Most of us work in travel because we love this industry.
Whether we are in hospitality, tourism or transportation, we share a passion for destinations and a culture of service that transcends the challenges and pressures of each high season. Even when our customers are being unreasonable, or unseasonal weather has made a mockery of well-planned itineraries, we still love what we do.
After the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a pandemic, the crisis moved so rapidly and with such devastating impact that most of us did not have time to react deliberately, but were caught up in an avalanche of cancellations, postponements and travel bans. Harsh necessity made decisions for us. Healthy businesses went into free-fall in a matter of weeks, and we find ourselves entering April in a strange new normal, featuring lockdowns and widespread self-isolation.
The chaos and panic that engulfed February and March is calming at last, and we are in the eye of the storm. We have time to catch our breath and take stock of where we have landed, and make deliberate choices in the next two months.
The general consensus holds that recovery will happen in stages and geographic regions, depending on when COVID-19 infections reach a peak, how governments respond, and when it becomes safe to lift travel bans.
Our industry’s recovery will most likely begin with local travel. We expect to see early enquiries for family and friends travelling to reunite with each other, some to grieve and others to celebrate.
We anticipate a strong surge in support for regional hospitality businesses and tourist destinations. When international travel becomes appealing again, we expect a substantial rise in FIT enquiries for bucket list experiences and destinations. Peak experiences include seasonal attractions as well as international event travel, especially sport competitions.
Our industry will survive, recover and thrive again, but how do we navigate safely from here to there?
Hibernation vs. Skeleton Services
To put a business into hibernation, you essentially stop trading for a period of time, and suspend as many of your overheads as possible. You want to bring your business back to life when recovery starts, which means negotiating with your creditors and service providers for discounts and payment breaks, and assisting your staff to access government support and negotiate with their own creditors. As a business owner, you face a period of dormancy that is both terrifying, and a unique opportunity to do some intensive housekeeping.
To keep your business running when there is very little customer demand, requires a skeleton service. You still need to cut back your overheads as far as possible, maintaining only the infrastructure and staffing that is essential for minimum operations. It is still important to negotiate with your creditors and service providers, and retain only the staff with the highest cross-functional skills, who can operate with little supervision on the leanest possible shifts. This is a good option if your team can work remotely.
Whether your business is in hibernation, delivering a skeleton service or somewhere in between, there are a few critical actions you can take once you settle into this new normal.
In the eye of the storm, it’s most important to keep your communication channels open and working. Your clients, past and future, need to know if you are open for business and how to contact you if you are working remotely. If you are closed, they need to know that you intend to reopen.
Your suppliers need to know who will receive their critical updates, while your creditors and any staff who are temporarily laid-off or on unpaid leave, need the reassurance of getting updates from you periodically.
If your team is working remotely, it is worthwhile increasing the frequency of internal communications and using a solid video platform. We recommend Google Hangouts, Zoom, Slack and Skype to keep communications channels flowing clearly.
Personal & Business Development
How do we stay sane when most of us feel anxious and lost in a situation that we are powerless to change? Sometimes the only thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other. Every action you take, no matter how small, keeps you moving forward with purpose.
If your business is in hibernation, you have a rare opportunity to take a critical look at your systems and workflows. Do you get the best value out of your software? If not, you finally have time to refresh or expand your training. Most companies will be happy to help you – they have spare capacity too. Wetu Learning (firstname.lastname@example.org) is running free training sessions for clients and a weekly #WetuWebinar on Thursdays.
If your business is delivering a skeleton service, your staff need every process to be as efficient as possible. While you may not have the luxury of time to do extra training, you can be sure that the improvements you make to processes during this crisis will serve you when the wave of pent up demand begins to crest in your region. You might shift rapidly from no enquiries to more than you can easily handle. Build a stronger business now and reap the rewards when recovery comes.
It is hugely inspiring to see the actions taken by our hospitality industry in this crisis. Private efforts have seen the likes of Hotels with a Heart opening rooms to homeless people to enable them to self-isolate. Other hotels are providing discounted accommodation for frontline medical personnel, or a safe space for inbound passengers to quarantine on arrival.
Our industry is collaborating in formal channels and informal forums to lobby governments for urgent support. Service providers are providing payment breaks and discounts to help their clients keep trading or hibernate their businesses. ‘Together in travel’ means that collaboration and generosity will see more businesses survive, than selfishness or greed.
Our world was not prepared for this crisis, and it’s unlikely to pass without leaving some permanent changes in its wake. There has already been great loss. Many of us feel a sense of incredulity that our world changed so completely in such a short space of time. We need kindness now more than ever. It doesn’t cost a thing, but kindness has a powerful domino effect.
Perhaps we can add kindness, collaboration and mutual support to the permanent changes COVID-19 leaves behind?