5 weeks later…now what? | April - 2020

Has everything that needs to be said about the disruption been said and done, from nature’s vengeance to doomsday predictions, the crash of marketplaces to loss of jobs, and conspiracy theories that are endless fodder for imaginative minds?

29 April, 2020 by Shoba Mohan

THERE IS enough and more said about COVID-19 disruption and the massive impact it has had on the world. Thankfully, not all is negative; there are many positive stories, for e.g. nature’s resurgence, of people coming together to help those in need and the inevitable pause to rethink our businesses. In the absence of the proverbial crystal ball, the predictions of how and when the ‘bounce’ back will begin have filled many hours within Zoom rooms and taken too many bytes on the web. Has everything that needs to be said about the disruption been said and done, from nature’s vengeance to doomsday predictions, the crash of marketplaces to loss of jobs, and conspiracy theories that are endless fodder for imaginative minds? I think so and the result is that the timeline of prediction of a full or partial recovery ranges from July 2020 to June 2021 and also beyond.

Though I am on the side of the reasonably optimistic and actually believe that to whatever degree or whenever resurgence or ‘bounce back’ happens, it will never go back to what it was before COVID-19’s worldwide attack. In fact, we better pray that it never does. The term ‘bounce back’ is somewhat alarming as the images that come to mind are a deluge of people going back to doing what they were (too much) with a vengeance. An urban legend that may sound insensitive in the present scenario goes like this ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ and if the lessons from a lockdown are not learnt, it would indeed be sad and wasteful. What would then be some of the simple lessons we could carry with us from here?

Agility: Considering that the majority of businesses in travel occupy the small and medium enterprise space, it is essential to be financially, mentally and conceptually agile as a brand to let go or make a quick pivot to encompass opportunities that may arise around you. Your response to a crisis and how you may wish to relook at your business when in the throes of it will depend on how fast you can move and take decisions. Making plans to ride the crisis while you retain talent and how you plan for the long haul depends on the strength of your brand as well as your business clarity. Short term plans that are dexterous to shift pace and scale would be a good ground to be on.

Be Sustainable: There are great examples of companies who have a game plan in place for at least the next six months. A partner hotelier who has seen some rough years made it a part of his vision for the company to be ready for emergencies. To stand steady when hit by disruption as massive as COVID-19 will now become a part of every strategy for business owners, while for those in employment, personal strategies for specialisation and evolution will ensure that they stay relevant and secure in jobs. COVID-19 has taught us the value of imbibing discerning voices as well as looking inwards to come up with creative solutions that work for you. Striking a balance between business and environment is something I hope each and every travel agent and operator carries over with him or her. The triple bottom line of ‘Planet, People, Profit’, in that order of priority, has to drive decision making from here on.

Collaborations: Never before has the industry gathered en masse to talk, listen to and ideate so as to collectively see themselves through this period even without a view to the end of the crisis. It is no doubt a time of great stress and uncertainty; there are fine examples of collaborations in various ways between media and the tour operators, hoteliers and the tour operators, associations, tourism boards and the Ministry. Some very strong lessons are to be learnt in this direction, as ideas for synergies are within and between industries as well, creating value and opportunities across the board.

Training: One of the most positive outcomes of the last couple of months has been the insatiable appetite for knowledge and how the entire industry has taken to the cloud to upgrade themselves about products, destinations, experiences and skills which may not even be related to our professions. Upgrading skills and knowledge is crucial for innovation and going forward this is big learning to imbibe, a habit that needs to continue now that Zoom rooms and live chats have convinced us that we can learn remotely as well. Training and upskilling to keep up with the times will indeed be big learning from this enforced lockdown.

Reach out: Social Media enabled us to reach out to each other not only through personal posts and sometimes inane thoughts, we have also connected through our hobbies, anecdotes and inspirations. The deluge of recipes, selfie music videos, coffee and cocktail pictures, sunrise and sunset images, birds on your window sill… So many touching moments to share just go to prove that we are social people and need to be in touch. In the process, amazing talent has come to the fore and this I believe is a great way to bring colleagues and friends closer. There has been poetry, art, craft, photography and even charity that people are coming together for, albeit remotely.

Keep at it: Often heard on calls and social media even after 5 weeks of lockdown is that people are busier than ever. When faced with so much uncertainty, to create work for yourself and your colleagues is to keep positivity and energies flowing. The best thing we can all do at this time is get up, get dressed and show up at our WFH desks. As an industry this is the best thing we can do, we all do what we are best at and that is our jobs. I disagree with people who think it is insensitive to keep working your business, my counter is how else do you ensure that work will resume? Like this beautiful quote shared on a partner’s newsletters, “When fishermen cannot go to sea, they repair their nets.” Let’s repair and rethink and make it a habit to pause now and then even post COVID-19 to regularly upgrade our business.

Be Kind: This period of lockdown has taught us that so much is not in our control and the only thing we can do is to be kind and gentle. This time has also shown us how little we need to be content and happy. When you take this back to your business, there is much to be kind and gentle towards - the environment, your people and the larger industry you work together with. The kindness principle will indeed set you thinking on the impact of every action of yours and will open your eyes to tourism horrors like over-tourism and most importantly look at your business as much as a giving and sustaining entity as it creates profits for you. So, as a business owner be kind; if you are the workforce, be kind. These are unforeseen circumstances and they did not make a manual to tide over it.

In the end, do lookout for the ‘bounce’ but don’t go too far back; it cannot be business as usual. The new normal will embrace things that have shifted for us during this lockdown. When looked like that, the ‘new normal’ looks like a shiny, bright space.