BLACK FRIDAY – THE DAY THE WORLD SAW RED, AGAIN,

26.11.2021.

It was meant to be a day of thanks. On one side of the world, Americans were sitting down to Thanksgiving meals surrounded by loved ones, each pausing to openly express for what they were most grateful. In a similar spirit, across the world minds and hearts were quietly holding on to what has become a daily thought, even if one not overtly articulated: ongoing gratitude for general health, general wellbeing. Such are the times in which we live.

A mere 36 days from the close of 2021 it was to be, in a way, kick-off of the countdown to the close of the year when stealth and stamina made possible long, long awaited reunions with family and friends, desperately needed rest, emotional recharge having made it to the end of another uncertain year, and quietly whispered hopes that the worst of this COVID chapter of our lives was over.

As the hours of the day ticked on, announcements started to appear through global newswires: a new strain of COVID had been identified in South Africa: B.1.1.529 – one with a spike protein dramatically different from the original COVID virus, and one feared dramatically more dangerous due to high transmissibility.

And then Black Friday hit. As the world woke, immediately it started to see red:

  • Red geo-blockings on maps as countries were put onto travel ‘Red Lists’,
  • Red arrows as stock prices of travel-related business plummeted as much as double-digit, and,
  • Red hot words as people in a country once again being stigmatised for scientific expertise capable of identifying a dangerous new mutation within the molecular make-up of the virus turned to social media.

From East to West, the growing sense of panic around a mutating virus unleashed a terrifying speed of mutation of response never seen before:

  • New COVID variant confirmations mutating into travel bans by governments,
  • Travel bans mutating into immediate flight cancellations by airlines,
  • Flight cancellations mutating into future airline, hotel, tour, cruise, and attraction booking cancellations by travellers, as well as wedding and events cancellations by planners,
  • Cancellations across the travel experience chain and tourism economy ecosystem mutating into a sickening sense of déjà vu across the global Travel, Tourism, Hospitality & Aviation industries,
  • Cancellations mutating into tears. Tears, tears, and more tears. Again.

In just 24 hours, over 22 months of the global community living with and working through COVID19 seemed to be brought back to day 1. The slow regaining of momentum of recovery of travel economies around the world was stopped. All had been grounded. And sadly, trust and confidence of travellers has been broken.

Now, just a handful of days on, we continue to feel as if our hands are tied. The global healthcare community have indicated we have ten to fourteen days of waiting before we understand the risks of this new variant – now known as OMICRON following an unfortunate passage of time between connection to South Africa as the source of identification and the renaming as a global variant to eliminate (already now established) national prejudice.

As the world waits, the range of mental gymnastics across questions, concerns, commentary, and critique continue to mutate into a range of emotions: anger, fear, disappointment, abandonment, anxiety, depression. Once again, our shared world is feeling very alone.

Alone as individuals,

Alone as countries,

Alone as regions.

Everyone, exhausted, again alone.

But how to regain strength, how to heal?

By focusing on what cures us, focusing on how we stop the spread of anger, frustration, and isolation.

As a global community it is not about focusing on past tense: Who said what? To whom? When? Where? Why? These questions do not concern COVID, in whichever strain it appears. Anything ‘then’ is done.

Our challenge is now:

  • Who needs to say what? The WHO – helping us understand this latest strain of COVID 19, and those that risk following on, in a way that also helps us respond to future crises with greater calm, unity, data-based credibility, and compassion.
  • When? Now, ongoing, to keep us informed of the current reality to help tame temptation to panic without pausing for perspective, and yet allowed the time and respect the WHO need for the analysis to be done, the implications to be understood, the data-based plans to be made.
  • Where? Priority on ‘boostering’ the baseline – getting the right vaccines to the right (currently low availability & accessibility) places across the globe, through the right people, in the right quantities for full coverage, right now.
  • Why? Because that is the only way to protect one another holistically, equitably, sustainably, and aggressively as members of an interconnected, interdependent global community.

‘Mutation’ is a theory of nature that is inevitable, it is unavoidable, and it is manageable. In these times of COVID crisis and resulting chaos, our challenge, our chance, is mutating our energies from arguing problems towards finding solutions – global solutions – rapidly, as if, and because, our lives depend on it. x

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021

 

 

THE BLESSING OF ‘BACK TO SCHOOL’ AS OUR FRAGILE WORLD FOCUSES FORWARD

It is quite special being asked to go back to school when you’re almost 30 years into your career.

