maintenance standards.
Blockchain’s decentralized, immutable, and transparent nature, makes it ideal for managing MRO records for airlines.
In addition, the use of blockchain enables airlines to engage in more predictive maintenance, by enabling technicians to review the complete configuration and history of the various components in the aircraft on a blockchain-based ledger. This helps them tackle issues in a preventive manner rather than taking action after a problem has occurred. Similarly, MRO providers can also use blockchain to offer predictive maintenance services to airlines, saving money for both themselves and the airlines.
Blockchain also helps in sourcing spare parts and removing middle men in the sourcing process. Currently, aircraft components are sourced from vendors or traders in a marketplace, who then further scout for the component with manufacturers or sometimes other traders/resellers. This process is expensive (due to multiple mark-ups) and time consuming and most of all, lacks transparency. To tackle this, various manufacturers, airlines, and MROs can create a blockchain-powered aerospace marketplace, where the buyers can share the serial number of the product needed, which in turn can be matched to the real-time ownership and location of the seller currently holding the product. This would eliminate the need for middle men in the industry and also save time and reduce costs especially in case of scarce parts.
In October 2017, Air France-KLM announced its plans to evaluate and develop a blockchain-based system to manage replacement parts on in-service airplanes and improve aircraft maintenance procedures and record keeping. Similarly, in August 2018, Russian airlines, S7, in association with Russian energy player, Gazprom Neft, announced the successful development and implementation of a blockchain-based system to refuel aircraft using smart contracts. The smart contracts will remove the need for pre-payment, bank guarantees, and will further insulate the parties from any unforeseen financial risks involved in the refueling process. This is expected to help reduce cost and also save time both for the airlines as well as their energy partner.
Blockchain to add value to airlines loyalty programs
Flyer loyalty programs, better known as frequent flyer miles, are an integral part of an airline’s customer engagement program. All airlines run a loyalty program, whether individually or as an alliance. However, in traditional loyalty programs travelers need to wait to accrue a certain amount of points to utilize them, with limitations on where and when they can use them. Loyalty programs for alliances have an even more complex structure when compared with stand-alone loyalty programs. This results in limited incentive for travelers to remain loyal to a certain airline(s), thereby defeating the purpose of frequent flyer programs.
Blockchain has the ability to streamline the frequent flyer programs, especially for alliances. By tokenizing loyalty points on the blockchain, travelers can obtain instant value for the points by redeeming them in real-time and across a great number of partnering merchants. Thus with points being accepted as a form of “currency” across a pool of merchants, travelers can use these points in a faster and more efficient manner, thereby remaining motivated to maintain loyalty with a particular airline(s).
In July 2018, Singapore Airlines was the first airline globally to launch a blockchain-based loyalty program for frequent flyers. Under this program, Singapore Airline members can convert their miles into units of payments which are stored in a digital wallet, called KrisPay. This digital wallet was developed by Singapore Airlines in partnership with KPMG and Microsoft. The airline has partnered with 18 merchants across Singapore (including eateries, gas stations, beauty parlors, etc.) where customers can use KrisPay units.
Considering the various applications of blockchain across the aviation sector, a great number of airlines and airspace technology providers are investing heavily to explore this space and develop blockchain-based solutions for various verticals.
In July 2018, Lufthansa airlines partnered with SAP to launch a global Aviation Blockchain Challenge in order to support blockchain R&D in the sector. Through this venture, the two companies are seeking ideas from entrepreneurs and blockchain start-ups with regards to enhancing passenger experience, improving airline operations, processes, and maintenance, and streamlining the aviation supply chain.
Similarly in July 2018, SITA, which is the air transport industry’s largest technology provider and is jointly owned by a large number of airlines, launched the Aviation Blockchain Sandbox project. Through the Sandbox project, the technology provider aims to achieve intra-industry collaboration to understand and explore the applications of blockchain in the aviation space and undertake cross-industry initiatives. This platform gives access to smart contracts known as FlightChain, which will help improve flight status data problem for airlines and airports by storing all flight information on the blockchain to provide consistent data across the network.
That being said, blockchain cannot be seen as a universal remedy for all the issues faced by the aviation sector. To ensure that blockchain is used in the most efficient and cost effective manner, it is critical for players to have a solution-oriented approach when exploring blockchain-based applications, i.e. starting with a specific problem and working towards developing solutions, rather than making blockchain a solution and looking for problems to solve with it. With blockchain becoming the buzz word across the board, it is very common for companies to get carried away with the technology trying to fit in places, where its needs or costs are not justified. Considering that the technology is relatively new and has limited scalability at the moment, a lot of blockchain-solutions that may work well in theory may not be practical in today’s day and may need to wait for the blockchain technology to evolve further.
