"If humanity is at my door, have I done all that I can to welcome them as guests? Could I do more?"
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.
Bashar Wali, one of the pioneers in the boutique hospitality world, just left as the president of Provenance Hotels after 14 years. This is a departing email he sent recently to employees and friends, which has generated some buzz in the industry, you’ll see why below. We are printing this here with permission.
“This is unprecedented.”
That sentence has become our collective mantra over the past few weeks. Who are we kidding? Make that the past four years. It’s been repeated so often. The words have lost their meaning. Their sharp urgency has been dulled to a droning hum.
We have become inured like the urbane city dweller who is so accustomed to the constant noise that they don’t look up from their phone when they hear a BANG. (It’s probably just a garbage truck.) Make no mistake about it. The full impact is still ahead and there has already been so much fallout.
Just one part of the debris is my beloved hospitality industry. Eleven million jobs lost in eight weeks. Properties shuttering. Planes grounded. Plans evaporated. I don’t know about you, but I cannot ignore the roar of the crash echoing through empty halls. I am on my feet, running to the window. It is absolutely not just a “garbage truck.”
The landscape has been irrevocably changed. And if it hasn’t yet, then it must. In the post-Covid 19 era, can I really return to sweating the minutiae of which local roaster I carry for my coffee? Making quips about the superficial things that most hotels are going to get wrong anyway? Posting pictures of palatial hotel bathrooms that are larger than some Manhattan apartments? I think no.
This time calls for bigger thinking. Bolder action. If humanity is at my door, have I done all that I can to welcome them as guests? To alleviate any distress they may feel? To inspire and revive them? Have I adequately advocated for my community? Have I fought for all the change I believe in? Could I do more?
Hospitality will experience a sea change. And my role within the business must as well.
I have recently decided to conclude my tenure with Provenance Hotels. I am closing this chapter so I can be a champion for the revolution and the vital work ahead. To become a loud voice in the conversation about how our industry, and ultimately our society, should fundamentally transform.
What will change about how we travel? How might the line between living and working be drawn differently? How will we connect? Physically? Remotely? Have we thought too small about the role of hospitality in our world? Does it only extend to the guest on the books? What will humanity, elementally, in their souls and bones and blood, truly need? And how can we provide?
Whenever we finally hear the “all clear,” we will once again embrace family, friends and strangers with kindness, community, generosity and hospitality. We will get back out there and explore, grow, wander and connect. We will book a flight. Hop in an Uber. Clink glasses across a table. Because it is essential to who we are. Because it fills us with joy. Because we must. We will navigate this new world. Together.
So keep an ear out. I’m going to make some serious noise.
“In time we will be given the opportunity to either contract around the old version of ourselves and our world—insular, self-interested and tribalistic—or understand the connectedness and commonality of all humans, everywhere. In isolation, we will be presented with our essence—of what we are personally and what we are as a society. We will be asked to decide what we want to preserve about our world and ourselves, and what we want to discard.”
– Nick Cave
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Photo credit: Landscape with sunbeds and umbrella on the Red Sea beach at sunrise in Hurghada, Egypt. Balate Dorin / Adobe