COUNTING DOWN

In just a few hours timezones around the world will be ringing in the new year.
2009 will be closed.
A busy year, a noisy noisy year,
A year with so much of the world on the move.

Soon it will all be hushed…

Silence. Stillness. A global holding-of-breath.

And then, in the quiet of night as fireworks turn to fading sparkles,
the page will turn,
ending a chapter full of words, edits, scribbles and bold punctuation,

revealing 365 blank pages to be written upon.
Clean new pages – rich, textureful parchment lying still. Sharp black ink waiting patiently.
The next pages of the story.
The gift which each new year brings to a world, connected.

Happy New Year.

In Praise of Unsung Heroes

2009 has been a remarkable year. As the year comes to an end it is easy and understandable to look back at the past months with a sense of relief. Month after month milestones were reached.
headlines made
stories beyond fiction unfolding
fortunes lost
legends fallen
dreams dissolved.

GLOBAL CRISIS, GLOBAL X-RAY

A mere matter of days ago the world was looking forward to a global exhale. Word was spreading in speed and volume that the worst of 2009’s global economic crisis may, just may, be over. The time had come to shift into cautious, reconstruction mode of our wounded economies and societies. Much to reflect on. Much to learn from. Much to be grateful for. Many reason to keep praying.

In Mecca the Haj had just concluded, bringing together in body and spirit millions Muslims from across the world to perform an all-important pilgrimage which has become part of life’s duty and joy, and the festival of Eid was about to begin. Similarly millions of Americans across the world were coming together to celebrate Thanksgiving, an occasion which reunites family and friends to count their blessing around feastful tables. Other occasions also unfolded around the world, gatherings of cultural or personal or religious or historical significance. Millions and millions of people on the move during one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Roads, train stations and airports were chaos due to the ten-fold increase in traveller numbers. So many people – so much stuff! For travellers it was worth each and every moment of the moving madness.

Because the goal was to be together. For a few days the world was united by the joy and gratitude of being a part of something bigger.

And then news broke, news which had everyone talking. Something had gone very wrong. One by one markets across the world were starting to shake. Tremors were reaching from London to Hong Kong to Sydney to New York. Green indices were showing shades of red. The slowly untying know in the stomach of global traders and investors suddenly felt a pull. Why? DUBAI.

Without warning, with great regret, Dubai announced a request for delay of payment of over US$ 59 billion in debts owed by two of the Emirates’ most powerful, state-owned corporations responsible for transforming Dubai into a mesmerising modern oasis in the Middle East: Dubai World and its incredible development arm Nakheel. Suddenly it all looked like a mirage. A place built on unprecedented vision, deep pride, immense courage and exceptional confidence in possibility admitted, despite all projects and protestations, that it too was hurting beyond containment. And the world was about to hurt with it.

Immediately Asian stock markets went into decline. In Tokyo the Nikkei dropped 3%, Hong Kong by 5%, Shanghai by 2.5% and Sydney by 3%. By the end of the trading day Asian shares dropped the most seen in the previous eight months. As the sun set in Asia trading eyes shifted to see how London and New York would respond when they woke to hear the news – and if they could do anything about it.

Despite a world of distance and difference, suddenly we were shown once again that we are all connected, whether we like it or not, whether good for us or not. At time of writing – the first trading day since the announcement – the Abu Dhabi stock exchange has just closed 8% down, suffering its biggest one-day loss in over a year. The sibling Emirate looked to by the global financial community to buffer the impact of Dubai’s crisis through bailouts has taken its own hit.

What is remarkable about this latest global market shock is not just the fact that it has happened, or that it has happened when the world’s markets was just getting ready to start to peel off Band-Aids, but how it has revealed more vividly than previous crises in other markets just how deeply and indivisibly interconnected the world has become. The global economic crisis has X-Rayed the world. The anatomy of our now truly global economy has been exposed.

Some of the first images came through in late 2008. Housing credit in the USA, seemingly a fingertip of the world’s economy, was exposed to be linked to a major artery – Chinese banks. As the housing crisis set in the empty bellies of household Piggy Banks around the globe made it impossible for consumers to purchase basic toys – appliances, electronics – causing the bellies of airplanes and cargo ships to go empty, causing global trade to slow, causing money flows to slow, causing factories to slow, causing employment to slow, causing household spending and savings to slow… By early 2009 banks confronted with slowing inputs slowed outputs, slowing loaning, slowing investment, slowing development, slowing building, slowing openings, slowing opportunity for recovery of capital, slowing everything that could be slowed. And in some cases, stopped.

