Be in it. Don't be afraid to feel what's going on around you. And don't try to play the business-as-usual approach. Nothing about these days are that. Don't pretend to have all the answers.
For our Viewpoint series, Skift invites thought leaders, some from the less obvious corners of travel, to join in the conversation. We know that these independent voices are important to the dialogue within the industry. Our guest columnists will identify and shape what global trends and through lines will define the future of travel.
Promote, or not to promote (destinations).
Think about recovery strategies, or wait.
Contact business partners, or leave them in peace.
Undoubtedly travel professionals at this time have many questions. And, undoubtedly, each is experiencing the frustration that comes from knowing that no one has any answers.
In the coronavirus landscape, there are no points of reference, no “experts” to consult. Most veteran researchers, healthcare workers, and crisis management professionals have had the humility to admit that their modus operandi is trial by error.
So — you can admit that too. No need to pretend you know what your next steps will be.
In the following paragraphs, I would like to offer advice to tourism professionals at this trying time. You might be wondering what qualifies me to impart wisdom on this subject.
I am the owner of a destination marketing company specializing in Italy. I am currently in my fourth day of total lockdown in Rome, where I have lived for the last 30 years.
Many readers might already be living in situations like mine: wearing gloves and masks and not being allowed to leave home to see family members or friends. Having permission to go out only for food or pharmaceuticals with risk of imprisonment for disobeying regulations.
I started writing this guest column the day after the number of coronavirus fatalities here reached an all-time high for a daily death toll: 368. The total number of people who have died in the Lombardy region alone, where Milan is located, reached 1,218 — more than half of all the deaths that had been recorded in Europe up until this record.
So, with my unfortunate “expert” hat on, I would like to suggest the following:
Take off your CEO’s, chief operating officer’s, or president’s hat and just be yourself. It will be a different, vulnerable “self” that lacks the confidence that has guided you in the past.
Do not take the numerous Doing Business During a Crisis articles too seriously. They are written by well-meaning authors who managed previous crises successfully: During the initial crisis period, you will not be thinking about their suggested task forces or internal customer/external stakeholder communication plans. You will be thinking about keeping yourself and loved ones safe — especially your parents, if you are lucky enough to still have them.
Fight the urge to adopt a business-as-usual approach. Everyone knows that there is nothing “usual” about one of the most vital and promising business sectors on the planet, like ours, coming to a screeching halt in a matter of days.
Last, but not at all least — fight the urge to send email messages. When you are ready, pick up the phone or try to have a video chat with your employees, collaborators, commercial partners, and loyal clients (if appropriate). When I left Chicago for Rome 30 years ago, we did not use a term that is common in business today — and we do not have it in Italian — reaching out.
Do just that. Reach out and don’t be afraid of uncomfortable silences or feelings of inadequacy. Don’t be afraid of not finding the right words.
What are the right words for a moment when people cannot sit next to each other at the dinner table, have physical contact with, or hug their parents or children; go see loved ones who are very sick or go to the funeral of the loved one they have lost.
When I first contacted Skift, I wrote that while in lockdown, I had a lot of time to think about “what” we (tourism professionals) might be able to do while global tourism is in lockdown.
I realize that the focus in recent video chats with partners (all forced to stay at home) had been less on what we needed to do and more on who we needed to be at this moment.
As small operators with low overhead and a consultancy models catering to highly personalized options for small numbers of travelers, we allowed ourselves to feel a surge of reserved optimism at the idea that we just might be able to continue being who we had been pre-coronavirus crisis, unlike many larger operators. Just maybe our super niche, low-season, non-hot-spot destinations that had been gaining momentum (and visibility), paradoxically in “STOP Overtourism” campaigns, might emerge with an advantage when the limited numbers trickle in after the summer during the so-called recovery phase.
The non-urban, uncrowded landscapes that we promote could also be perceived as less “risky” and, thus, more attractive alternatives. Let’s hope this will be the case.
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Photo credit: A prelate walks outside St. Peter's Square after the Vatican erected a new barricade at the edge of the square, in Rome, Tues., March 10, 2020. Italy entered a nationwide lockdown after a government decree extended restrictions on movement from the hard-hit north to the rest of the country to prevent the spreading of coronavirus. Andrew Medichini / Associated Press