Traveling & COVID-19: It Starts with Trust

COVID-19 has drastically changed how people are traveling. Big trips involving air travel, luxurious hotel accommodations, dining at world-class restaurants and itineraries packed with bustling tourist destinations have been off the table for months due to lockdown mandates and international travel restrictions. But this doesn’t mean people are staying home — they’re just staying closer to home.

Domestic travel will continue to be a trend as uncertainty persists, with 62% of people interested in taking a vacation within a driving distance from home, according to a recent Airbnb survey.   Another survey from AAA Travel found that most Americans (80%) planning fall travel are taking road trips.

“As many Americas continue to work from home and attend school virtually, this temporary lifestyle change opens up new and exciting possibilities for fall travel – particularly for those who deferred summer travel plans,” AAA Travel’s Paula Twidale said in an Oct. 15 press release.

Travelers are showing a preference for destinations that allow for socially distanced activities — think national parks and beach towns — and are choosing their transportation and lodging accordingly. In many cases, they’re relying on the sharing economy to make this happen. For example, peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace RVshare reported a 650% spike in RV and trailer bookings earlier in the year, with fall 2020 bookings rising 166% year-on-year.

The preference for remote, socially distanced trips is also reflected in travelers’ choices in lodging, with travelers avoiding hotels in lieu of more private accommodations that give guests more control of their surroundings. According to Airbnb, entire homes have officially replaced apartments as the top space type among guests in 2021.

Consumers are also using the sharing economy for other, shorter-term forms of escape from the pandemic. Turo, the peer-to-peer car-sharing platform, found that 39% of its users took short drives just to get out of the house, while Swimply, an app that allows hosts to rent their pools out by the hour, experienced 3,300% growth since the pandemic began.

Whether you’re opening your home, car or pool up to a stranger, trust and safety are more important than ever in order for the sharing economy to not only survive but thrive. COVID-19 has only amplified the need to know with certainty that all parties are who they say they are and are operating in good faith, and the only way to establish this trust is through digital identity verification.

Users of the sharing economy trust that the company has verified the identities of its hosts and other providers and that their services are reliable and safe. Likewise, providers have faith that new users have passed some sort of identity verification before being accepted onto the sharing platform. When this trust is broken, it cannot be easily repaired.

“The world moves at the speed of trust, and the more trust that exists, the more access we can all have,” Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO and co-founder, said last year.

The sharing economy brings concerns from both consumers and providers that only trust can resolve.

On the consumer side, people looking to borrow a car or rent someone’s cabin in the woods want to feel confident that service providers are who they say they are, that reviews are legitimate, that their physical safety won’t be endangered and that they will remain financially unscathed.

Consumers also expect a seamless enrollment process and ongoing user experience, along with the ability to quickly report issues and have them be quickly resolved.

On the business side of the sharing economy, the top priority is to ensure users and providers are safe when using their services. But these businesses also need to protect themselves and ensure that only legitimate users are creating and accessing accounts. Data breaches continue to threaten organizations and expose usernames and passwords on the dark web, enabling fraudsters to use stolen data to access a user’s existing account. Bots can perform upward of 100 attacks per second, making it easier and faster for fraudsters to commit account takeover.

As consumers expect immediacy and convenience, businesses need to also ensure enrollment and login is quick and frictionless to keep users from leaving the platform. If this process is too time-consuming or cumbersome, users are quick to stop using the service. It is critical that businesses carefully balance the desired user experience with the proper regulations and processes to keep bad actors off the platform.

Verifying digital identity is important to building trust and operating safely in the sharing economy — nearly three-fourths of U.S. consumers believe it’s either somewhat important or very important that online sharing services incorporate an identity verification process with new users and service providers. But companies are behind in implementing the technology necessary to ensure an online user is the real-world user they claim to be. The online economy is continuing its transition from traditional verification to digital verification, and the global pandemic has only amplified the need for all industries — not just the sharing economy — to accelerate digital transformation and digital identity verification efforts in order to survive. 

Biometrics-based identity verification will continue to emerge as the go-to solution for building consumer trust. The sharing economy’s success depends on confidently and quickly ensuring the user on the other end of the platform is in fact who they claim to be, and digital identity verification and ongoing user authentication are the key. It is important to first verify someone is who they say they are with digital identity verification, then use ongoing authentication to make sure that the user is still who they say they are.

Leading digital identification providers compare a photo of a government-issued ID to a user’s selfie to ensure users are who they claim to be, both in the real world and online. This is commonly known as identity proofing. In sharing economy services, it’s crucial to implement a secure, and reliable, biometrics-based authentication method which can be done in seconds to establish definitive trust between both parties in the transaction.

The sharing economy has proven itself to be a profitable business model but its continued success will depend on its ability to establish trust and keep users and providers safe, which can only be achieved through digital identity verification.