Going back to school as an ‘Executive In Residence’, that is.

It is quite a surprising invitation to receive.

It is a humbling ask.

It is a very thought-provoking request.

It is a question that can make you feel a little bit old.

It is a question that makes you feel deeply honoured.

And importantly, it is a rhetorical question.

To go back to school as an Executive In Residence is to be able to visit directly, meet personally, and hopefully inspire meaningfully, the future of our industry. There are very few honours that can truly be more touching.

It is an interesting responsibility. It forces one to think quite deeply about the core messages one wants to leave behind, whatever the subject matter one is asked to speak on. These messages go beyond the technical – the area(s) of experience and expertise one brings with them through their life’s work, the over transfer of knowledge and insight one goes to impact. As importantly, if not more, it is messaging around a spirit of commitment, confidence, and care one hopes to seed in the minds and hearts of those ‘teaching’.

Never in this generation has this been more true, or more important.

All of us in global travel and tourism, and the global community per se, have faced an endless time of devastation. This we know, we feel, we see, every single day, even now, over 600 days since the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. COVID-19 has caused untold damage to lives, livelihoods, and liberties. Slowly and cautiously as the world starts to reopen, to travel slowly and carefully, we keep an eye on growing numbers of new cases around the world. With a curious mind and quiet prayer, we watch vaccines rolling out, growing our understanding and confidence in how they work, and with great hopes in our hearts, look at those tiny little bottles as dearly needed doses of hope.

As we look forward to 2022 with deep desire to come together, finally, and take control of this challenge in a way that is stronger, healthier, and more united, we need to think carefully about what we seed as thoughts as opportunities and as directions for the future leaders of our Travel & Tourism industry – which core messages will take root, be nurtured, and inspire purposeful growth.

Therefore, talking about the future of Travel & Tourism, and all that is ahead, can prove to be an interesting challenge. As an Executive In Residence, it was a challenge that provoked a great deal of thought around looking at not just what is ahead, but comprehending what has happened in our recent past, and how this is going to make us stronger as an industry in the future. As well as individual practitioners.

Which is why taking on this special assignment was one which required taking on a different perspective to knowledge sharing, and seed planting, embracing the fact that sometimes the greatest learning comes not from providing the right answers, but rather posing the right questions. Especially when we are this crisis’s living case study.

In the case of COVID-19 and its impact on the future of Travel & Tourism:

What has shocked us?

What has confused us?

What has challenged us?

What has taught us?

What has inspired us?

What will we never forget?

What must we never forget…?

And with this in mind, what must we now do to not waste this time given to rethink the future of our industry, and our personal role within it?

These are the questions that one of our greatest teachers, Mother Nature, is quietly asking us all as we slowly and cautiously move into the ‘next normal’ of living and travelling with COVID-19.

At the heart of our ability to establish new hypothesis, strategies, and programmes to rebuild momentum of confidence and conversion is recognising that, as shared in the past, there has been a fundamental shift in not only the value of travel but the values of travel. This pandemic-provoked truism is an essential seed to plant if our industry is to be not only strong, smart and sustainable, but sensitive, supportive and sincere.

We know it. We feel it. Why? Because we are ‘the travellers’.

Travellers are no longer ‘them’ – the people out there.

They are all of us – a world of people grounded for over a year, kept from the people and places they love, reminded why our ability to be together is a critical part of who we are. The numbers that we analyse, the trends that we review, the predictions that we make, they are us. They are all of us – all who have been separated from our families, from our holidays, from our aspirations, from our business opportunities over the last almost two years.

The transition into a new world of travel, with all of its choices, challenges, and changes that continue to generate fears and frustrations for travellers, needs to be understood, and respected. To understand what it means to venture out once more simply requires we look into our own mirrors, and into our own hearts. It is a whole new adventure. And again, they are us.

Which means we must lead not just confidently and creatively, but consciously, compassionately, and gratefully.

