Never let a good crisis go to waste, they say. In the COVID era many companies are more than happy to provide some sort of safety rating, hoping to boost the travel industry’s recovery.
Alas, despite their ostensibly noble goals, the end results appear to generally be garbage not worth trusting at all.
When “Safe Travel” has nothing to do with safety
Some of the vendors are up front about the fact that their ratings should not really be part of a consumer’s considerations when planning travel. One might assume that the “Safe Travel Barometer,” for example, delivers a reasonable set of guidelines travelers can depend on to determine if an airline offers a safe environment.
But the company is explicit about just how not true that is:
SAFE TRAVEL SCORE IS A RATING INITIATIVE AND SHOULD NOT BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE RELATIVE PHYSICAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY OF THE TRAVELER.
The company also promises transparency in its ratings, but does not disclose details on what the 50+ metrics it evaluates are. Nor does it provide any detail on who it partners with to validate that these metrics are backed by medical professionals. That is worrisome, but Safe Travel is hardly alone on this front.
Last month The Airline Passenger Experience Associations (APEX) launched a similar rating system in partnership with Simpliflying. Much like the Safe Travel group APEX promises transparency in the ratings and what it means for passengers. And the companies fail at delivering on that front.
The APEX/Simpliflying program offers a trio of rating tiers based on 58 metrics. But the organizations refuse to disclose details on how those metrics are evaluated or which medical advisors they worked with to identify them as important for passenger safety. APEX insists that scoring system published by Simpliflying and currently online – one that values a sponsored partnership with a major brand for cleaning aircraft more than requiring face masks on board – is an inaccurate prototype. But the groups will not share the real scoring metrics.
Again, transparency is promised, but nowhere to be seen.
APEX declined repeated requests for comment regarding the program.
Forbes focuses on hotels
And then there is the VERIFIED program offered by Forbes Travel Guides. It focuses on hotels rather than airlines, but just like the others it fails to live up to its name.
While one might assume that the policies or practices scored are, indeed, verified by an independent group to secure the rating, the reality is that hotels simply sign in to a portal and assert that they are meeting the group’s requirements. There is no human involved on the verification side initially, with the data entry facilitated by an “easy-to-use online chatbot.” But once the payment ($1/room/month) clears the hotel can be listed in the company’s VERIFIED guide and advertise with the VERIFIED logo.
Where everything is made up and the points don’t matter
Perhaps the good news is that scores from these programs probably won’t even be part of travelers’ consideration for much longer. Vaccines are rolling out, personal behaviors have changed, and infection rates are once again subsiding. And there is little evidence that any of these ratings programs are driving those trends.
But they can also distract from the very real accomplishments airlines and other companies have made to help ensure passenger safety.
The ratings programs create an environment where airlines are effectively encouraged to compete with each other based on safety, something the industry has long stated is not in play. And that competition is driven in part by factors that could have zero impact towards health and safety during the journey, but they can deliver a higher position on the leaderboard.
APEX claims its certification can drive future bookings and airlines are all too keen to issue press releases touting their scores and ratings. It is a spectacular mix of questionable scientific backing and financial motivation driving growth in an industry that should not exist.
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