Industry Update
Opinion Article30 November 2021

Talking Tough with Ted Teng

By L. Aruna Dhir, Author, Columnist, Communications Specialist, YouTube Show Host of "High Priestess of Hedonism"

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“The Corona virus Pandemic is far from over,” screams the most recent Deutsche Welle (DW) headline. In a report that follows, and one that is updated every Friday, the publication tells us that while there are 87 countries where there are “fewer new cases”; there are 16 countries in the red zone with “twice as many new cases” and 52 countries with “more new cases.”

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In the shadows of the Pandemic, several companies went to task producing documentation, reports and research material stemming from their expertise in analytics, forecasting the future of businesses, cross-mapping the effect of industries and governance on each other, and offering surveys that presented real time data, shorn of tunnel vision and limited knowledge.

I have a high regard for such valuable information as they aid and assist us at so many levels, making a rich bank of insights and acumen easily accessible. These studies help fine tune our judgment and understanding of a situation and help weave solid facts into our perceptions.

An early research done by McKinsey & Company put forth that it would be not before 2023 or even later, when the recovery in the hospitality & tourism industry reach the pre-Covid levels.

United Nations’ World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on Tourism and Covid-19 is as bleak. The Paper states that “as many as 100 million direct tourism jobs are at risk.” And that “No nation will be unaffected.”

The brief has also put down the losses to the tune of “US$ 910 Billon to US$ 1.2 Trillion in export from tourism - international visitors' spending.”

Given this, now is the time to do 360 degree introspection on how all the allied sectors can throw their weight behind this common matter of exigency, on all that we can undo and rewrite new rules for in the way our businesses have been conducted. And to reflect on opportunities that lie ahead, which would help strengthen our risk-facing shield, make us more attuned to sustainability, and facilitate us to strategize so that we are caught less with our guard down. This is also the time, more than before, to work cohesively, staying in sync with all the stakeholders.

What better way to do this than to marry experience and seasoned advice with the challenges at hand, to fortify regaining of our footing.

Ted Teng, Former CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World and the current Global President at Cornell Hotel Society, is one wise professional who I regard as a straight-talking Oracle in the Travel and Hospitality Industry.

With the times calling for tough measures, I ask him some substantial questions. Here follows my tête-à-tête with Ted Teng

L. Aruna Dhir -With the occurrence of the Pandemic and its as severe second showing; what wisdom has the travel and hospitality industry earned in the last one and a half years?

Ted Teng - Great question! This remains to be seen. Often once a crisis is over, people tend to go back to business as past usual. It reminds me of an old movie ‘What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?’ Look it up.

Portions of this 1968 film are uncannily similar to what we are going through in the Pandemic. The film juxtaposes the concepts of “normal” and “sick.”

I bring up the film’s example for two reasons – for the juxtaposition and for suggesting the economic impact of the virus.

I think it is more than about time for us to stop being myopic. We must begin to look at the world with a wide-angled lens.

The lessons we should have learned would be to reinvent ourselves before we are forced to. I saw lots of businesses adapting and being creative. Why not do it when you don’t have to.

Another lesson is helping others. I saw human generosities not often seen. Why not take care of others when it is not a crisis.

We should continuously assess what other technology is available today that we could be using but are not. For instance, ZOOM was either unheard of or grossly under-utilized in the pre-pandemic era. There are so many more tech aids that can be ploughed in effectively.

L. Aruna Dhir -Given the omnipresence and omnipotence of the Corona virus, what lessons should the hotel industry have learned, but failed to do so?

Ted Teng - Many hotel brands have shown admirable advances in putting out a new roadmap, as it were. Still, I think the following lessons would stand us in good stead -

  • Safety and security are non-negotiable!
  • The industry must begin to overreact to protect guests and employees.
  • Don’t downplay to protect only today or this month’s revenue. Think long term success.
  • People are our most important asset.
  • In a pandemic, we can’t stimulate demand.
  • Reinvent, Evolve, Retrain, Unlearn, Relearn.
  • Compassion! Cognizance! Conscientiousness!

L. Aruna Dhir - What economic boost must the governments be giving to the hotel industry?

Ted Teng - This is definitely another area we should have learned some lessons!

The first wave of stimulus went to hotel owners who used the money to pay debt service to preserve their capital and not jobs as intended.

The government’s role is to protect the people in any consumer economy. If the people have resources, businesses will survive.

The government’s role is to redistribute economic benefits for the greater good of the whole. In this case, it must eliminate or neutralize the virus which is the cause of the industry downturn.

Financial stimulus won’t help if people don’t feel safe traveling.

L. Aruna Dhir - What infrastructural help should the governments be extending in order to give a new lease of life to the hotel industry?

Ted Teng - The hotel industry has a pulse. The first priority of the government is to get the virus under control through vaccinations. Without it, everything is mostly a waste of resources.

