Post-Pandemic Real-Time Payment Trend Shapes Future of Travel


Travel bans slowed the world down, but recovery points to the attraction of real-time payments.

That’s according to Spencer Hanlon, global head of travel payments at Nium, who said in an interview with PYMNTS that while the period of travel bans and canceled flights was the most difficult time in the industry, it was also the most educational.

And now that recovery is underway, he said that Nium is witnessing “sustained growth” in the travel sector despite the sharp drop in consumer purchasing power across markets, particularly the U.K.

“The human desire to travel, to spend time together with families [and] to explore new horizons will still outweigh some of the downward pressure coming from the current cost-of-living challenges,” he stated.

Enabled by real-time technologies, payments are also moving from individual one-off items “to almost a river of micro payments now,” Hanlon said, adding that the best example is in the gig economy where workers expect to be paid instantly per unit of labor.

That same expectation will start to apply to travel: “You carry one person, one mile, why not be paid? You perform a certain function on that trip, why not be paid straight away? The technology exists […] if a flight is delayed by two hours, why not get that [insurance] payment straight away?” he argued.

Of course, while the pay-as-you-go model has its appeal in the travel sector, Hanlon notes that the need to manage seat allocation does place some limitations on full on-demand service delivery.

“The challenge in the airline world is that the seat is completely perishable once it takes off. If it’s empty, it’s gone. The airline can’t get a return for that,” he explained. “That management of who gets access to that seat for that particular moment is an art […] so these “I pay as I consume” models do face a challenge against that fundamental principle.”

Compliance also creates friction for the travel industry, Hanlon added, pointing to the fragmentation in regions like Europe where moving from one market to another means dealing with different rules and regulatory frameworks.

Related: Digitization of Rail Transport Enables Seamless Journeys for Europe’s Passengers

While this can create challenges for businesses, he said Nium is well positioned to help clients navigate this regulation-related complexity, providing the network, the licenses and the framework to make business-to-business (B2B) cross-border payments more efficient.

“That complexity is essentially the task that we get up every morning and go about trying to chip away at. For those that are able to do that successfully, not [only] in developed markets [like the] United States or in Europe, but [also] in the emerging markets, that’s where the true value lies,” Hanlon added.

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