It’s remarkable to think that we are already at the midpoint of 2020. Looking back to the start of the year, so much has changed with so little activity. We welcomed the New Year and the new decade with immense optimism. Miles away however, the distant threat of a virus impacting Wuhan seemed to be nothing more than a local problem.
And then its reality hit. As with all major events, I remember the very moment, less than 90 days later, when I heard that Italy was shutting its borders. A matter of days thereafter, the world was made motionless. The COVID-19 health crisis had an immediate disruptive impact on the way people, cities, and the world itself lived and moved.
Today, COVID-19 has become an active acronym in all aspects of our lives, having taken the world in its firm, fear-generating grasp. Lives, and those of loved ones, were directly at risk. And, as we were soon to find out, so too were our livelihoods.
Despite being asked to stay apart from the point of view of health and safety reasons, it became vital that new regulations and new protocols were defined and implemented to slow the spread of the virus, but equally begin to find how we could re-live life in the next normal. One where we needed to find the balance of being able to still stay close, whilst maintaining an appropriate distance.
Back then I read what Albert Einstein wrote, which soon became my guiding light, “It is in the crisis that the best of each of us comes to the fore, because without crisis every wind is a caress. To speak of crisis is to promote it, and to remain silent in the crisis is to exalt conformism. Instead, let us work hard. Let’s put an end once and for all to the only threatening crisis, which is the tragedy of not wanting to fight to overcome it.”
Now, as we rewind to the beginning of the year, whether we were ready to do so or not, governments forced us to switch off our office lights and switch on our computers at home, keeping them on often 24/7. WFH – ‘work from home’ – a new COVID-19-time acronym became a part of our lives. WFH quickly became business as unusual, enabling us to find an unusual comfort in a discomfort zone.
We’ve become used to seeing one another on a screen. The most common new work phrase now being, “you’re on mute” or “sorry, I was on mute”. We’ve become used to breaking boundaries that we had in our lives before, our personal spaces now shared spaces for all to see. Our personal lives are now rippling into our professional lives, and the people around us at home have now become familiar names and faces for the people we’re engaging with around the world, through our screens, day after day.
Yet, as virtually connected as our lives are, this time has exposed how profoundly people of the world need to be connected in a way that is not just screen-visible, but allows us to reach out and touch, connecting as sensory humans.
So why am I reflecting on this now, while we are still navigating our way through the COVID-19 journey?
Simply this: as we all become very comfortable with the new remote routines that are still to last quite some time, it is important that we don’t lose the significance of the surrealness of this time. We must not allow 2020 to be simply a storyline in history, moving too quickly onto the next. Every good story has a lesson to be learned.
What we have seen and experienced in these past +/- 200 days is beyond fiction. It is beyond all modelling of medical and economic curves. We must make sure that we continue to learn the lessons that are important to keeping us human, to keeping us committed, to maintaining connections, and to being compassionate practitioners of one of the most important sectors in the entire world, Travel and Tourism.
In our industry, Travel & Tourism, we are seeing our sector – one that had been enjoying year on year growth of an average +5%, peeking in 2019 to represent 1 in 10 jobs worldwide and 10% of global GDP – being brought to an instant halt, with an almost instant +90% decline in international arrivals, and job losses of 1 million per day. One million lives and livelihoods, gone, daily. Taking into account the goods and services value chains that are mobilised by Travel & Tourism, suddenly across the globe, leaders, communities and national economies are again defining our sector as ‘essential’.
But it is more than the numbers. I believe, and have always believed, that Travel and Tourism is a genuine force for good. I believe that the power of the industry is not just the impact that it has on visitors. It is the impact generated upon the places visited, and on the lives of those visited.
Our focus within The Travel Corporation (TTC) is that we know that tourism generates cultural, economic and social value, but at this time it also depends on us. The industry professionals align ourselves with the needs of the travelling public and create, redefine and amend travel protocols to build confidence in the immense values of travel.
TTC has therefore been working hand in hand with the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) to define the guidelines for Safe and Seamless Travel as well as also spearheading a complete review of the sanitation and hygiene measures around all our guests’ experiences and interactions while on their holidays and ensuring that these are dynamically adjusted, as authorities amend and update these requisites.
That said, we must also consider that, right now, in these times of not only COVID-19 concerns but also the raw, real, social issues that are inspiring people to take their beliefs to the streets, our fragile world is being rightfully challenged by the issues concerning diversity and equality.
It is therefore at this moment that I am reminded of the richness that travel has always offered the world: to see the world through new eyes. Eyes of understanding, eyes of empathy, eyes of appreciation and eyes of unity. That of essential connection creating strength and creating cohesion through learning.
However we look at one another, wherever we come from, it is history that sets the foundations of creating a new future. What has happened in the past we must learn from, using insight and understanding to shape the future, actively working together to create a world that is safer and stronger. We must work together to create a world defined by solidarity, sincerity, and appreciation – not separation.
Traveling has countless rewards and can be life changing in numerous incredible ways. As we open our doors, get out of own homes and enjoy the beauty of travel once again, despite the overhang of the virus, we will take a break from the pressures and routines of our current daily life. This will immediately help our well-being, our mindset, our relationships, and expand our understanding of life and humanity. As we see new places and experience new cultures, even if that be the surprise of what exists in our own backyards, we will be positively impacting the communities we travel to.
These are the values at the heart of TTC and our industry: understanding, appreciation, respect, humility and, critically, gratitude.
‘Gratitude’ is a video message recently conveyed by TTC’s Chairman, Stanley Tollman. He, along with his wife Bea, built TTC on the foundations laid by his father. Now, a century later, global travel opportunities abound for millions of people to enjoy across the world, both for those that are guests of our businesses and brands, and also those who work with and for our TTC businesses.
This time of global grounding and rebuilding has made vividly clear that as we prepare to go into the next new world that awaits us all, as our doors, borders and skies gradually reopen again, we must do so with respect and immense gratitude.
This generation-defining pandemic has changed our shared world. No one has been immune. Everyone has been vulnerable. This is our opportunity to step up as accountable individuals working together as a global community, understanding and caring for one another. Because unless we all win, we all lose.
As Travel & Tourism leaders, together we must unite in support of the future of travel, creating a new world, a next normal. Let us not waste this time. Our time of stillness is coming to an end, and the opportunity to create motion will be once more. So, now is the time to rethink, become re-inspired and embrace the discovery of this new world we all share.