Employers should require vaccination. Schools, sports stadiums, events; and every area or business where people amass should all require vaccination.

This is a public health issue not a personal rights issue. Those who choose not to get vaccinated should not be allowed to infect others.

As a matter of containment, the Governments must be extremely strict, vigilant and stipulated about it. The abysmal loss of fortune and lives calls for it.

The industry doesn’t need infrastructure help. It needs safe to travel solutions such as vaccination requirements.

L. Aruna Dhir - How should the travel and tourism bodies rally around, in order to bring the industry back on its feet?

Ted Teng - The industry should rally around vaccination. This is what is saving and will protect our industry.

The industry should also stop trying to live off low-cost labour. This is seriously the time to shift the economic equation to be fairer to the workers.

The industry shot itself in the foot by laying off millions of people and treating them as disposable. Now the industry is paying a price with “shortage of labor” as many chose not to wait to be recalled and have left the industry. The managers of the industry did it to themselves.

We are a people-centric industry – by the people, for the people – it has been most foolhardy and short-sighted to not take care of the most important asset. Companies cannot, henceforth, afford to do that.

L. Aruna Dhir - During the Pandemic, and as its after effect; retrenchment and job loss are inevitable. How should the hotel industry approach this demon with sensitivity and sensibility?

Ted Teng - Labour has learned that it can’t depend on companies. They will demand more pay when they are working and create their own safety net.

If the company won’t provide the safety net, then they must do it themselves. Sensitivity and sensibility do not pay rents. The emotions must rise above the cliché and translate into earnest intent and concrete solution.

Many are not coming back. I would challenge if retrenchment and job loss are “inevitable”.

L. Aruna Dhir - What path and ploys should the employees embrace in order to not be easily dispensable?

Ted Teng - There is no such thing as loyalty to employees. It is a transaction. You work, you get paid. There is no promise of tomorrow.

That being the case, employees will not be loyal to companies either. Someone else offers you higher pay, move to them and save up for the rainy day.

This Pandemic has once again reinforced the harsh truth that you need to take charge of your own life and have a contingency fund at all times. There will be sharp challenges in the times to come too.

There is no such thing as being indispensable to a company. All employees are dispensable including the CEO and the Chairman.

For employees, it is not about creating security within a company. It is about creating security for oneself by developing transferrable skills.

L. Aruna Dhir - What should the young hoteliers and employees keep in mind to equip themselves multi-dimensionally, for being better prepared to confront grave eventualities?

Ted Teng - Young hoteliers are just workers. Protect yourself. Have your own fail-safe blanket. How much do you have saved if you are out of work? I recommend at least one year. Have a minimal living plan.

Also, have more than one skill that you can easily turn into a paying vocation should the need arise. Expanding your knowledge base and expertise never hurts.

While on the job, build skills and relationships, even with current competitors as they may be your future employers.

L. Aruna Dhir - What is the new face of travel? What should the travelers be looking out for while planning their business and leisure trips?

Ted Teng - The new face is a mask. Ha! Ha!

Actually, it is not a bad idea to wear a mask when you are out with people you don’t know.

Last winter we had a very low outbreak of the normal flu because most were wearing a mask. Maybe a see-through mask will be more socially friendly.

The travelers must exercise caution, be aware and well informed and take the requisite precautions.

Travelers must look out for lack of services and poor services at hotels. It is not the same as pre-pandemic.

L. Aruna Dhir - With fearsome and troubling talk around the third wave of the Corona virus, the difficult-to-contain mutations, the bio-economic warfare, the creation of viruses in laboratories and the advent of newer infections, how should we prepare ourselves both as people and professionals for these unprecedented battles?

Ted Teng - The third wave is going to affect the un-vaccinated more severely. This is unfortunate in regions where people want it but can’t get it. The developed nations need to help all people around the world in our own interest.

L. Aruna Dhir - Isolation, Social-distancing, travel bans, economic nosedive – it has been a deadly cocktail mix spelling doom for the hotel industry. As an incomparable industry expert who is also a visionary in his scheme of things, what does your recovery and rebuilding blueprint look like?

Ted Teng - I am a fortunate exception. I am not working anymore so I didn’t have the professional stress. I missed travels and dining out but that’s a small inconvenience. I have plenty of space, so I didn’t have to be in contact with others. I am financially better off than pre-pandemic.

I am literally time, wealth, and space rich. My recovery is to travel and dine out again. I have it relatively easy.

Unfortunately, this all highlights the inequality in our world; and that is why I state the above.

In a rich society, everyone should have the basics protected. I am not against the billionaires. They have earned it. We must do more for the masses.

And this mindset must be multiplied several fold in the case of developing nations!

L. Aruna Dhir

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