As we look to the future and consider what is required for industry growth, stability, safety, security, and unity, for all of the uncertainty, what we can be certain of is this: no one singularly owns the solution. This shared challenge of global industry recovery requires that we come together to create a shared solution – one that we believe in our hearts makes use of the time that Mother Nature has given us to think, to really think, about what is important as the world opens up once more.

With the above in mind, it is impossible not to feel that to receive the call of duty to be an Executive In Residence is not only a request to share one’s point of view on core industry learnings, it is an invitation to share perspective on critical industry leadership. And it is an incredible opportunity to re-articulate for oneself what truly matters.

For the opportunity to plant these seeds in the minds and hearts of tomorrow’s leaders looking today for reasons to stay confident in, and committed to, the future of travel, I am so deeply grateful.

Time to go to school…x

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021

WHEN A MIGHTY PILLAR FALLS

When a mighty pillar stands, so often its strength is not fully seen.

Nor its exquisite detail.

Nor its exceptional courage.

Nor its boldness of vision.

When a mighty pillar stands, so often its protection is not felt.

Nor its tireless dedication.

Nor its humility.

 

Quietly, ever still, it holds up the sky.

Beneath it is created a space, a safe space, for others to take in the view of the world.

A place to imagine, to create, to conquer.

A place to think, to dream, to ponder, to reflect, to grow.

A place to focus one’s eyes on the future, aligning one’s mind, heart, hopes, and actions to what can be.

A place to find courage, to fuel ambition, to hear a calling.

A place to take one’s first steps into the sun.

 

There it stands, silently, watchfully, forever – seemingly.

And then the unimaginable happens. It falls.

 

When a mighty pillar falls, each and every second of its crumbling down can be heard, can be felt, cannot be escaped.

Cannot be stopped.

Each and every piece of marble – marble that has stood strong, solid, silently – can be heard as it crashes loudly and painfully to the ground.

Deeply, hauntingly, the rumble of the fall shocks our spirit, strikes our emotions, penetrates our hearts.

The earth beneath is left shaking.

We are left grieving.

 

And yet,

when a mighty pillar falls,

we are reminded of the profound blessing of its presence while it stood tall –

holding the sky above us,

for us,

inspiring us to look up.

Inspiring us to continue to quietly, humbly yet boldly, build.

 

For your life,

for your leadership,

for your love,

Thank you, Sir. x

SST 1930 – 2021

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021 https://www.stanleytollman.com/about/

RESTRENGTHENING THE HEART OF GLOBAL HOSPITALITY, ONE HEARTBEAT AT A TIME

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trauma.

noun: trauma; plural noun: traumata; plural noun: traumas

  1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
  2. emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis.

Source: Oxford

The trauma of COVID-19 on the international travel, tourism and hospitality industry in 2020 is now well known:

  • Loss of over 1 billion international travellers,
  • Loss of close to 80% of sector activity,
  • Loss of over 60% of international air routes connecting airports,
  • Loss of over three decades of sector growth,
  • Loss of est. US$ 2 Trillion in GDP
  • Loss of over US$ 1 Trillion in T&T receipts,
  • Net losses of over US$126 Billion in Aviation revenues (passenger),
  • Loss of over 120 million direct jobs in Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality,
  • Loss of over 40 million jobs in Aviation, and
  • Loss of countless jobs in restaurants, and restaurants per se,

not to mention,

  • Loss of momentum of industry learning across a world of Tourism & Hospitality universities, colleges, and vocational schools,
  • Loss of work experience, and
  • Loss of progress on projects in pipelines,

and sadly even,

  • Loss of confidence in working again,
  • Loss of ability to wait for the industry to re-open and recover, and
  • Loss of interest in working in the industry again.

That was 2020.

2021 is proving to be a year of sustained trauma. As new mutations and waves of COVID-19 force new restrictions on travel in parts of the world, easily extinguishing excitement as domestic, regional, and even some international travel slowly starts to regain momentum in others.

As a global industry community desperate to break through this traumatic time, our focus has been heavily weighted towards how we are going to rebuild confidence in safe, secure, seamless travel – travel free of worry, free of excessive costs of time and money for testing…free to exhale and stretch once more. The desperation of a world of travellers to reconnect with loved ones, loved places, loved memories and loved feelings of freedom, is well known. ‘Pent up demand’ has become a collective call to action.

What is often overlooked, however, is the internal trauma to the industry. Especially as relates to those on the front line of service.