Soon, like a chronic illness, the crisis worked its way to the heart of the global economy and governments needed to step in and put their major industries on life support to ensure the heart kept beating, pumping blood – economic activity – throughout the body.

Still, looking at the body holistically, even greater than the loss in financial resources has been the loss in one of our world’s most precious natural resources: CONFIDENCE. While money may be the blood of the global body, confidence is the spirit. And it is the spirit which ultimately chooses between life and death.

What has happened to Dubai, a place where reputation and delivery are equity, has been not just a loss in financial worth, but a loss in psychological worth. Loss of face. Loss of hope. Loss of trust. It is the same loss which has happened in so many nations over the past 12 months. And it is painfully sad.

As 2010 nears and cautiously unfolds, CONFIDENCE will become one of the most powerful currencies behind economic recovery. No one has been immune to the impact of the global crisis. Directly and indirectly everyone has lost something of immense worth. The body has experienced shock after shock. Recovery will take time, understanding and careful rebuilding of strength. And it will require empathy and encouragement.

Most of all, it will require fundamental belief in the ability, and right, to heal with dignity and respect.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2009

THE DAY THE CONFERENCE CAME TO TOWN

Over the past year, with the global economic downturn putting significant pressure on the ability for people to travel for both work and play, the global Travel & Tourism industry has seen a severe falling off in critical metrics: arrivals, revenues, investment, trade, employment to name the main.

Travellers needing more and more to get away from the stresses of today have had to turn to their computer screens to enjoy some travel escapism through the ‘I wish‘ travel planning process. Flight search engines, destination websites and other travel pages have increased in their wishful traveller audiences. Sun seekers now turn to sun.coms and sunbeds for maybe-one-day destination planning. And businesspeople now turn away from their corporate travel agents and turn on Skype and other video-conferencing technology to keep connected to key contacts across the country and world.

Business Travel has experienced a particular bruising in 2009. From small to large, businesses across the globe needing to manage costs have, since the beginning of the open usage of the R-word, recession, looked to travel budgets to find trimmable fat. Meetings, conferences, conventions and incentive trips have been cancelled. The entire MICE industry (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) effectively shut down. There was no reason to celebrate, no reason to convene, no budget to incentivise. Banks were collapsing, businesses were closing and headcounts were being cut.

Even more painful, reputations were being ruined. Businesses seen to be conferencing were being openly accused (and often publicly shamed) for irresponsible spending on perks and parties when there were serious issues to deal with at the bottom line. The trips and tee-times and spa treatments had to stop, the politicians declared. Those days were over. Gratitude had to shift from annual get-aways to daily employment.

So even those businesses willing and able to spend on large scale business events were forced to cut back on their plans purely to keep corporate images lean and clean. Hotel rooms, empty. Banquet halls, empty. Conference rooms, empty. Plenary sessions, empty. Breakaway rooms, empty. Business centres, empty. Hopes for a return of bookings, empty.

As a result of the decline in MICE sector business the Tourism economy suffered further losses. Hotel and Conference Centre staff lost jobs in both big convention cities and on small island resorts as bookings were cancelled. Concerns grew as numbers fell. The business of Tourism, a front line business, felt both emotional and financial crisis. Destinations engineered for the MICE sector, the likes of Las Vegas and Dubai, saw black ink turn to red faster than printer ink cartridges could be replaced.

Even to this day, as the economic crisis is slowly and cautiously slipping into ‘recovery’ status in markets around the world, Business Tourism / the MICE sector, remains depressed. Alternatives to business travel have been adopted, especially in terms of e-conferencing and e-meetings. And extras are no longer expected.

There have been, however, significant studies undertaken during the Great Recession of 2008/9 questioning the risks of e-dependent business development. Particularly at the top. Regardless of how advanced our technology has become, the need for 3D grows the higher the importance of the decision becomes. Face-to-face is critical. Especially as global business forces cultures of incredible distance and differences to connect. Intuitively we all know this – there is no replacement for direct contact when the issue at hand is important to us.

The banning of business travel and events in 2009 has forced a rethink of why exactly business travel is needed. Going from 100% to 0% is not an option. There has to be a point of correction, the position on the scale where the right balance is found between investment and return.

Because the fact is this: when people meet, when they talk, when they share ideas, and when they create, opportunities and energy and excitement bubble up. And with all of this creative energy and growing possibility, solutions are found. Solutions which unlock growth, development, economic recovery and black ink.

