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Transparency, Honesty and Collaboration Will Be Key to Pulling Through Coronavirus Crisis for the Tourism Industry

Whenever crisis unfolds, few sectors are hit as badly as the travel industry, employing 1 out of 11 people globally, according to the World Tourism Organization. The new coronavirus pandemic is no different, with countries closing borders, including American president Donald Trump’s banning European flights.

Such bans exemplify the global panic of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes the disease COVID-19, one of the challenges facing tourism entities in the era of pandemics and hyperconnectivity in today’s world. Within seconds, information changes and governments and entities must stay a step ahead.

I have had experience overcoming travel industry crises, at Newlink, where I am senior vice president and Head of the Tourism Department, as well as earlier, in 2009, as U.S. director for the Southeast region for the Mexico Tourism Board. In May that year, the H1N1 virus caused tourism to Mexico to plummet 60%. Still, we mitigated the worst impact, finishing 2009 only 7.8% down from 2008’s tourism figures.

How did we do it? By following the most important advice I can give destinations facing coronavirus: transparency and opportunity.

Regarding transparency, it is important to remember that no matter how much information the tourism entity, whether a destination itself, or the national tourism office, wants to put out, the spokesperson must be the entity responsible for public health, such as a government ministry, health office, or in the case of a global pandemic, the World Health Organization. The tourism entity is an information multiplier, increasing the message’s impact, and must have total transparency in communications. Tell the public everything there is to know, yet in a way that avoids generating panic. For solutions, everything must be measured with science.

As for opportunity, information must be given in real time, precisely because of the rise of social networks. It is important that the tourism entity – whether it be a hotel, destination, airline or other group -transmit information to its clients, its travelers, its employees and stakeholders. Information, including at times disinformation, is already out there, via social networks, and the tourism entity must proactively stay ahead.

Collaboration is key. The tourism industry must work side by side with health authorities, letting them take the leadership role in delivering important health messages.
Importantly, tourism entities must protect future travel. What does that mean specifically? You cannot stand still. You must protect reservations, with constant communication to avoid losing most of them. On the other hand, working with clients on their current reservations is also important to keep them in the long run. Tourism entities must also cater to the still undecided consumer waiting for things to get better. These are two different approaches which ensure future bookings.

This time is also an opportunity to improve. With a virus, this means examining sanitization methods, potential contamination points and other health procedures at resorts, hotels, cruise ships, ports of entry, airports, anywhere tourists interact. As an example, airports around the world are using fever detectors to screen possibly infected passengers. In the future, as a result of the pandemic, all airports will be more sophisticated and better equipped for potential outbreaks. Simultaneously, the objective is not to scare people, but to show how one prepares, and to communicate this openly and transparently.

“Experiences” has been the buzzword among the travel industry marketing for many years now, especially as it concerns millennial travelers and retiring boomers. We don’t buy jewelry and furs anymore; instead, we buy what nourishes our soul. Travel is the source of that nourishing experience and is the most precious asset for all of us. Now we are being asked to disconnect, to self-isolate while the world responds to coronavirus. Through responsible government management and the efforts of global health organizations like WHO, we will overcome the ravages of coronavirus. Travel will reemerge from this as it always has, and it will be the greatest opportunity we all have to connect with each other once again. With proper effort now, as in Mexico in 2009, the travel industry will be ready.

All members of the industry – hoteliers, airlines, destinations - have to know that we are not in competition with each other, but part of one ecosystem, at the local, national and global level. Together, we can be stronger and overcome fear.

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