Moreover, for blockchain to be successfully applied across the industry, it is very important for the stakeholders to collaborate to develop blockchain solutions with regards to sharing data, technology, and costs related to R&D. This is also somewhat of a challenge as adoption of blockchain requires transparency and most companies are wary of sharing their data and information with external players.
Despite these challenges, the adoption of blockchain technology by the aviation sector seems more like a matter of “when”, rather than “if”. Most players in the aviation sector have been operating through traditional business practices for several decades now and may take time to embrace blockchain in mainstream operations. However, several players such as Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have started leading the way. With promises of cost savings and better services, it is to be seen if blockchain can enjoy a smooth landing in the aviation sector.
There are few people who would not recognize Thomas Cook, as the company carved its name as a premier travel company in the UK as well as globally. Its name became synonymous with travel for many customers, as reminiscent from its slogan of “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it”. Unable to strike a deal to refinance its burgeoning debt, Thomas Cook, UK’s oldest package tour company, shut down operations this Monday, facing compulsory liquidation, and sending passengers as well as the tourism sector into panic. While the announcement may come as a shock, warning signs of the company’s jeopardized existence have surfaced several times over the past decade.
Thomas Cook has been in the news for large part of this year, as the company reported a record pre-tax loss of GBP1.5 billion, with the auditor raising concerns about Cook’s ability to manage a recovery. The company has been trying to secure funding of GBP900 million from banks and the Shanghai-based conglomerate Fosun, while also offloading parts of its packaged tours and airlines business.
However, an inability to secure an additional GBP200 million funding as working capital to cover cost of operations for winter season, which is traditionally characterized by low demand, meant that the company failed to secure its near future. As a result, Thomas Cook entered compulsory liquidation, fate it would have faced earlier, had it not funded its operations through accrued debt over the years, which eventually led to the company’s collapse.
Thomas Cook’s debt problem
It is not the first time that Thomas Cook has to run for its life, with serious doubts rising about the company’s existence already in 2011. At that point, Thomas Cook managed to survive by securing some expensive credit facilities, as well as restructuring and cost-cutting. However, all this came at a cost. High interest paid on these credit facilities left a heavy burden on cash flows.
The company showed signs of recovery in the following years, even posting a pre-tax profit in 2015 and bringing net debt to more acceptable levels. However, due to market conditions and other contributing social and economic factors, the company’s tour operator business displayed a particularly weak performance, suffering massive losses in 2018. These losses resulted in the company struggling to maintain working capital, as well as witnessing net debt increasing close to GBP350 million by end of 2018, with the trend continuing in 2019.
Other contributing factors
While debt remained the largest problem, other factors contributed to Thomas Cook’s demise. Proliferation and growth of budget airlines and hotel offerings such as Airbnb had already increased competition for Thomas Cook, impacting the company’s bottom line, as customers were shifting to these low-cost options.
Demand was also impacted by the 2018 heatwave in Europe, with customers from UK and Northern Europe preferring to stay at home instead of travelling to other warmer European countries, such as Spain and France, which are key contributors to Thomas Cook’s business. Total demand has also been impacted by the lack of clarity around Brexit, with customers delaying their travel decisions under the growing economic uncertainty.
Impact on the tourism sector
The collapse of a major player such as Thomas Cook is expected to impact the tourism sector, albeit primarily in the short term. Thomas Cook had developed relationships with hotels and businesses in key destinations, which are dependent on the company’s customers for majority of their revenue during peak seasons. Thomas Cook’s collapse will negatively impact these players, at least in the short term. In the long term, however, business is expected to return to normal as these companies will develop new relationships.
While customers may look to Thomas Cook’s competitors for their travel needs in the short term, limited capacities (or partnerships) are likely to make the competitors unable to take up this additional demand unless they are paid a premium for it.
The collapse of Thomas Cook highlights the challenge that traditional tour operators face in the current tourism market. Customers are shifting from traditional packaged tours to offers that allow them to decide their own destinations, and make bookings through lower-cost online service providers. Traditional players, which generate most of their revenue through offline sales channels, have been put under pressure to evolve their business model, to adopt an online channel that offers more convenience and flexibility to their customers.
Emergence of innovative travel platforms, such as Airbnb, has also put pressure on the bottom lines of these traditional players, impacting their ability to invest in new business opportunities without accumulating debt. Thomas Cook is not the only one impacted. Recently, SOTC (formerly known as Kuoni) has also been in the news for its negative debt position.
Thomas Cook’s case, however, comes as an eye-opener for the tourism industry players, clearly showing that they cannot continue to take on excessive debt. More conservative approaches and cost management need to be considered to build a profitable, and more importantly, sustainable business.
Due to its poor logistics infrastructure, bureaucratic bottlenecks, and heavy reliance on roads, India has long suffered from high logistics costs. This has significantly impacted its global trade competitiveness. To address these challenges, the Modi government, in 2015, launched Bharatmala Pariyojana, a flagship project that aims to transform India’s logistics infrastructure. We are taking a look at the key aspects of Bharatmala to assess whether the project has a chance to be the game changer for Indian logistics industry.
