Can better navigation help during a pandemic?

4 min readOct 13, 2020

Getting around safely in COVID times.

by David Shakory, Director of Partnerships at what3words

If there’s one vital thing we’ve learnt during the Corona-crisis, it’s that people need and want to travel swiftly, accurately and with as little contact with others as possible right now.

I know that I’ve become hyper-aware of how much time I spend out in the world. I’m only really comfortable when I can reach my destination making minimal contact with other people. I’m planning my journeys with far more care than usual, but there are always factors outside your control.

A friend in London recently told me how a supposedly simple trip out to get some paperwork signed resulted in her getting so stressed and anxious that she returned home without completing her task. She arrived at the given address, only to realise that her destination was buried deep in a complex network of streets, side streets and there were multiple entrances. After 15 minutes of circling the building in surprisingly crowded streets, she gave up.

It turns out she’s not the only one who’s feeling the strain of city travel in a post COVID London. And she’s not alone:

Many Londoners are feeling nervous about city travel latest figures show tube usage in London is at roughly 37% of pre-COVID rates.

what3words offers a solution to people who are understandably cautious of traveling during a pandemic. We’ve given every 3 metre square in the world a unique combination of 3 words, making it easy to find precise destinations with far greater accuracy than a regular street address.

A precise 3m square in York can be identified using ///kite.chats.dine

Perhaps one of the most pressing examples of this is trips to hospitals. Obviously people need to visit hospitals, some for emergencies, others for ongoing treatment. But this brings with it an inherent risk. If you’re already unwell, do you really want to risk getting COVID as well? The result is people tragically denying themselves those services in fear of not reaching them safely.

Less time spent wandering hospital corridors or queueing for directions at reception means less risk

With what3words now being used by numerous UK hospitals, patients can travel to appointments more confidently. Hospitals are giving directions to precise clinic entrances, enabling them to navigate, or book a ride to the exact part of the hospital they need to reach.

NHS Nightingale Wales is displaying what3words addresses for key entrances

As well as hospitals, hospitality businesses are winning customer confidence with what3words. One such business is Boxpark — a popular chain of indoor street food markets which usually relies on crowds of customers exploring its food stalls on foot. Boxpark’s website displays the what3words address for every stall, allowing customers to look up a stall’s exact location before they arrive.

BoxPark’s food stalls, such as What the Pitta! are displayed on its website with what3words addresses

With what3words you can pop out for dinner, safe in the knowledge that you won’t get stuck in a crowd

It means they can confidently go directly to the stall they need, without risking unnecessary contact with others. It also means that if someone like my friend wants to visit, she’ll already know which of the many entrances to use and can direct her driver accordingly.

We’ve also seen the embattled tourism industry embrace what3words. As staycations become increasingly popular, hosts on Airbnb are seeing the benefits of adding what3words addresses to their directions information. And they’re not alone — popular hotel chains like Premier Inn are also sending guests what3words addresses, meaning customers can find the exact entrance they need easily.

Premier Inn sends guests the what3words address for the entrance in their booking confirmation

Large urban attractions like Alexandra Palace have also realised the benefits of offering visitors more precise directions. Big crowds are obviously problematic, especially when they’re all trying to use the same entrance. By sending people directly to specific access points, venues can offer reassurance and organisation at events usually known for their swarming crowds.

what3words locations displayed on Alexandra Palace’s website

The same goes for major sporting teams like Queen’s Park Rangers in west London. Like so many city-based stadia, theirs is located in a busy suburban neighbourhood, surrounded by houses and schools. Having already added what3words addresses to their accessible entrances, they’re well prepared to guide in crowds safely when they return.

The West Paddocks entrance to Queen’s Park Rangers’ Stadium is found at ///dangerously.vital.dress

This is happening in major cities all over the country right now. Theatres, conference centres, museums, universities and even churches are all already using what3words. They’re better prepared than ever to guide and channel crowds safely so they never have to interact unnecessarily.

As the UK tries to adapt to life in a pandemic, inner-city travel needs to offer safety and reliability, getting the public from A to B as directly as possible. I believe what3words will be key to restoring public confidence and increasing the number of journeys people feel able to take.




what3words is the simplest way to talk about location. It has divided the world into 3m x 3m squares, each with a unique 3 word address.