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COVID-19: A time to reveal our true character and resolve

by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold on 13.03.2020

When we were thinking about the biggest global trends impacting people’s travel behaviour earlier this year, we could not predict that we would find ourselves in a global travel-shut-down three months into this new decade.

We knew that with economic pressures, political and social upheavels and a growing awareness of our contribution to climate change, the industry would face significant shifts. As travellers look for slower, more meaningful and deliberate ways to explore, we were expecting to see an uptake in people swapping over-crowded, mainstream destinations for more unique and unknown places.

Like many, we predicted that people would continue to travel in the new decade and that we can expect tourism to continue growing, albeit at a slower pace and with dramatic changes to how, when and where we travel to.

Fast forward to 13 March 2020 and the world’s most crowded destinations are deserted as governments ground planes, shut borders and scramble to deal with the biggest impact on our world in recent history – COVID-19.

I was ready to publish a piece on influencer marketing, but I guess that can wait. It can wait along with the international trips I planned, the campaigns I’ve been working on, the events I had to attend and the projects I desperately need to keep my business afloat.

A lot has been written about COVID-19 and the importance of flattening the curve with great tips shared on how to protect yourself and what to do when you think you are infected. Social media is awash with horror stories, fake news, bad news, hopeful accounts of recovery, humour in the face of panic and trolls who still think its better to build walls than to build bridges and show a little humanity and kindness. A crisis always reveals our true character.  That is what I want to write about.

A crisis always reveals our true character

We should think about the impact our actions have on others. You might be young and healthy, eager to travel and exploit the many flight specials on offer or like many you are blasé about the seriousness of COVID19. Others are not as privileged as you are and your ignorance and selfishness can fuel the spread of the virus and help to prolong its impact.

Now is the time to be responsible and to think very carefully about the impact of our actions, our words and yes, our utterances on social media. Now is the time to show kindness, courage and strength of character. Now is the time to support those who are not as strong or capable and cannot see a way through the current crisis. 

I have always been an optimist and an advocate for travel. Travel is a vehicle of peace and an engine of economic growth. It challenges perceptions, enlarges our world, expands our knowledge and understanding and brings the world closer together. It uplifts the poor and it is an easy entrance into the job market and formal economy, providing entrepreneurs and small businesses with an opportunity to compete for market share. It is the livelihood of millions with a value chain that extends much further than the hotel or visitor attraction. Without travel and tourism to sustain us, many people loose their ability to survive.

COVID-19 has put the spotlight firmly on the travel and tourism sector, highlighting just how significant its contribution is to the global economy, but also to greater tolerance and opportunity for some of the most vulnerable in society. For many, travel is a basic human right and to take that away is losing a part of your identity and your freedom.

One of the things I love most about working in travel is my global network of friends, who are like family. Our lives and careers have all been profoundly impacted within a matter of weeks. Whilst most of us will be severely inconvenienced and financially struggle over the months to come, many more will see their businesses fail and their livelihood lost. The economic impact of COVID-19 will be far reaching.

On a personal level

I am best known as a tourism strategist and an optimist, but I’m also a person living with a chronic disease and that has made me more sensitive and aware of the thousands of people who are compromised and at risk, not just because they are ill, but because they don’t have access to the care, support or nutrition I have.

A few days ago I shared some thoughts on staying healthy, beyond hand washing.

Living with Polycystic Kidney Disease means I can only manage two things - my blood pressure and keeping infection at bay as far as possible.

I’ve learnt the importance of a healthy immune system, good sanitation, especially when I travel, regular exercise and an antioxidant-rich diet packed with plants and whole foods. I take extra omega, zinc and magnesium on a daily basis. Getting sick is very risky for my fragile kidneys.

Whilst I know ginger, beetroot and carrot juices are no cure and that millions can’t afford or don’t have access to the kind of diet and supplements that are required to maintain a healthy immune system, those of us who can should ensure our immune systems are as healthy as possible.

Fresh fruit, vegetables and many whole foods cost a lot less than processed, sugar and salt-laden junk, so money shouldn’t be an excuse for not eating a little healthier!

It’s worked for me. I’ve not had a cold or the flu in two years and although there is no guarantee, I hope it will help me stay as healthy as possible and out of hospital during the months to come.

My healthy lifestyle won’t stop the negative impact of COVID19, neither can I predict just how big the impact will be on our lives, but I can take responsibility for my family and me and hopefully lesson the strain on our fragile health system.

It is important to adhere to advice from the health authorities and travel advisories. Keep international travel to the essential minimum or better yet, stay put. Practice good sanitation. If you can afford it, boost your immune system with a healthy diet, exercise and get enough sleep. Most importantly, be kind and considerate. Don’t mock people who are panicking or stocking up on extra food and essentials. You don’t know their reality.

Resilience in times of crisis

The travel industry has proven itself to be resilient, recovering valiantly from many global challenges and disasters over the past decades, showing continued growth despite adversaries faced.
I know we will overcome this crisis. How we behave now and the choices we make can have an impact on how long the crisis lasts and how many people are affected.

It is time to adapt or our businesses will die and our industry will suffer for far longer than what it takes to get the pandemic under control. Rather than postponing or cancelling meetings at the last minute, opt and plan proactively for virtual meetings, check on each other, support small businesses and put together an army of solution finders that can get working on business resilience strategies and plans.

We can get sucked into the depth of doom or we can rise to the challenge and ride out this storm. I am ready and look forward to working with my global travel family and clients to find solutions that will not only build resilience, but will shape a whole new chapter in the travel and tourism sector.

I would love to hear your feedback, so get in touch and let us know what your survival strategies are and whether you need support in dealing with the impact of COVID-19. My diary is really flexible all of a sudden!

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