How are we going to get back to the “unprecedented” normal?

How are we going to get back to the “unprecedented” normal?

*by Adriana Cavalcanti

The purpose of this article is to generate some ideas and get moving towards all industries, without exception, resuming their operations; after all, isn’t that what we’ve all been anxiously waiting for, whether we’re in quarantine or on the front line, since the world and our lives were subjected to unprecedented changes and uncertainty.

It’s interesting that in all the councils and committees in which I participate – and which are currently being convened a lot – examples of risk and crisis management coming from the tourism industry are being frequently cited, precisely because it’s a sector that is very exposed to different types of risk. In addition to the financial and operational risks of each business, there are also the health, meteorological, natural disaster, political, social and cyber risks, etc.

It’s no coincidence that the contingency plans of some airlines are very complete and being used as a model in several other industries.

In other words, crisis is nothing new in this sector, the main characteristic of which is its resilience. We’re in a crisis – although we still don’t know if we’re in the middle or moving towards the end of it – but unlike other crises, such as the one in 2008, which was essentially financial, this is a crisis of people.

Based on official figures, more than 4 million people so far have been infected with Covid-19 and about 280,000 have died worldwide.

These numbers can be added to the statistics of the wide variety of pandemics that have plagued humanity throughout its history, and that have killed more than the two Great Wars combined. This is a fact that has once again showed the capacity human beings have for adapting and the drive they possess for reconstructing their lives.

Those by your side in war are considered to be your allies, while in a pandemic they are a threat, and that is undoubtedly why the travel industry has been so badly hit.

I’m not going to talk about the catastrophic numbers that the industry has faced, or whether the economic recovery curve is going to be U-shaped or V-shaped, and I’m not going to list the horizontal or vertical packages or measures adopted by governments, but it’s worth saying that although Brazil has introduced some important initiatives, a specific line of credit for tourism (I’m thinking here about small and medium-size agencies and the airlines) is still needed. We can only wait and hope.

In the meantime, knowing that we’re facing an enormous short-term liquidity crisis and a long-term threat to our business model, the tourism industry as a whole needs help to continue instilling confidence in its consumers and to keep on producing.

There are several challenges to be overcome before we can get our “heads above water” again, especially in such a dynamic scenario, in which, I venture to say, the biggest challenge has to do with the health security protocols and care measures for travellers that countries and organizations will be now adopting. Some of them are going to be more restrictive than others, considering social distancing and before we know for sure if we’re going to have a vaccine approved for use in the short term.

Some companies and destinations have already adopted measures that may even become official norms: one airline is already carrying out a quick Covid-19 test on its passengers before they board; others have simplified their onboard service as much as possible in order to restrict contact between the crew and travellers; airports have created an isolation structure on arrival for people who are waiting for the results of the test before they can be released; and some Asian countries have created cleanliness and hygiene certification for hotels, restaurants, transport, etc.

Given the lack of clarity in the long term and the time variable, seeing opportunities along the way is also essential for mitigating impacts in this search for survival and a position for the future.

In addition to government help, the private sector also has a role to play by supporting the travel industry in its search for, and promotion of innovation and its own reinvention (why not?) by way of courses, training, committees and/or working groups for putting forward ideas and promoting initiatives, institutional campaigns to encourage demand, etc.

In an industry as diverse as tourism, collaboration can be the great differentiator and a powerful catalyst and accelerator of innovation.

It’s very important to generate stability in the face of these uncertainties, but not to let ourselves become paralysed: just like riding a bicycle, keeping moving is the key to not falling.

Look after your assets too. Your biggest assets in this industry are undoubtedly your employees and customers, and it’s precisely people who need the most attention right now.

I take this opportunity to express our thanks to all tourism professionals, travel agents, operators, hotels, airlines, and many others who, even in the “eye of the storm”, have never stopped helping their customers who wanted to return home or postpone their trips. They mobilized flats to transform them into emergency care units in various cities around the world, and they transported doctors and medical supplies to locations worldwide. This is people caring for people.

Thank you very much for this example of social responsibility, solidarity and collaboration in the midst of chaos. This is exactly what the world needs in order to dream again … and to travel.

*Adriana Cavalcanti is the chair of WTM Latin America’s Advisory Board

*numbers updated on May 11th 2020

The opinions expressed in this text are the author’s opinion and do not necessarily reflect the position of WTM Latin America.

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Born in Recife, Adriana has degrees in languages and foreign trade and is 46 years old, 27 of which she has dedicated to the commercial aviation area. She was the director in Brazil for Air France KLM until June 2017 ad today is a member of both the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board, as a specialist in strategy and corporate governance

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