Ours is an innately inspiring, engaging, and social community. It attracts and retains people from different nations, cultures, ideologies, identities, and aspirations who love, absolutely love, making personal connections with others – both new faces from new places, and those with whom bonds have already been built. With the sector growing between 3% and 5% every year for over a decade, the future of Travel, Tourism & Hospitality looked certain. What could possibly go wrong?

And then it happened. In March 2020, globally, hundreds of millions of people in our highly social industry were suddenly grounded, forced to be alone, asked to stay at home, away from their hospitality jobs in the bars, in the restaurants, in the hotels and resorts, in the tour groups, in the parks, in the venues, in the airports, in the sky. It was a time that none of us, wherever we are across the experience chain, will ever forget. Spring (northern hemisphere) 2020 was to see 100% of international borders close to non-essential travel. Over 18,000 commercial aircraft were grounded, cutting off the major artery of global travel and trade. By mid-year glimmers of hope were starting to emerge as restrictions eased, the COVID beast believed to be tamed. It was time to step out into the sun, meeting, and eating outside in fresh air, to the sounds of free-flowing laughter. People were understandably nervous, stay-apart mindsets making getting close unnerving. Adjusting to limitations on carrying and seating capacity was non-negotiable. But it was worth it to be able to get out again. Finally.

And then, at different times and in different places around the world, as soon as they were asked to return back to work (albeit with significant protocol-based adjustments to ways of service and numbers served), lockdowns were reimposed. Long, frustrating, fear-generating periods of waiting alone resumed.

For many the waiting was not deemed to be worth the future risk, future re-openings (and possible re-closings) presenting very real concerns including:

  • severe limitations in job stability, fuelled by pandemic-related work pauses,
  • renewals of work-dependent permits for right to remain (not to mention bi/multi-lateral government relationships and regulations),
  • threats to personal security, including continuous contact with potential COVID-19 carriers, and
  • limitations of future opportunity as businesses cancel and/or suspend investments in training and development.

Not to mention the very real issues many young people in the industry faced re. work Money needed to be made, decisions needed to be made. For a significant proportion of the industry’s frontline service community, changes needed to be made.

The exodus from the industry was not a new phenomenon. The entire industry was already struggling with next generation leaders leaving for more stable, secure, skills-investing and celebrated careers. COVID-19 magnified the weaknesses within. In the middle of 2020 as furlough programmes ended, an estimated less than one third of the industry returned to work.

As we re-open the global travel and tourism industry, it will not be as simple as opening the door to lines of travellers from near and far excited to be out, re-visiting their favourite people and places, and doing so calmly. As is already seen across the industry, to a large degree these are people who have been aching for rest and relaxation, to unwind, to have a change of scenery, to be looked after, to be pampered, to be fed and watered, to do what they want when and how they want it, and to get away from their screens. They are wanting to be seen and served. Now!

Nor will it be a situation where travellers are received by people who have simply been waiting until the door re-opened. Waiting will be less people working more, acutely aware of the fact that they are now expected to take care of a that pent up, impatient, feeling-entitled, demand.

Sadly, the needs of the front line of service are being muted out. Gratitude in being open, being employed, being able to serve pushes all of the emotional strain, the internal trauma, to the background.

The impact of trauma, any trauma, is long lasting. It changes our wiring. It makes us sensitive and fragile to future risks. Importantly, trauma takes away our trust in safety. For people working in the travel and tourism industry, especially on the frontline of hospitality, the wounds of the trauma are deep.

Those people working in hospitality need to trust that they will be seen. They will be taken care of, and they will be warmly invited back. We no longer can speak about the industry being the industry of the future if so many in the industry have left because they simply saw no future.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Secretary General of the UNWTO was one of the first global voices to articulate with clarity and compassion that “trust is the new currency”. Many internalised and interpreted his words from external perspective. Internal trust of our sector to take care of its own people who are tasked with taking care of others is going to be the lifeblood of the industry going forward.

People committing their careers to the industry need to trust that the industry is committed to them.

People respecting the industry need to trust that they will be respected.

People investing in their future in the industry need to trust that the industry is investing in them.

And critically, people taking care of the guests/travellers/patrons need to trust that they will be taken care of by their employers, as well as by guests/travellers/patrons themselves.

