Industry Update
Opinion Article19 March 2020

Surviving, and after

By Arnie Weissmann, Editor in Chief, Travel Weekly

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Typically, one searches one's memory for guidance and possible comfort during crises, but Covid-19 is increasingly being characterized as "uncharted territory."

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It's certainly true that the scale of what we face as individuals and industry cohorts is unprecedented, but I believe there are antecedents that can still provide both counsel and a modicum of comfort. Much of what will unfold over the coming months will be out of our personal control, but there are steps we can take that will determine, to some extent, how our businesses might fare.

The touch point for many observations about the current environment has been 9/11, and in a single week, we went from "nearly as bad as 9/11" to "six times worse than 9/11."

Shortly after 9/11, Travel Weekly worked with industry consultant Bob Joselyn to provide guidance to agencies trying to stabilize their businesses.

Joselyn is a rare combination: a serious student of business processes and benchmarking and an outside-the-box thinker. He was an early proponent of travel agency fees and, post-9/11, helped thousands of agencies understand how to structure this revenue stream, how to explain it to clients and, in the process, survive.

I reached out to Joselyn via email to see what advice he might offer in the current situation. Admitting he wished he had a crystal ball that was a little less foggy, he offered this advice:

"Attitude is absolutely vital," he said. 'The 'Stockdale Paradox,' from Jim Collins' 'Good to Great' [William Collins, 2001], states: 'You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.'

"Second, assume and prepare for the worst. For instance, [travel agencies] that failed following the recession were the ones which, with hopeful optimism, waited too long to react. Plan and take action assuming zero revenue for six months and perhaps beyond. Even if this ends tomorrow, it will take that long to start filling up the revenue pipeline. Declining sales is the symptom. Inadequate cash flow planning is the cause of death.

"And keep in touch with clients by encouraging them to think about and plan for their post-crisis travel. Promote drive-to destinations for those who fear airplanes or cruise ships. Given the current bunker mentality, this is not likely to have a huge impact but perhaps will have some.

"The bottom line for agencies, independent contractors and suppliers is to make sure they have enough access to financial fuel to get through this and be ready for the pent-up demand for travel when we see the light at the end of this tunnel."

Although my crystal ball is cloudy, as well, it occurs to me that in addition to the institution of agency fees for some businesses, many of today's standard practices resulted directly as a consequence of industry threats following 9/11. And they might be indicators of what a post-
Covid-19 recovery could include.

Prior to 9/11, if you were taking a cruise, that very likely meant you were flying to Florida for embarkation. The homeporting phenomenon, which saw the development of cruise ports in cities as diverse as Baltimore; Mobile, Ala.; and Galveston, Texas, and the expansion of facilities in the New York area, developed in direct response to people's fear of boarding an airplane after 9/11. Today, it is a crucial component of cruising.

A more direct parallel with what's happening today and what happened after 9/11 has to do with an appreciation for life and those we hold dear.

Following 9/11, when people were grounded for four days, often away from loved ones, people became conscious of the importance of traveling with their families, and the intergenerational travel boom rose swiftly.

In today's crisis, many of us are homebound with our families 24/7. We are hyperaware of the danger the virus poses to them and to friends and relatives, whether they're across the street or across an ocean. We think of them with worry and concern. We even contemplate how, should we ourselves develop acute symptoms, this threat to our own health and life would affect them, as well.

In other words, a subtext of Covid-19 is that we're contemplating our own mortality and the mortality of others. We're reminded both of how precious life is and of life's uncertainties. That sort of deep thought can be transformative. It can lead us to make commitments to do what we had blithely deferred until later.

Travel amplifies life. The pre-Covid-19 trend that elevated meaningful and impactful travel will no doubt accelerate when the threat has passed, strengthened by a deeper appreciation for what's most important to us. The future of travel, I believe, will be greatly impacted by our heightened awareness of the fleeting and fragile nature of life itself.

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Arnie Weissmann

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