Navigating the "New Normal"

Head of Corporate Development and Investor Relations at Atlantia Group

 

In just a few months the COVID pandemic has had a disruptive impact on a large part of the world population. The consequences were immediately felt in health care systems and quickly spread to other sectors of the society, particularly to the economy. 

The lockdown measures implemented globally impacted our daily habits, limiting both the movement of people and individual behaviour. This had significant consequences also on the transport infrastructure managed by Atlantia Group.

For example in Europe:

- Motorway traffic was down by 80%

- Airport traffic has contracted by over 95%  

The suspension of production and the general slow-down in consumption, due also to reduced mobility, were immediately felt at the level of GDP and liquidity of businesses. 

The question now in everybody’s mind is: how long this can go on for? It is seemingly too early to have an accurate answer for that question, due to the complexity and the many unknowns surrounding the evolution of the pandemic (for example, the characteristics of the virus and its medium-term effects, the risk of new waves, the timing of the development of a vaccine).

But what is taking hold is the idea that we will not be able to go back to the normal state of play we were used to but instead, we must rewrite many of our certainties and adapt to a “new normal”.  

It is reasonable to assume that some impacts of the crisis won’t be just temporary, but will have long-term effects.

- In the health sector, the most pressing issues emerged during the peak of the pandemic (like the insufficient number of intensive care units) should translate into a permanent adjustment of hospital capacity; at the same time, the production of health equipment (like face masks and ventilators) could be brought back to the country due to its strategic nature, like it has already happened in part during the emergency.  

- On a social level, the exponential growth of e-commerce, together with the need to limit social contact for health reasons, will continue to modify consumption trends, further strengthening online commerce.  

- On the economic level, all this might lead us to rethink the client user experience (for example, by pushing customers more decisively towards the digital world) and to update business operational models so that they can adapt to these new needs (like the growth of smart working and the higher sensibility to issues of health and hygiene). 

Looking at the experience Asian countries, which first restarted their economies after the most acute stage of the crisis, in Europe as well governments are gradually lifting lockdown restrictions to allow economic and social activities to reopen, with two sets of extraordinary measures:

- Social distancing, as a primary line of defence against the spread of the virus

- Extensive monitoring of the population, through massive screening operations (tests and swabs) and personal interaction tracing (contact tracing apps). 

The duration of these measures is inevitably linked to the availability of therapies which will allow keeping the epidemic under control. As it is now well known, the development of a vaccine will take time and this means we will have to live with a series of unprecedented measures and limitations. None of the past health crises (from SARS to MERS and Ebola) can be compared to what we are facing today, in terms of diffusion and impact. 

Keeping these premises in mind and considering the on-going changes, we should re-think traditional models and adapt to this new contest.

Just to list a few examples on a systemic level:  

- The passenger transport sector will have to adjust to adopt new social distancing measures, reviewing the way it designs and organises planes, trains, buses and underground systems.

- The reduction of consumer spending: the fear of economic crisis is affecting consumer sentiment (penalizing non-essential expenses, like tourism and travel, in favour of essential ones like health and welfare) and will require a new balancing act (for example for the air transport sector, where the new distancing measures severely test the economic sustainability of the business). 

- The issues we faced in terms of information management and the risks connected to the increased use of digital networks will require updating technological structures and the adoption of new, stricter regulations in terms of data protection. 

With this “new normal” in mind, and with particular attention to mobility and transport, Atlantia’s vision identifies five trends at the centre of the evolving landscape. These are not completely unfavourable, since they go together with an equal number of opportunities to develop synergistically the group’s assets:

1 - Frictionless journey

At a time when increased checks and limitations of individual movements make our everyday life more complex, we need to solve the specific needs of people, offering them an experience that is as fluid, safe, and as rapid as possible. 

Atlantia Group can take its customer seamlessly “door to door” along their journey (from the house through the city, the motorway and to the airport) and in safety, thanks to the new fluidity measures of passenger logistics, for example with Telepass Pay, an original contactless and reliable paying system for mobility services.  

2 - Smart mobility 

In the new urban context, characterised by changed mobility routines (for example, an increased tendency to use individual means of transportation and greater attention to sustainability) it will be increasingly important to offer an innovative answer to the plurality of needs linked to mobility. 

The Atlantia Group can represent a one-stop-shop for individual mobility “on the move”, guiding through one interface (for example, Telepass) the different needs of the customer: from traffic information to mobility sharing, from contactless parking payments to congestion charge payment, from electric car refuelling to booking lunch in a motorway service area. 

3 - New travel experience

Due to the fear of contagion, it is likely we will observe more domestic and commuter traffic on the road. For Atlantia this means higher traffic volume on the motorways, particularly around big cities (during the week) and touristic destinations (at the weekends and during holidays).  

4 - Digital mass customization

The ability to offer more immediate and tailor-made buyer and consumption experiences is one of the great opportunities offered by this “new normal”. The Atlantia Group assets allow us to ride this trend, based on the knowledge of the customer - thanks to big data analytics and Artificial Intelligence  - to offer new customised services (for example, the ability to buy insurance through Telepass app, in the exact moment when it is needed and for the requested duration).  

5 - New logistics 

Traditional supply chains, so far dependent on global and de-localised productions, have shown their limits and will likely need restructuring, more in favour of a “glocal” dimension, rewarding operative and economic resilience at the best price. 

This change, together with the different consumer habits (think about the aforementioned boom of e-commerce), will produce - as one of its main effects - more flexible forms of goods procurement and logistics, with a foreseeable increase of road transport. 

In this case, too, Atlantia will have the chance to play a pivotal role in the evolution of the system, working to offer increasingly more modern and competitive transport infrastructure. 

 

In sum, the “new normal” puts us in front of a changing scenario, whose features we cannot completely predict yet. We will need to face it by using the best energies and competences, in a systemic and innovative logic.

The Atlantia Group is ready to drive this process of evolution and transformation that the mobility sector is facing today, capitalising synergistically on the competences deriving from its world leadership in the physical and digital infrastructures, and thus offering an effective answer to the challenges of the new social and economic context.