Trust is, and remains, our new, shared, single global currency in our future of travel, especially as we all now step forward to rebuild what we know to be a vital sector for global unity, opportunity, and humanity. At the heart of the future of a strong, confident, caring, and inspiring industry is an industry that offers strength, confidence, care and inspiration to its own. x

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021

‘HAVE’ VS ‘HAVE NOT’: TODAY’S STRONG DIVIDE RISKING A WEAKER TOMORROW

COVID-19 has united us all – one global community bonded through challenge, through fear, through stamina, and through patience. The tireless, tenacious nature of the beast, with its omnipresence, invisibility and increasingly rapid transmissibility, continues to leave our shared world in a state of sustained trauma – everyone, everywhere, even now.

As much as this pandemic should have inspired and unlocked sustained global empathy, compassion, and cooperation, sadly it has reinforced risk of re-entry into a divided world from which we thought, hoped, we had evolved as we entered the roaring (20)20s – a time defined as “a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge”.

That world we hoped we had left behind? A world that is divided between the haves and the have nots.

So much work had been done between nations, between communities, to build a stronger, collective future focused on sustainable growth, development, opportunity, liberty, and wellbeing. The UN SDGs created a framework for moving forward. The plans and policies were in place, call to action was heard, the planet was ready to act.

And then January 2020 happened, the term ‘Coronavirus’ becoming a part of our personal, professional, and social vocabulary, soon to be replaced by ‘COVID-19’.

For a brief time the speed and shock of the first wave of shock and spread united the locally and globally locked-down world. Month after month after month.  And then the discoveries were made – record speed development of vaccines. Collectively the world exhaled. Hope was felt by all. Finally!

But then started the other waves: divides, between countries, between communities, between families. Sadly, as with the virus, the divides are only increasing as time passes.

COVID? Have had versus have not.

Long COVID? Have versus have not.

Vaccine access? Have versus have not.

Jab? Have versus have not.

Antibodies? Have versus have not.

Underlying condition? Have versus have not.

New variant? Have versus have not.

Another wave? Have versus have not.

Another lockdown? Have versus have not.

Mask mandate? Have versus have not.

Quarantine requirements? Have versus have not.

Job security? Have versus have not.

A safe place to call ‘home’? Have versus have not.

A good place to WFH? Have versus have not.

Lost weight? Have versus have not.

Lost a loved one? Have versus have not.

Lost control? Have versus have not.

Missed funeral? Have versus have not.

Missed wedding? Have versus have not.

Missed a milestone? Have versus have not.

Indoor socialising? Have versus have not.

Plans for cross-border travel? Have versus have not.

Return to office date? Have versus have not.

Fear of another wave? Have versus have not.

Confidence in the future? Have versus have not.

Hope? Have versus have not.

Compassion? Have versus have not.

This separation of the haves and the have nots in the short- and medium-term is something that is going to shape our shared world in the long-term.

Sadly, we have found that through the pandemic separations are severe in terms of access to healthcare and vaccine supply. Similarly, deep, increasingly fierily audible divides are occurring in terms of demands for freedom of mobility, opportunity, job security, and core ideology.

We live in a world, sadly, that is at a decision point. We either all move together, or we divide and move apart. The haves and the have nots that have been created by COVID-19 are no longer purely about science, health and economics. It’s about humanity.

The question to us all is this: as we move into the latter part of year two of COVID-19, are we committed to the quest to move forward together, or are we willing to accept that some (turning to many) are going to move forward with a feeling of ‘freedom’ without any desire to look back at those locked in new stages of trauma, clearly left behind?

The bottom line is clear: are we willing to accept a new era of deep, painful divide?

The challenge of COVID-19 goes beyond the pandemic. The challenge is a humanitarian one. In many ways it is a mirror being dropped by Mother Nature, asking us to look into our eyes – as individuals, as communities and as nations – and ask: for all the momentum, progress, and opportunity felt in late 2019 on the eve of the roaring twenties, have we honoured that collective hope and strength of roar for all?

Or are we going to find that the lion behind these roaring twenties is going to bite?

A decision must be made to determine the fate of the divide. Confidence we can tame time the lion? Have versus have not?

Have…whispered with a prayer. X

 

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021