IN this column last month, when COVID-19 was still largely China-centric, I lamented the travel industry’s mounting issues with this rhetorical question.

“You start to wonder, in a mildly paranoiac way, what’s next?” Well, now we know. I wish I hadn’t asked.

Closed borders, stay-at-home warnings, self-isolation, social distancing. It’s still hard to take in. Yet here we are. And how long it will last is anyone’s guess. Dare we hope that come the latter part of April, the situation may be a little brighter? It’s a remote, nave hope, but cling to it we must.

If this plays out, as predicted, over several weeks — months even — there will be business casualties. Regardless of government support, how can there not be given the nature and scale of the crisis?

From agents to tour operators, airlines to ground handlers, hotels to cruise lines, these are clearly desperate times. But let’s not forget communities in destinations around the world which rely so heavily on tourist income to put food on the table. Their lifeblood has vanished, overnight. And while a recovery will start, at some point, it could be painfully slow given the economic battering we are facing. People without jobs, the financially fragile, don’t tend to take holidays. It’s to be hoped that those with bookings towards the end of the year will hold their nerve, rather than cancelling now.

We all know the industry is a resilient one. It’s had to be over the years. It’s developed a thick skin, a resourcefulness, an ability, and agility, to bounce back from adversity. Yet true as this may be, the industry is only ever as resilient as the travelling public. Without the ability, or the desire to travel, the industry fails to function. It sounds banal, but we sometimes lose sight of this. And never before has this been so evident.

We all take travel for granted. The weekend before the European shutdown, I was in Copenhagen. I had looked forward to the trip. But I didn’t really appreciate the ease, the low price, and the opportunity that I had. We’ve become complacent, nonchalant — spoilt even — about our ability to travel wherever we want, whenever we want, often at remarkably low cost. Only when we’re deprived of what we naturally do, and what we love, do we truly understand and appreciate our good fortune.

With support of Government and industry associations, businesses must somehow navigate the crisis. Unpalatable decisions have already been made. More will follow.

However long this lasts, keeping in touch with customers, planning marketing for when green shoots emerge, and communicating regularly with suppliers will be critical. Everyone is reeling, everyone is hurting, and everyone will need to come together. Shared learning and experiences could be the difference between survival and ruin.

Qantas is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Some party this is turning out to be.

If you have any thoughts, email [email protected].


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