Jill Dore, Travel Operations Manager
If you are like hundreds of others around the globe needing your travel fix and feeling stymied by the lack of certainty around an answer as to when that may happen, you are not alone. Those of us in the travel industry are feeling it right along with you. We too wonder when we will be able to travel without restriction – without having to take a test coming from or going to our destination. When will we be able to travel without masks, take trips that allow us to see our families, and to share new experiences with strangers closer than six feet apart? When will we get to participate in the kind of travel that reunites us with our humanity and exposes us to worlds and experiences we never knew existed? When will we be able to get back to the kind of travel that feeds our souls and not our fears?
The answers to these questions are the kind that even Jeff Bezos’ Amazon troops cannot deliver to us (at least not yet). They are challenging, complex, and tied to so many unknown factors that one year later, we are no closer to knowing with any certainty when we will be able to return freely to travel. Frustrating? Certainly.
How did we get here?
A little bit of backstory might be good about now. From the perspective of the travel industry, our quest for answers has led to endless prognosticating on what feels like trying to lasso a constantly moving target. I have an image in my mind of a life-sized game of Whack-a-Mole. You know the arcade game where an engineered mole will pop up through different holes on the game console, and you must whack it on the head to make it go back down into its hole? The strategy for this game is to try to predict, as best you can, where the mole will pop up next, thumping it on the head before it rises fully up, so you can move quickly on to the next spot you think a mole will pop up so you can whack that one, too. Whack all the moles, get the highest score, and you win.
Translating that mind-picture to travel, we have been trying with each new restriction, mandate, and requirement, to strategize the best methodology to keep travel moving (whack!), to align ourselves as a multi-pronged industry in our approach (whack!), and to keep travelers safe, feeling confident, and healthy (whack, whack, whack!). The exasperation has been that in most instances, future business is dictated by past experiences, right? Well…we’ve got nothing to look at that adequately compares to what we have been experiencing these last many months. Nada. Zip. Zilch. There has never, in the history of leisure or business travel, been anything like what has occurred because of the Covid-19 virus.
So, what does this mean?
The way I see it, we are playing a real-life game of whack-a-mole, but with a blindfold on. Truth be told, at the onset of the pandemic many travel industry professionals thought this new virus would impact travel for a few months…maybe 6-9 at most. And mostly we were prepared to work through what that would entail. Seasoned travel advisors, who had been through several other cataclysmic travel events pondered, “How different could this one be?” (Refer to the above sentiment that future business is predicated on past experiences). The answer we all soon discovered is, well, VERY. The experience would be VERY different. The depth and breadth and the degree of impact continues to be compounded by the reality of watching death rates and new case numbers tick up and travel restrictions lock down.
We did get a breath of hope in the form new vaccines, only to be overshadowed by news of new virus strains. We have mindfully watched as country after country shut down its borders, as governments mandated stay-at-home-orders and extended quarantines. We have watched as reputable hotels closed or merged with others to survive, and as airlines have struggled to keep flights moving. Like a Tsunami that keeps coming wave after wave, we have watched this same story repeat month after month with no reliable end in sight. The dawn of comprehension for what history will record as the impact Covid-19 has had on the travel industry continues to reveal itself today.
What happens now?
Of course, that is not the kind of fairytale ending the travel industry wants to imbue, and we have never been an industry to back down from a challenge (adaptability and flexibility are in our DNA). As we have watched, we have learned. We have recreated, innovated, collaborated, and supported each other. We have analyzed the changes needed to keep travel open and have strategized for success in a million different ways. Solutions have morphed and changed almost in tandem with the virus over the course of 2020 and into 2021. Although the complete answers continue to elude us, we have seen amazing strides both within and outside of our industry that will likely change the way we travel forever, making it better for everyone it touches.
This dawn of realization has shifted the questions being asked within our industry and worldwide. We are no longer asking if or when we will return to travel, because we know it is impossible for us to not return. Travel is intrinsically embedded into the fabric of our lives. It is part of the equation of the human spirit. The new pioneering questions we are examining are how will we return to travel, what will that look like, and where can we change the experience, so it provides the most common good along the entire travel experience spectrum (meaning everyone it touches from traveler to vendor and everyone in between)?
Marinated in a year of turmoil, refashioned, and guided by a consistent need for flexibility and innovation in our approach, both with our client and our vendor relationships, and encouraged by a renewed understanding of the impact travel has worldwide both from a fiscal and environmental perspective, I suspect that as the travel restrictions relax and the pent-up demand rushes forward, we will see the travel experience in a whole new way. And I, for one, cannot wait!