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Resilience in the post-Covid tourism world

Last night I sat down to listen to an interview with a psychologist called Dr Joan Rosenberg. It had nothing to do with tourism, my interest in the subject, or my current drive to provide proactive resources for hotel and hostel owners during this challenging time. It was a discussion about the power of moving through uncomfortable emotions that can surface through meditation. I had no idea the word “resilience” would come up again and again.

The commonality between dealing with emotions that we don’t want to feel, and the situation that small business owners find themselves in today was astounding. I had not expected my brain to jump back into work mode and begin to write a blog post aimed at the very industry I am currently endeavouring to help.

Dr Rosenberg explained that there are eight everyday unpleasant feelings that we all face: sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration and vulnerability.

The confidence we have and feel is generated by our willingness to accept that these eight unpleasant feelings come and go throughout our lives in varying degrees of intensity.

Right now we are feeling vulnerable. We have never stood in a world shaken by a global pandemic that has closed borders, grounded flights and abruptly brought travel to a halt. Everyone is, without a doubt to some extent, experiencing this emotion.

Standing firm, embracing the vulnerability and knowing that we will get through it and that "this too will pass" is, by default, resilience thinking. The dictionary definition is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. Once again, that is right where we are, right now.

It is proven that resilience makes us happier in the long run because it is so closely tied to confidence. Building resilience also depends on being able to ask for help. Resilience allows us to lean on others without guilt, form communities without ulterior motives, and stay connected to share positivity. Actively engaging in this way automatically puts us into resilience mode. And that ability to think outside the box, despite the unpleasant vulnerability we feel, is what is going to see you and your business come out the other side stronger and more focussed than before.

All independent hotel, hostel, b&b, restaurant owners and managers are feeling that vulnerability like a tidal wave right now. You are trying to take tough decisions on your own, without the support of a management team or the budget of a multi-national. You know the names of the kids of the staff you don’t know if you can continue to pay. You are losing sleep at night. I get it. It was just me at my backpackers’ hostel in southern Chile, struggling to stay afloat after the 8.8 earthquake halted reservations overnight. Then later, after I moved into tourism consulting, it was just me trying to balance the books and budgets for small hotels and hostels after the volcano in our village erupted, once again generating cancellations and a dry period. At that time I was also studying a Masters in Responsible Tourism. Resilience came up, but I didn’t figure it would ever matter as much as it does today.

A move to the Austrian countryside in 2019 after two decades in Chile took me away from the day to day tourism stuff. I continue to consult, and that gives me the perspective to observe from the outside pulling on the experience I have from the inside. My jack-in-a-box 3- and 5-year-old kids don’t want to give me the time, but I am in.

I set up a Facebook group just a few days after Covid-19 grounded the world’s airplanes. It is a place to share ideas and generate positivity. At the beginning it didn’t move as fast as I wanted it to, but I got some great feedback on the content of my posts, so I decided to take it to another level and create some resources that would address the questions and concerns of those trying to make sense of the impact the virus has had, and will continue to have, on their destinations, their communities and their businesses. New people join the group every day, and are finding motivation there. I am now working on new resources and online courses that focus on pivoting both mindset and marketing to help stand out from the crowd.

I won’t discuss the severity of the situation. We see it every day on the news. I don’t need to repeat it. My intention is to focus on resilience thinking. Flexing the muscle of that resilience attitude is the only way to move forward. It might seem a little abstract, but asking “How can I use this experience to bring out the best in me and my choices?” is, in my opinion, the only way to start. We have to think, speak and take action in the direction we want to go, and that direction is survival and sustainable growth.

The work you do now to pivot towards the national market, is not only necessary, but also a long term investment in your business. Tourists from within your region or country often become your most valuable repeat customers and the best ambassadors for your property. There is also an intrinsic commitment, on the part of the national tourist and the local provider, to keep their own backyard so to say, cleaner, happier and more friendly. That in turn will create more resilient destinations. How to keep those destinations resilient when more and more travellers want to visit is the topic of another blog.

Also, once borders reopen and the world can travel freely again, all data suggests that people will be much more careful about what they spend their money on. To me, that means they will look for value for money, but not necessarily the cheapest option available. I tried to implement many of the sustainable practices I learnt in my Responsible Tourism masters into the reality of running a hotel and a hostel. Some flew and some fell flat, but what endured were the smallest actions and efforts. They matter to guests if they are well communicated and implemented with dignity and integrity. I don't really believe that Covid-19 will drastically increase the number of travellers who have traditionally sought a more sustainable product. I believe the change will take place in the hotel owner's head, or the tour operator's head, as we begin to think outside the box for ways to reinvent ourselves and our businesses in a bid to gain a competitive advantage. However, I believe that truly successful sustainable practices should not be implemented with financial benefit alone in mind.

Much as I would have preferred Covid-19 not to have rocked our world the way it has, I believe it has provided an opportunity, as well as a responsibility, for all of us to make changes, however small, to our thought processes and to our businesses that are kinder to our local environments and our local communities than before. So, for now, I leave you with the wisdom of Dr Rosenberg. Stand tall in the face of the eight unpleasant emotions, let them rise and fall. Confidence will result, vulnerability will reduce, and resilience thinking will prevail.

Post a comment below to tell me what you are working on right now to increase your personal and business resilience. I personally read them all and will reply.

Also, be the first to know when new resources and courses are published, give my Facebook page a like here, and to get in on the discussion, reach out for advice and to find support from other owners and managers, join my Building Tourism Resilience Facebook group here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this blog! Scroll right down to the bottom and leave a comment.

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