It’s almost impossible to comprehend the scale of change in the global travel sector over the last few weeks or so. Like everyone else in travel and tourism, each day I wake up hoping the COVID-19 crisis was just a dream — or more accurately, a nightmare.
This time last month we were all blithely going about business as usual, planning upcoming trips and promotional activity as we rode the wave of a seemingly unstoppable prosperity-driven surge in global travel demand. Then in the second week of March everything suddenly changed, and to describe the impact on the industry as an apocalypse is hardly an exaggeration.
Our own business has been hit hard, and like employers across the nation we have had to make some devastating decisions, seeing the departure of some fantastic staff as we try to keep things afloat — hopefully meaning we will be able to expand again once things improve. Governments are attempting to step in, but the thousands of people out of work from travel agencies, airlines, cruise companies and other industry suppliers are testament to the fact that the interventions offered so far are just not enough to keep people in jobs.
Although the whole economy is in tatters, it seems to me that, at least initially, there was limited recognition that the travel and tourism sectors were right in the front line of the coronavirus restrictions.
No other industries were directly hit by the early waves of government directives, including the unprecedented imposition of a total travel ban. Not only did confidence in future bookings decline meaning there is absolutely no business coming in the door, but at the same time travel agents and industry suppliers were busier than ever as they dealt with rebookings, repatriations, cancellations and refunds.
So where do we go from here? It’s basically a question of survival. Costs have to be cut to the bone, and businesses must decide just how long they can ride out the downturn. Will the industry ever recover? History would suggest that it will, but in these dark hours it’s hard to be optimistic.
But optimistic we must be, because what else can we do? The global medical community is working on a vaccine. The “hammer” of border closures across the globe must have some impact in stopping the virus in its tracks. As I write this COVID-19 infection rates in Australia appear to be slowing. If the world suddenly gets a handle on this devastating virus the sun will come out, so don’t lose heart.
For our part we will continue to inform the industry to the best of our ability, for as long as we can. We are a family business, but more than that we believe that you, the Australian travel and tourism industry, are our family, and we are with you.