Business travel has a role to play in economic recovery. A critical role. There is also the very real, very visible and very audible effect of the convergence of groups of people on a destination for a conference, convention, meeting or incentive event. Hotel reception desks become centres of organised chaos as wide-eyed, well uniformed staff are confronted by excited delegates seeking room keys, conference packs, tour information and currency exchange. At times the day the conference came to town can appear as the day the circus came to town. All the activity, all the running around, all that noise.

But all that noise is in fact music. It is the music of people meeting, people working, people moving forward.

As 2010 nears and begins to unfold, the challenge to the MICE / Business Tourism sector is not simply in rebuilding numbers of bookings, jobs and revenues, it is in rebuilding credibility. And the ownership of that challenge is the industry itself.

It is the industry which must step out and up, sharing with the global business community the importance of meetings, conferences and conventions to restimulating thinking, restimulating ideas and restimulating the economy.

The bottom line is this: everyone gets excited when the circus comes to town. It’s not about the clowns. It’s not about the aerial acts. It’s not about all of the theatrics taking place under the big top. It’s about all the possibility that lies within all of that creativity.

We need to get back into the tent. And like meetings, conferences and conventions which used to have golf and spa as treats, at the new circus you need to pay for your own popcorn and candy floss.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2009

TOURISM: A HOTHOUSE FOR GREEN SHOOTS


Green shoots.

These two little words have become a wordwide symbol of hopeful recovery of the global economic crisis which has held markets and minds in a tight grip since the end of 2008. The expression, the image, the sentiment, now appears in news reports and business bulletins across our e-connected world.

The words first entered our vocabulary at the end of Q1/2009 when the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve made reference to the term last heard during Great Britain during the 1991 recession. This time the economic landscape was looking very bleak indeed – the term were a statement of hope, faith, albeit desperate quest. In Q2/2009 it became a question of ‘are we seeing green shoots, yet?’. Now, as Q3 soon comes to a close, the question is: ‘how many are there…and how high will they grow?’

(For a lovely explanation of the term, technically speaking, it is worth investing a moment in watching http://questmeansbusiness.blogs.cnn.com/2009/07/29/jargon-buster-green-shoots/ )

Amongst the general public what green shoots represent as economic indicators has become almost secondary to what they represent as emotional checkpoints. The words ‘green shoots’ have taken on a life of their own. Their presence and rate of growth have become psychological indicators of how quickly and how deeply we can exhale. With the rise in height of green shoots comes the rise in consumer confidence, the rise in spending and, importantly, the rise in the feeling of ‘I made it!‘ And with that, a feeling of deserved reward.

And what better way to celebrate having endured a year of immense pressure that taking a holiday to decompress? Time to dust off the passport!

As Q4 of 2009 unfolds there is strong reason to believe that an end will come to the holding off. Holidays will be rebooked, escapes will be replanned, pampering will be rescheduled. Why? Because the very real feelings of fear and fatigue around job security, investment stability and long-term security which millions of people around the world have experienced, month after month, have taken their toll. People are tired. And now that there is shared, statistical reason to believe a corner being turned, a years+ worth of quietly stored-up fatigue and fear is being released. The tonic of travel is needed.

For this, and many other reasons (including significant funding having been put into Tourism sector stimulus programmes by governments), it is strongly believed that the Travel & Tourism industry will play an important role in driving recovery of nations. As people turn to travel for a much needed rebuilding of strength of body and spirit, the sector will experience some of the first sparks of economic activity and recovery. Sparks which have the power to ignite a powerful flame.

Because the impact of the traveller on a destination is exponential – the sector enjoys the benefits of the multiplier effect. As travellers start dreaming and planning their holidays travel agents will start booking again, airline crews will start flying again, taxi engines will start up revving, restaurants will start cooking again, theater performers will start singing and dancing again, artists will start painting portraits of tourists passing by again, postcards will be popped into mail boxes again, hotel beds will be turned down again, shop doorbells will start ringing again, spa candles will start burning again, tour guides will start sharing stories again, fruit, flower and fresh veggie growers will start growing again, vineyards will start bottling & labelling again, developers will start building again, banks will start loaning again, investors will start believing again… and tired tourists will start smiling again.

As will the people of the destination. Economic, and emotional recovery, is underway.

At a time when the world needs inspiration and participation it is the Travel & Tourism sector which has come to represent a powerful force of change – positive change – which encourages and invites participation of all people of the destination as hosts and as travellers themselves.

September marks WORLD TOURISM MONTH. With the spotlight on the Travel & Tourism sector there could be no better time to use the spotlight to create a hothouse for green shoots!

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2009