It must be expected.
It must be accepted.
It must be embraced.
It must never be feared.
Over the now almost two years of the global pandemic, society has been forced to deal with profound change – a shift that has altered each of our lives profoundly. This change hasn’t just blurred the line between personal and professional, it has erased it completely, and has become one of the defining features of the global pandemic that ultimately will continue to shape us in the future.
As we come to the near close of a second tumultuous year of dealing with COVID-19 and its traumatic impact on us as individuals as well as the global travel and tourism industry, I find that I have spent considerable time understanding the reality of the concept of change. I have seen that change can be painful, especially when we find ourselves in a constant state of uncertainty yet can also appreciate now that change is not a bad thing. It challenges and shapes us, but ultimately it is how we respond to it that is vital.
Why? Because there is only one thing we can be certain of as we face 2022: further change is inevitable. Currently in the Northern hemisphere as colder temperatures are once again driving people indoors, we are regretfully experiencing a disheartening sense of COVID déjà vu. Friday 19th November 2021 was both painful and thought provoking, as Austria announced a first European nationwide lockdown since the spring, coupled with the first national vaccine mandate on the continent from the 1st of February. These decisions could well be a pivotal moment in dealing with the ongoing virological chaos of lockdowns, mutations and border closures.
While we cannot yet know how 2022 will unravel, what we do need to consider carefully is how we are going to face the inevitable changes that lie ahead. We also cannot move forward without recognizing what we’ve come through as well as where we are right now, as these are the foundations for future progression.
It is now clear that the complete eradication of COVID-19, or zero cases, is unfeasible. The virus is simply too infectious and too entrenched.The surge in cases, hospitalisations and deaths is the result of the virus penetrating naive immune systems. As such, the long-term answer remains unchanged: when a sufficient percentage of the population have gained immunity, either through vaccination (herd immunity) or infection, we will transition from pandemic to what epidemiologists have termed “endemic”.
To me, there are a few key things we must recognize. We cannot simply release the pause button, take a deep breath and lunge forward into the busyness of rebuilding our industry. Of course, new bookings need to be made, new itineraries need to be created and marketed, and evolved protocols need to be embedded, but it’s important to remember that recovery will not be linear. Primarily, business momentum needs to be restored, yet while WHAT we need to do to move forwards is clear, what isn’t clear is HOW we do this.
So, what needs to be our focus? From my perspective there are three things I am focused on in rebuilding and restrengthening our business.
1 – FLEXIBILITY in everything we do:
The most over-utilized word of the moment is ‘agility’, but there is a reason for its over-use. The single biggest challenge we have faced as an organization throughout the pandemic, has been our ability to adapt, at speed, to the mounting uncertainty and complications that have bombarded us. From the outset, the virus and the subsequent closures of borders and skies occurred at a speed never before experienced. We as a business had to respond and keep responding.
We were forced into new ways of gathering and processing information, creating unique experimental solutions and novel ways of informing and communicating these answers. What became obvious, and fast, was that if you lacked agility and didn’t move quickly, you were going to be left behind.
Having a global footprint and teams spread around the world enabled us to remain current on shifts and changes. Having access to real time analytical tools ensured that we were able to recognize shifting needs and sentiments. The power to, at an instant, convene a virtual meeting with all relevant stakeholders, to review, probe and agree the solution to an opportunity, was invaluable.
Throughout the pandemic I have been immensely proud on how we led, with decisions made on everything from our on trip protocols to which destinations our guests would like to travel to. But I am most proud of our Company’s leadership, who fiercely rose to meet the challenges of today. Not in their titles, but through their adapting to new ways of working, their inventive thinking, and their committed actions.
Accelerated change is our new normal, but so too is our team’s agility, quick and impactful decision making, and unwavering commitment.
2 – PRIORITISATION:
It’s a real discipline. In times of rapid, dramatic change it is so easy to mistake the busyness for the business. The temptation to take action, respond instinctively and do something – anything, and everything – can be overwhelming.
We quickly discovered that in a virtual world, the amount of information that was being circulated became excessive, to the point of simply becoming “noise.”
As such, our focus became one of ensuring we took a step back, looked at the big picture, and instead considered exactly what we were trying to address. Our focus was clear – we must consider the things that matter. Ultimately, in an extremely challenging environment, what will drive results.
This new application required innovation, driven by new ideas for new opportunities. For example, if you are focused on sustainability, do one or two things that are going to make an impact, don’t try and fail at 22 different things. Or, if you are focused on your profitability, have a linear focus on what willactually make the difference. How can one focus and prioritize when so much change is happening, with all of its natural distractions and drama? Instead, find the eye of the storm – that quiet, steady place that will give you the clear, confident perspective needed to see through the implications of your actions.
This disciplined approach has served us well to this day. Despite the challenges we have maintained a collaborative environment, high engagement and a forward-looking mindset.
3 – ALIGNMENT:
Early on in the pandemic, I asked the question, “who said the new world couldn’t be materially better than the old?”. And indeed, over the past almost two years the pandemic has forced us to find new ways of doing business that are significant improvements on the old.
However, in this environment of change and with so much new, what became imperative was a need to align all team members with our decision making, as well as ensure we were always focused on our principles. Transparency around the known versus the unknown, what actions were being taken and our anticipated outcomes, became our norm.
In times of change when it can be so difficult to know how to move forward and even establish which direction is forward, a foundation of consideration, prioritization, decision making and defined accountability and responsibility, combined with our principles, became our inner compass.
Facing uncertainty demands conviction – something that is grounded in principles – and it was these principles that pointed us towards our true north. We discovered that when you surround yourself with others whose compasses are all pointed in the same direction, confidence is elevated, and you never walk alone.
As we now look forward into 2022, a year that will no doubt challenge us with continued change, the above three areas remain my focus. As simple as they may seem, they offer profound, proven importance. They will be our foundation as we look forward knowing that;
- There is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. The travel sector is beginning to bounce back. but our recovery still has a long way to go.
- As a global community we are going to have to learn to live with the virus. In other words, we can’t avoid it for the rest of our lives. We can live with it but will need to minimize its impact.
- Managing an endemic COVID-19 will require a change of rebalancing the health impact of the disease while normalising society to the greatest extent possible.
Through managing change, TTC has shown unequivocally that we can in fact both live and travel with the virus. Our decision to only take vaccinated travelers combined with our leading protocols, have despite a hand full of cases enabled us to successfully continue to complete every single one of the trips we have operated. Together we have navigated the labyrinth of change and through our actions, our guests have had the opportunity to rediscover the wonder of travel.
As I share this with you, at this crucial time of transition, I am filled with confidence that they will serve you as well as they have guided us in our past, and into the new.