India has been long known for its inefficient logistics and freight management. The current freight modal mix is highly skewed towards roadways, which account for over 60% of the total goods transported. This signals under-utilization of cost-effective transport modes such as railways and waterways. India has therefore one of the highest logistics cost, standing at around 14% of its GDP against the average of 6-8% in many other countries.
High logistics costs are caused primarily by poor transport infrastructure and bureaucratic bottlenecks. As per The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) estimates, India could save US$50 billion just by reducing its logistics costs down to 9% of its GDP. To achieve this, there is an imminent need for an integrated logistics and transport policy that can bring down the overall logistics cost by addressing the present infrastructure and legislative challenges. The Modi administration has realized this and therefore strong impetus has been given to improve the nation’s logistics infrastructure.
India has one of the highest logistics cost, standing at around 14% of its GDP against the average of 6-8% in many other countries.
To improve India’s logistics and trade competitiveness, the government, in 2015, launched its ambitious Bharatmala Pariyojana, an umbrella of programs that aim to bridge the current infrastructure deficiencies through corridor-based development across the nation. This in turn is expected to result in faster movement of goods and in a boost of national as well as international trade while reducing logistics costs.
The project aims to construct a network of 66,100 km of highways at an estimated cost of INR7 trillion (~US$101.7 billion). Under the first phase of the project, a total of 34,800 km of roads with an investment of INR5.4 trillion (~US$78.5 billion) are to be constructed by 2022. The funding for the scheme will be raised through various sources: INR1.4 trillion (~US$20.3 billion) will come from the earmarked Central Road Fund (CRF), INR2.1 trillion (~US$30.5 billion) is expected to be raised as debt from market borrowings, INR1 trillion (~US$14.5 billion) from private investments, and the rest from expected asset monetization of National Highway (NH) and toll collections.
Under the first phase of the project, 44 new economic corridors will be developed to improve connectivity across corridors and remote areas of the country to ensure faster movement of freight. The project will kick start from western states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, and move towards Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand in the north, and towards Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim, and Assam in the east, right up to Indo-Myanmar border in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Mizoram.
Further, 35 multi-modal logistics parks are also planned to be developed that will serve as centers for freight aggregation and distribution, storage and warehousing, and other value-added services. These logistics parks will cater to key production and consumption centers accounting for 45% of India’s road freight. As a result, the consolidation of freight is expected to improve efficiencies and reduce logistics costs by approximately 25%.
There is no doubt that, if implemented as per the plan, Bharatmala project has the potential to transform the entire logistics landscape in India. However, given the country’s past project record, there are major hurdles that need to be addressed.
First and foremost, in order to catch up with the ambitious project targets for 2022, the government needs to construct 40 km of roads per day, up from the current average of 23 km. Achieving this looks very challenging, especially when The Road and Highways Ministry has so far lowered the total road projects awards to 20,000 km for FY2018/19 from 25,000 km in FY2017/18.
In addition, timely land acquisitions, lack of clear land titles, regulatory clearances, and dependence on local authorities are some other roadblocks that will hinder project implementation.
Lastly, there is a growing sense of political volatility amid the upcoming general elections in 2019. Given the recent form of setbacks that the ruling party has faced in state elections, there are growing concerns over its victory. A change in government could seriously impact Bharatmala and ancillary projects, since the new government may have different agenda as their priority.
In order to catch up with the ambitious project targets for 2022, the government needs to construct 40 km of roads per day, up from the current average of 23 km.
In 2014, when Narendra Modi’s administration took charge, highway projects over INR1 trillion (~US$14.5 billion) were stuck either for funds or various regulatory clearances. The government has made noteworthy progress since then by expediting many of these projects.
By leveraging technologies and removing bureaucratic bottlenecks, the government seems to be committed to strengthen the sector. A quick look into last two union budgets clearly indicates that the government’s thrust has been on enhancing infrastructure in India and massive budgetary provisions have been made to improve logistics infrastructure. In recent weeks, a big push has been given to complete about 320 important highway projects ahead of the elections next year.
If re-elected, the Modi administration is expected to keep the current infrastructure momentum going. This might not only improve India’s logistics competitiveness, but also make other government initiatives such as Make in India more compelling for private investors. The project might also give a strong push to the economy by generating millions of direct jobs in sectors such as construction, logistics, and transportation, as well as indirect employment opportunities in manufacturing and other ancillary industries. It can boost manufacturing as well as trade, since there will be a surge in demand for goods such as steel, cement, construction equipment, commercial vehicles, etc.
There is no doubt that once completed, Bharatmala has the potential to transform the entire Indian logistics sector. However, at present, for Bharatmala project and the logistics sector, a lot hinges on the outcome of the upcoming elections.