noun: trauma; plural noun: traumata; plural noun: traumas
- a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
- emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis.
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