How COVID-19 Impacts the Travel and Food Delivery Industry

13 May 2020

Earlier this month, Agency of Things hosted our first ever online event – Design Q&A Series in collaboration with The Process (follow @Sonya). Our pilot topic is none other than the current situation – COVID-19 and through this discussion we invited 2 designers whose industries are heavily impacted by this phenomena. 

Camille Gribbons from represents the travel industry and Jay Demetillo from Grab Food represents the food delivery industry. Twenty five participants signed up for the event and we’ve managed to gather great questions from them.

Since COVID-19 impacts almost every aspects of a digital product, we focused on digging deeper into 4 topics that heavily relate to product strategy:

1. User behaviour changes

Within a few weeks, user’s behaviour changes drastically, from commuting to work on public transportation to working from home, from travelling freely to global travel bans. Everything is changing within a very short period of time and humans need to adapt quickly to this situation which is proven to be difficult.

The global travel restriction has definitely put a temporary pause on the travel industry. As expected, travel intent has significantly declined and cancellation rate spikes in However, the increasing search trend in autumn and winter getaway proves that there is still demand, and users are generally optimistic about the end of the pandemy.

On the contrary, the food delivery industry seems to be flourishing since dine-in is not allowed at restaurants and people are encouraged to stay home. Which leaves them with no choice but to order delivery service for all of their essentials – especially food and groceries. Regardless, people are becoming more concerned about hygiene and trying to avoid as many human contacts as possible to minimise virus spread. In this case, people are discouraged to pay with cash because it is the source of bacteria although cash payment is very popular in Southeast Asia. 

2. Challenge for and Grab Food

Data Collection and Research Challenge

Since people are no longer travelling, is facing a challenge in data gathering because travellers don’t behave like they normally would. Therefore, their previously conducted research is no longer valid for the current situation. Testing features during this period is also irrelevant to the user’s situation, and nobody has a clear answer on how long this will last.

Face to face usability testing becomes hard to conduct, and recruiting test participants can also be challenging. To overcome this challenge, tested the Cognitive Walkthrough research method by testing their product to internal employees that match the user persona of their product. 

External Communication

When it comes to food, people’s number one concern is hygiene. Grab’s challenge is to communicate hygienic measures to their merchants without being offensive. They also need to make sure that the drivers safely deliver the food by introducing contactless delivery. This protocol ensures hygiene and avoid physical contact during the delivery process. 

Work Alignment and Coordination

When everybody is working remotely, coordinating and alignment at work can also be problematic. When information is not overly communicated, it can easily get lost in translation. This challenge also happens in Grab, therefore it is very important to plan the day by separating the duration spent for actual work and alignment.

3. Change in Product Strategy

Since cancellation rate is spiking in, they have to come up with solutions to simplify the process. They have to ensure customers won’t churn by maintaining a good brand reputation. They guarantee all cancellation refunds to keep the customer happy. 

For Grab, partnership with the government is a must in order to keep the business sustainable. As social distancing measure rules are updated frequently, Grab needs adhere to all of them and ensure users are also informed on the changes. 

4. Opportunities

As feature releases and research are being postponed, now has enough time to run product workshops within the company, address technical debt, and improve user experience on features that were rushed. This provides the opportunity for design to step up and be at the forefront of product creation. 

At Grab, they have started experimenting with technologies to leverage their products like Artificial Intelligence and others. Now that more features are either being postponed or cancelled, both companies finally have more time to explore other solutions and possibilities to improve their product for the future.

As features got postponed, companies can now focus on what really matter: users.

So, what’s next?

User behaviour will definitely change, and we don’t know how long it will take until it goes back to normal. Product needs to be flexible in serving their customers – their needs, motivation and pain points might not be the same as it was before this phenomenon. The key to a sustainable product is to keep an open mind, experiment and adapt to any situation. 

Big thanks to our guests Camille and Jay for the great insights. Also thanks to the participants who attended this session!