A letter to my future self that I wish I received earlier!
When I should have started writing this, it was an entirely different world to what we’re dealing with now.
It turns out it’s not easy to write an opinion piece on Covid-19 when the situation changes so rapidly you can’t really form an opinion on it. It’s even more ironic that what I’m writing now is either going to be completely overdramatic – or not quite dramatic enough, by the time you’re reading this.
I should mention that today is the 20thof March – a week after the beginning of the end. Right now, talk back radio is playing in the background, and they’re talking about the idea that last week we couldn’t have imagined where we are today, and right now, we can’t imagine where we’ll be next week.
Herein lies the problem: we’ve all failed to prepare.
In 2015, Bill Gates said it best when he pointed out that we’re all quick to play war games, but none of us are jumping to play germ games. I’m not saying that we should always be self-isolated in case there’s another pandemic, but there are certainly things we can and should have already done.
I say this now, from a dark place in the history of transport and tourism. It’s not a good time to be selling group transport. Not only is no one going anywhere, when they do, they’re certainly not doing it in large groups.
Since last Friday, my team have been doing three things: managing cancellations, processing and following up outstanding invoices, and preparing to work from home. Every day is worse than the day before. We started on Friday thinking we’d only lose cruise ships, but now, it’s everything. Now we’re just waiting for schools to close, then it will be time for hibernation.
Unfortunately, in hindsight, there are so many things we could have done to better prepare, not just for Covid-19, or any pandemic, but for the future of all industries.
As I am now hyper-aware of touching things that other people have touched, I wonder why contactless payment wasn’t mandatory as soon as it became available, or better yet, non-contactless payment should have been phased out as soon as there was a better option. This is something we could have done at the most basic level.
If you put this into a wider context, it applies to so much. Once electric or hybrid vehicles became available, why weren’t petrol and diesel phased out? My greatest regret, considering everything we know now, was not going ‘paperless’ sooner. When there’s no real urgency, it’s certainly easier to stick to the status quo.
I’m now faced with the imminent reality of everyone having to work from home. How does that work? Having to scramble together a digital workplace plan in 3 days is certainly more demanding than building a digital workplace system, through trial and error, over 3 months. And that just takes care of the self-isolation issue.
Looking at the issues our tourism industry is facing, our concerns are much more than just being able to operate our businesses from home. When the tourists stop coming, and your business relies on tourism, what do you do? You wouldn’t be too worried about being digitally agile. What I now realise is most important is keeping your debtors current and diversifying your income. This is a classic case of our industry having all its eggs in one basket.
I don’t want to name names, but a certain major player in the tourism industry, not more than a year ago, strongly encouraged (you could say bullied) us to invest even more into the tourism sector, to cope with their desired growth. I’m glad I pushed back and recognised how unsustainable that would be. It didn’t make sense for us to invest more in something so seasonal and unreliable. As it is, tourism investment is a risk I won’t take lightly again.
We’re actually fortunate to live in a country with such a small population and a low number of visitors. For those of us wanting to grow our businesses, we have been forced to diversify. But not all of us want to grow, and unfortunately, so many of us haven’t. We have been happy to look after one small part of the market and expect it will always be there and always look after us. That is a mistake.
This situation might bounce back, but never to where it was. Now that #socialdistancing is a concept, group travel will never be quite the same. We need to see that as an opportunity and not wilfully ignore it.
For those of us that make it out the other side, I suggest you take note of these two lessons:
First, don’t wait for something to be our only option before we make it a priority.
And second, don’t hang your hat on one revenue stream based on a good track record.
Nothing is a sure thing, and nothing lasts forever. I’ll mention the 2008 housing crisis and say no more.
But when we find ourselves asking how this all happened, it almost seems unfair to look for an answer. Is it because we’re so afraid of change, we make every excuse to avoid it, and when we’re faced with a crisis, we are months or years behind? Or would we be here regardless because we’re not trained or prepared well enough?
I think it’s the perfect storm.
If I’ve noticed anything, it’s that globalisation is both a blessing and a curse. That said, we need to continue to evolve, and make the most of every opportunity, whether it is to improve, or to diversify.