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