Hey travel industry, R U OK?

By Bruce Piper

“We’re all in this together” has been one of the catch-cries of the industry this year as we have collectively gathered our shell-shocked wits and persevered through the COVID-19 pain.

However as it comes to R U OK Day today, I’m just a little concerned that this may have devolved into something of a platitude. When we’re asked if we are all right, the natural tendency of people – in my observation particularly those whose gregarious personalities have drawn them to the travel sector – is to blithely reassure one another that they are fine.

On top of that, sometimes our behaviours through the pandemic have been in contrast to the mutually supportive catchcry of togetherness – as I believe may have been particularly evidenced behind the closed doors of some private industry Facebook groups where negativity and criticism have in some cases been allowed to flourish.

The COVID-19 shutdown of travel has been unbelievably stressful for anyone in the industry, and so it’s no wonder that we are feeling the pressure. And while in almost every case we are OK, and resolved to pressing on and putting one step in front of the other, sometimes we are not. R U OK Day is a welcome reminder that we need to be going a little deeper and be real with each other. We don’t like being vulnerable, we are good at putting up a facade, and that’s OK – but a little bit of genuine human interaction isn’t a bad thing either.

To that end, I wanted to give some practical advice which was published in one of our sister publications today. Many may not be aware that as well as Travel Daily and travelBulletin, part of our portfolio also includes Pharmacy Daily which is an industry newsletter for pharmacists – who like the travel sector have been on the front line of the coronavirus fallout in Australia. There’s an organisation called the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) which has been established to assist with the mental health of people in the sector, and perhaps we need something similar for the travel industry.

Today’s update from the PSS noted that unfortunately the number of people who die by suicide each year in Australia is higher than the national road toll. Most suicides are preventable, and most of us are touched by suicide at some time. Some tips towards making a difference towards the statistics include:

  1. Ask how someone is going. Keep it casual but private, ask an open-ended question, and perhaps tell them if you are concerned. If they’re not ready to talk, let them know you are available when they are ready, and try again on another day without being insistent.
  2. Listen – without giving advice, or trying to solve the problem. Don’t judge or criticise, acknowledge that what they are going through is tough. Be patient, sit with silence, and show you have heard by reflecting back what they have said. If you need to clarify thoughts of suicide, ask clearly and unambigously ‘are you thinking of killing yourself?’ You will not be putting the idea in their mind, and it gives them permission to talk about suicide if it is on their mind.
  3. Encourage action. Ask about their support network, how you can help, and if they are having thoughts of suicide link them to professional help – an urgent appointment with their GP or counsellor, or a call to an organisation such as Lifeline 13 11 14. If you are concerned about their thoughts of suicide do not leave them alone until they are lined up with further help.
  4. Follow up within a week. Let them know that you have been thinking about them. Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.

The issue has sadly been brought into sharp relief with the death last week of 32-year-old Queenslander Matt Conwell, whose wife Ashleigh – currently stood down but formerly Flight Centre’s Marketing Implementation Manager –  is pregnant with triplets. Conwell was struck by a car and died in a tragic incident of what police are describing as self-harm. A Gofundme page set up by her friends has so far raised more than $220,000 to help out, with the industry urged to contribute by clicking here.

AFTA has recognised the strain the industry is under, with the recent launch of its “Resilient Mind” program in partnership with the Mind Body Brain Performance Institute providing a way to assist members with actionable strategies and tools to help them in the face of adversity – see afta.com.au/events/resilience-program.

As the travel industry we are part of a community of fellow human beings. And that means that behind all the fabulous famil photos and industry parties, events and celebrations, there is bound to be pain, angst and unhappiness. Let today be a reminder not to shy away from real relationships. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Ask the hard questions. You’ll feel better afterwards, and you never know the impact your words will have.

Some useful resources:

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