Travel’s recovery from this pandemic is a highly complex formula of science, time and money.
The science of the virus dictates the narrative, dear readers. If we don’t honor the science, we’re hurting everyone… including ourselves. How the coronavirus infects people, how we prevent COVID-19 from spreading, and how we treat those who get ill are immutable science – though we have so much more to learn to really get this scourge under control.
Then there’s time. How quickly we get people traveling safely again is critical to saving companies, business owners, and employees who only have so much cash flow left.
Which leads us to money. We need it to feed ourselves, pay our mortgages and rent, to keep our companies afloat. Getting travel going again will feed starving tour guides, put income back in the pockets of cab drivers and bartenders, help museum docents and flight attendants pay their bills.
Damn I’m Tired
Sometimes, it can be wearying watching COVID ravage our beloved travel industry. I think my exhaustion stems from the fact that, while I may have control over MY actions, I have no control over the behavior of others.
My three adult children and I are being very strict about mask wearing, hand sanitizing, physical distancing, etc. For the first four months of this pandemic, I saw no one outside of my son, who is living with me fulltime. He and I did pretty much nothing but work and go to the grocery store, with social distanced walks in our neighborhood.
But I cannot say the same thing for many people I know. Some are openly flouting mask rules and constantly arguing about the efficacy of masks on social media. Others could care less about the science. They want to throw the doors of this pandemic wide open, let people do whatever they like, and let the deaths fall where they may.
For Everyone’s Sake, Wear the Mask
I recently posted on my Facebook newsfeed an article about how coronavirus is starting to fill up the hospitals in El Paso, Texas. The responses that came in from my Facebook friends helped me realize that the solution for this whole damn virus boils down to two words – personal responsibility.
What we do to respect the science behind the virus and do our personal best to halt this destruction, is not only the right thing to do for our fellow global citizens, but the sooner we get this thing under control, the more confident people will be about traveling, and the safer traveling will be. That means:
- Wear the mask – correctly
- Keep a safe distance [most experts recommend six feet] from others when you are in public spaces
- Don’t congregate in large numbers indoors
- Follow the travel guidelines of the nations and states you’re visiting
- And wash/sanitize your hands regularly.
When I posted the El Paso news article last month, my friend Catherine, an American who lives several hours south of Cancun, Mexico, said the number of tourists choosing not to wear masks in Mexico scares her. “The disregard for Mexican lives is appalling. The economy needs tourism, but the tourists need to respect the people welcoming them,” she wrote.
This is where the discussion can get contentious. Like I wrote above, there are families starving because their only means of an income is tourism, and “pivoting” is not easy or even possible where they live. But local exposure to the virus from non-essential activities like vacations can place an undue burden on countries with less means to combat the virus.
My friend Tonya talked about how she recently spoke to a travel agent who said she refused to wear a mask while in Mexico recently. “I reminded her that Mexico has requested everyone wear a mask,” Tonya commented on my post. “She replied that she went there specifically because a PCR Test is not required, and she would have refused if the [hotel] staff asked her to wear a mask, because of her rights.”
Selfishness is Destroying Us
What my friends point out is that, if people would just act out of a sense of personal responsibility, these contentious discussions wouldn’t need to be had in the first place.
In mid-September, Iceland’s infection rate per 100,000 people spiked from 7.3 to 89.7 in 10 days, after two – YES, JUST TWO – French tourists violated Iceland’s traveler quarantine rules. The result was at least 100 positive cases found in people who had visited two Reykjavik bars.
Iceland had been very successful in reopening to tourists for most of the spring and summer by deploying a strict testing and quarantine regime. Inbound travelers can leave quarantine after five days if they test negative twice after arrival, or 14 days if they do not wish to be screened. Tourists also have to pre-register and provide contact details for tracing in case they test positive while in Iceland.
While the Icelandic government wasn’t providing details about how the French tourists infected the bar patrons, Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, Thorolfur Gudnason, told the media, “I have information that it was difficult to get them to follow the instructions.”
As a result of the spike, bars and restaurants had to shut down temporarily, causing the owners of those establishments and their employees to lose income. Meanwhile, the U.K. put Iceland on its quarantine list, effectively shutting down inbound tourism from U.K. residents.
All because of TWO tourists who chose not to act responsibly.
I’ve had dozens of conversations with travel advisors the last few months about the issue of personal responsibility when traveling. Most of my travel advisor friends appear to be setting a great example for others. But that’s not what I hear from other travel and tourism friends.
On my El Paso post, my friend Tonya wondered about her travel agent friend’s reluctance to wear a mask: “If she’s saying that to me, I feel confident in saying that she’s telling her selfish clients to follow suit,” Tonya wrote to me.
I wonder too, Tonya. I wonder whether tourism professionals are some of the industry’s worst enemies, because they are still contesting the basics about COVID-19, and NOT reminding their clients that they need to act responsibly.
Telling a client how to act while on vacation is not an easy discussion to have. In fact, I’m guessing it can be extremely awkward. In some cases, with clients who have strong anti-mask opinions, it might even cost an advisor their relationship with that client.
But for you and me, travel industry members, I cannot think of a single issue we have more control over than our behavior. If we are truly “In this Together,” and we are going to get this industry back on its feet, we need to have those difficult conversations AND set a great example when we are traveling.
So, be honest with yourself. What kind of example are you setting?
Richard D’Ambrosio is a master storyteller who, for more than 30 years, has helped leading brands like American Express, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the Family Travel Association (FTA), and Thomas Cook Travel tell their stories to their customers, the media, and employees. A professional business coach and content marketing consultant with his own firm, Travel Business Mastermind, Richard most recently has worked with The Travel Institute, Flight Centre USA and a variety of host agencies and tour companies, helping entrepreneurs refine their brands and sharpen their sales and marketing skills. Richard writes regularly about retail travel agencies, social media & marketing, and business management.