The world finds itself facing uncharted territory with the events of the last few weeks, escalating by the hour. While the numbers of people infected with the coronavirus in the U.S. alone may seem small, the rapid pace of new cases and infections (that we know of) are doubling and tripling.
With government officials enforcing new travel restrictions; state and local jurisdictions declaring states of emergency; and large groups canceling conventions, sporting events, concerts, and festivals, these extreme actions cannot to be taken lightly. And, for the tourism industry, this is an economic blow to airlines, hotels, attractions, restaurants, travel agencies, tour operators, and other small businesses.
The onset of cancelations of group and individual travel, and the accompanying uncertainty, can create an anxiety-provoking and stress-inducing panic. However, there are ways to reduce these feelings and manage everything. Now is the time to take a step back and understand how you and your team can find balance in difficult times and circumstances.
At the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018, I was working with a tourism organization in the Santa Barbara region. That winter, our region experienced the second-largest fire in California, which raged for five weeks through Christmas and into January. A week after New Year’s, a precipitous storm came through and devastated a small town just outside Santa Barbara, bringing flash floods and mudflows that took lives, damaged buildings and homes, and closed the main highway for weeks. This was a twin tragedy and a crisis of epic proportions like nothing the community had experienced before—especially for the tourism and hospitality industry.
While that tragedy is smaller in size than the current global pandemic and accompanying economic disruption, those of us involved learned a lot and adopted new mindsets to transition though the aftermath. Here are a few of those lessons:
- Remain adaptable and flexible. Your organization should follow a crisis or emergency operations plan, but remember that these are templates and that each situation presents different problems. I cannot overstate the importance of being flexible and adapting as you go. For example, some companies may look down on working remotely; however, in the case of this coronavirus, you are seeing people’s need to be free of crowds and enclosed spaces. Working remotely is the solution even if your company has not formally adopted this procedure.
- Communicate with your employees, clients, and other colleagues. Crisis situations help us to realize what is important. Ask people who have been through a tragedy, and many will tell you the most valuable thing that got them through were human connections and meaningful relationships with people who cared. If you are a manager or executive, make it a priority to communicate and check in with your employees. Hold briefings on action plans for navigating through these times. Touch base with your work colleagues and with friends in your neighborhood. Make sure you connect and communicate important information—and messages of concern—to your clients. Relationship-based clientele often can carry your business through a downturn. A personalized connection can make all the difference when negotiating a tough cancellation.
- Get creative. I just heard of third-party event planner working with a client who had already paid for an off-site catered event in Nashville but needed to cancel due to coronavirus concerns. The planner quickly worked with her client to donate the catered meal to the local Red Cross, which is currently handling the recent tornado disaster. What a creative, proactive, and brilliant way to repurpose money and food already prepped in a way that is meaningful and supports the local community.
- Be kind. Tensions run high during a crisis, and everyone runs on adrenaline and gets little sleep. Remember that a little kindness—a smile or a simple gesture like opening a door for someone—can shift a negative mood into a more positive one.
- Practice self-care. I’ve saved this tip for last, as I’ve personally found that individuals who carve out five to 10 minutes a meditation, take daily walks, or practice other form of self-care fare better through times of crisis. Healthy eating and getting proper amounts of sleep help boost both mood and the immune system. Practice good hygiene and encourage others to do the same.
Utilizing these tips can help you and those around you navigate difficult times and come back stronger and more prepared for the future.
Michelle Carlen is the founder and president of Alignment Advising, a business and professional development consulting practice with expertise in the tourism industry that focuses on strategic planning, organizational development and marketing and sales management.
For more travel industry resources on COVID-19 click here.
Top photo ©Gajus/Adobe Stock