By Taslim Ahammad:
The global outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has brought the world to a standstill, and tourism industry has been the worst affected of all major economic sectors. Hospitality is the hardest hit due to fears of civic spread through travel and group environments. The news has been featuring the suspension and cancelation of events, conferences, conventions, and sports leagues, which is directly driving down travel and tourism for business and pleasure.
Possibly the only thing to agree on this stage is that it will be bad, the main source of variance seems to be on exactly how bad it is going to be. The answer mainly depends on a number of matters: how long the pandemic will last, the severity of social distancing restrictions on business, the level and effectiveness of government and relevant authorities’ stimulus packages.
Now, it is too early to talk about what to do. After all, many countries are just starting to introduce more stringent physical distancing measures as COVID-19 crosses their borders. The truth is no one knows for sure; everyone figuring this out together. However, a business as usual approach almost certainly wrong because there is nothing usual about this new life people living and what’s happening to the tourism industry right now. At the moment, there are no rules or playbook for this situation, and the right answer perhaps constantly shifting.
In today’s serious environment of COVID-19 fears, travel restrictions, shelter-in-place mandates and economic turmoil, it’s essential to hit the right tone with all our communications and marketing. If we have not already done so, need to take a close look at our pre-programmed paid efforts (across digital and social media, and other channels) and all our earned media outreach to ensure the tone is appropriately sensitive and respectful of the current situation.
As price-sensitive travellers may be looking to trade down on products and facilities, we will see shorter booking windows and possibly more trips with lower spends and much briefer travel plan. There may be more, we need to use this time to begin to anticipate what that new normal might look like and prepare for us.
Also, this sector should be focused on: (i) focus on changes in customer experience and need (ii) focus on the switch in customer perceptions (iii) focus on the shift in consumption patterns (iv) focus on quality asset management and replacement (v) focus on relationships more than sales (vi) focus more and more on virtual approach (vii) focus to support the stakeholders in this sector (viii) talk to suppliers, funders, project developers and contractors to manage expectations and maintain confidence (ix) open the discussion with suppliers on discounts of supplies, rent etc. (x) focus on HR, talent and communications on providing clarity for staff, and on maintaining engagement in this difficult time (xi) offer the guest different options for not cancellation but retain the customer in the long-term (xii) be prepared to quickly respond to the changes outside of the normal operating and business processes (xiii) use this downtime to re-evaluate the business, train the employees and try to develop new products to become more flexible, look for new opportunities
With such heavy impacts, the tourism and hospitality industry also have to learn to function in a way not seen previously. As the relationship between each brand and consumer starts by creating trust, regaining customer confidence will be the first step in overcoming the disaster. Strict sanitary and hygiene processes need to be applied, with new practices put in place to monitor and control the environment in which this tourism and hospitality business takes place.
By being mutually sensitive, respectful and showing solidarity, this tourism and hospitality sector also the consumers should adopt the same message: live for today and plan for tomorrow. Taking the above actions may help this sector return to do business as usual again or even more. Most importantly, let’s be optimistic and hope that with the support of all stakeholders along with our government, tourism sector will again flourish again and play an important role in the economic development, nationally and globally. Never forget to look ahead and be optimistic always for the betterment in this very sector.
Chairman, Tourism and Hospitality Management
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Gopalganj, Bangladesh