By Dr. Peter Tarlow
During the last three months, the travel and tourism industry around much of the world for the most part came to an almost complete halt. Three months later we now face the new task of moving from the shock of what was to creating a world of what will be. It now becomes all of our jobs to find ways for the travel and tourism industry to be reborn. In the immediate future this process of renewal means that tourism leaders, both in the public and private sector, will have to accept the fact that our world has changed and they will need to find new and creative ways to go from an almost total tourism stoppage to a pause and then from pause to renewal.
To a certain extent the work of the psychologist Kubler-Ross and her five stages of death has much to teach the tourism industry. Kubler–Ross spoke of these five stages as being:
The travel and tourism industry is not a person instead it is composed of millions of people. Yet to a great extent these five stages plus a sixth stage that I shall call “renewal” reflect much of what the industry’s leaders have experienced. Just as in the case of the death of a friend or relative, we have seen manifestations of denial. There has been a tendency for many to believe that we will return to what we might call the “old normal”. The reality is that although travel and tourism will continue what was will not return. We will have to accept the fact that the industry will be different.
As in the case of a death, many in the industry have chosen to ignore their own mistakes and instead have demonstrated their anger blaming others. The “others” might be politicians, the public, or even the climate. Blaming others never solves problems but only causes us to squander new opportunities.
Many in the travel and tourism industry have also gone through a sense of bargaining. They hoped that by discounting prices or creating marketing gimmicks, the public would simply return. Although these marketing tools might have had (or will have) some impact, they should be seen as what they are: merely marketing devices that will not magically return us to what was. As in the case of the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty, we have had a great fall and no one can put what was back together again.
Unfortunately, this realization has led many in the tourism industry to give up, to seek other industries or to show a depressed state by running away from realities. Tourism is not a dead person; it is an industry composed of a great many creative people. This means that we can go beyond mere acceptance of our reality to a sixth stage, the stage that we might call “renaissance and renewal”.
The travel and tourism industry is dynamic and it has the ability to transform the “what-was” into a new “what-will be”. Just as is the case of the mythical Phoenix bird found in Greek folklore, tourism too has the ability to rise from its economic ashes and create a whole new and exciting industry.
To help you go beyond a state of mourning to a state of renewal Tourism Tidbits offers the following suggestions.
– Express a positive sense of hope. Tourism is based on positivity and what an up-beat attitude. Do not mourn what you have lost, but instead emphasize new programs and ideas. Show your clients and your customers a new side to your business.
– Do not be afraid to experiment with new ideas. Many of the old paradigms are dead, so rip up the your old ideas and engage in out-of-the-box thinking. Allow your imagination to soar and seek new and creative solutions to old problems.
– Get beyond bureaucracy. The more red tape the slower the renewal. Get governments to decentralize their planning. The best planning is done on the local level. Use state, province, or national levels to set minimal standards and then give local councils, business and individual the freedom to create new tourism start-up and innovative solutions.
– Remember that the tourism industry like the human body is composed of multiple components and when one falls ill, the entire system becomes ill. The tourism industry has often been so fragmented that there are no centralizing factors. For example, safety should include all the aspects of a voyage from the time the passenger leaves home until s/he returns home. That means just to name a few: taxi services, parking garages, air and seaport terminals, transportation hubs, gas stations, restaurants, and places of lodging have to work in concert. To create such inter-component industry collaboration will not be easy, but unless there are new protocols developed on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels the industry will go from one crisis to another.
– Take care of others by taking care of yourself. Travel can be hard on the body. Make sure that you are healthy both physically and mentally so that you can treat your guests with the attention and caring that they deserve.
– Provide up-to-date and accurate information to people traveling across borders make sure that they know what restrictions might still be in place. Remember that travel restrictions can change almost instantaneously. The giving of yesterday’s information not only means that your guests are at risk but you will lose their trust for years to come.
– Communities need to decide how much tourism they want and what type of product they seek. There are too many tourism locations where there is a lack of coordination and collaboration between the tourism industry and many of the people who reside in that location. This new post-Coronavirus world permits local leaders and business people to develop a new covenant with residents of their communities.
– Remember that the word hospitality is related to the word for hospital. A hospital takes care of our bodies and hospitality addresses the soul. In the world of hospitality nothing helps to cure a problem as well as a positive attitude, a can-do attitude and showing people that they can trust that you will do what you say you will do. Nothing destroys credibility as much as over-promising. If you promise to do it, then do it!
– Think in the macro but act in the micro. Tourism is different not only from country to country but also within countries, and states. In this new world of tourism central governments can set national standards, but their implementation must be on the local level. In this new post-Covid-19 world the tourism industry cannot afford a centralized bureaucracy that forbids individual creativity. A new blend will have to be created where the public is assured of national standards but local components within the industry can use a common-sense approach to interpret these standards to meet local conditions.
– Do not fight yesterday’s battles. The tourism industry was taken unaware because we all chose to ignore multiple warnings, from as far back as the US President George Bush’s 2005 address warning that a worldwide pandemic was on the horizon. Although we must first work to restore the tourism and travel industry, we cannot afford to ignore future threats. Risk management means be prepared for crises that we all hope will never occur.
– When possible, find new markets for your tourism product. For example, if you tourism industry is based around a long-haul market, consider some form of short-haul or domestic tourism. Take the staycation to a new level with “play-stay-cations” where people check into a local hotel and are pampered.
The Year 2020 will be the most challenging in the history of tourism.
In these trying times, the travel and tourism industry will need to be both creative and innovative not only to survive but also to thrive.