Not a sprint, an (ultra) marathon…

By Bruce Piper

It’s now almost two years since that fateful day in March 2020 when the world as we knew it came to an end, with the Government closing borders, shutting down cruising and effectively bringing the entire travel and tourism sector to a screeching halt. It seems almost comical to look back at our optimism at that time; I remember that amid the many decisions that were forced upon us, we decided to make Travel Daily subscriptions free for a special two-month period – because surely the worst of it would be over by then!

How wrong I was. The roller coaster of false starts, false hopes and false dawns has been relentless since then, and it is now crystal clear that any return to the pre-COVID industry is simply unrealistic wishful thinking. We’ve been repeatedly told that “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon”. But as the pandemic nears its third year, clearly even that is an understatement – it’s more like one of those ultra-marathons, where supremely fit athletes run 1,000km or more.

Since that is the reality of the situation we are facing, perhaps we need to take a leaf out of the book of those long-distance runners, and find out how they manage to maintain the strength to keep going. It’s absolutely much more than fitness, physical skills or natural ability; in fact ultra marathon participants are described as “runners who achieve the impossible”.

The important thing, it appears, is a positive mindset, an ability to envision overcoming the odds with a can-do attitude, and the drive to keep going when everything around you is screaming at you to stop.

All of us can relate stories of industry colleagues who have understandably left travel, and in some cases found greener pastures elsewhere. For those of us who are left, it is clear that the future will continue to be full of ups and downs. When I sat down to write this column it was tempting to relate my furious disappointment at developments (or lack thereof) over the last couple of months, with governments seemingly completely blinkered to what travel and tourism continue to endure.

Part of our collective angst, I believe, is a grieving process for what we have lost, and an increasingly vain hope that things will return to what we remember as “normal”. Unfortunately it is clear that the world will never be the same again, the government does not care, and it’s absolutely not fair – so we need to put such thoughts behind us and forge a new frontier of optimism.

Because however we feel today, the reality is that things can and will get better. When you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up – and we can also point at recent history, with the brief glimpse of sunlight in October and November last year as border restrictions began to ease, indicative of how quickly things can improve. Literally overnight, enquiries to travel businesses soared, giving new confidence about the future which ironically led many to invest in new premises, technology and staff. While it’s tempting to bemoan the equally sudden reversal which has resulted from the fast-spreading Omicron variant, we need to hold onto the hope that “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.

We are literally in the depth of the low point of this latest outbreak. Evidence is appearing that the peak may have passed, particularly in NSW, and if that is the case then the signs are excellent, with hospital admissions significantly better than the best case scenarios modelled by the god-like medical experts and epidemiologists whom society now seems to worship as their new idols. The daily minutiae of reporting of the RAT-race, prominent anti-vaxxers and infection surges in other parts of the world will surely soon be replaced with better news.

We live in the most-vaccinated country in the world. It’s summer and school holiday time. The beach and pool beckon. Almost all of us have a roof over our head, and food on the table. Things will get better. Yes there are frustrations, fears and fury, but in the end there are so many things we cannot change so it’s better, like the ultra-marathon runner, to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, without fretting about what the finish line may look like.

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