Setting a new course: invent tomorrow by learning from today

Sean Worker Sean Worker Uploaded




In the latest of a series of articles, Sean Worker of T5 Strategies looks at ways travel and hospitality businesses can respond and adapt to the new global reality.

Most of us are anxious to find our “yesterday”, to return to the time before all this Covid stuff happened. We spend time longingly recalling the non-socially distanced café life in France and Spain, pub life in England and Ireland – with no time limits on how long you can occupy your dinner table - making travel plans that don’t include green lists that you may not be on, or regulated quarantines that pretty much scrap those plans before they are even made.

We yearn to plan without worry for the kids’ return to school, or attending a conference where networking doesn’t mean a breakout room off of Zoom, or simply gathering in person with family and friends with everyone healthy and safe. In the words of Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones) “Oh, a storm is threat'ning my very life today. If I don't get some shelter, Oh, yeah, I'm gonna fade away.” Many feel like they are just fading away. Can’t we just get back to normal?

T5’s articles have now long questioned and discussed the “return to a New Normal.” It is human instinct to seek a return to where we were before, what we knew and what we were comfortable with. It’s preprogrammed into Google Maps as “Home” for goodness sake. Hopefully, in time, with more effective therapeutics and vaccines that have proven their worth, much of that previous life can be restored, but until then, in the midst of our search for yesterday, our T5 team have encouraged embracing a New Reality, instead of the “New Normal,” utilising a definitive response to the situation, rather than a reaction. This takes time, of course, and a patience that has been spread pretty thin of late.

We do want to go back, but ironically, after surviving upheaval, if we simply paddle in the direction of where we were (normal), we would not have the creations that came from that turmoil; things like the wheel, clean running water, air travel, phones, iPhone, spas, spam, TikTok, Zoom and all-you-can-eat casino buffets and bottomless cups of coffee. The upside of turbulence and calamity is that humans have continually created a new reality as they emerge from a societal storm. Learning from, and working with today, we discover our tomorrow.

The travel and hospitality industry is now facing possibly its greatest upheaval ever. The basic premise across the span of time was that accommodations or means of travel, be it the cave, hut, stable, bothy, tavern, tent, hostel, hotel, serviced apartment or glamping site, or the plane, cruise ship, car, or bus were safe, secure and often times a refuge – even if temporary – and even during the ugliest moments of our history. Come what may, we provided shelter – and a way to get there.

Hospitality people dreamt up how to offer a place of shelter, food, drink and remote working from Starbucks. We travel and hospitality lot have offered some of the most essential needs of humanity ever since we ventured forth from that cave.

I give it to Mick J - he is speaking to all of us in travel and hospitality. This may well feel like a flood. Overwhelming. And sadly, the storm is still raging. But in every storm, there is a lull before the next blustery blast. Even when a ship at sea is battered, the captain takes advantage of the lull when the skies clear - however briefly - to assess how far the ship was blown off course, determining current latitude and longitude and thus setting a new course (strategy).
This is our lull.

We know a lot more today than we did five months ago. We know how destructive C-19 has been and in many parts of the world, continues to be. But now is the time to set a new heading, to devise a new strategy. This COVID tsunami has shone the spotlight on both the strengths and the weaknesses of our aligned industries, and even of our very societies. What we crave as humans is firstly that basic shelter from the storm. then, to return to that old normal with travel, shelter, beer, wine, meetings and Zoom. But shelter is now not necessarily perceived as safe. Every gathering place is eyed with suspicion, possibly branded as a threat. We have travelled to France and Ireland recently and experienced the full spectrum of C-19 procedures and protocols. We must compliment both Barcelona and Dublin airports for demonstrating consistency and instilling confidence as they shepherded their passengers along. Vueling airlines certainly adapted as they politely enforced mask, distancing and hygiene standards despite grumblings from some passengers. I wish we could say the same for many of the other public spaces that we visited along our journey to a secure night’s sleep. Overcoming that visceral reaction in the new reality will take time, effort, and a lot of course correcting. That’s why we cannot afford to waste any momentary calm within the storm. We need to get charting and set that new strategic course.

Our lineage calls us to create a new reality and adapt to it, as the generations before us have. It is already happening. We are all doing this in our own way with inspiring articles and webinars, with “tips” and “steps” and ways to simplify processes to improve where we are. We continue to crowd source ideas by joining webinars, Zoom/Teams/BlueJeans sessions. Work is changing and it is unknown if working from home (WFH) is a fad or a fixture.

We are trying to assess the C-19 damage and set a new course by connecting with others – asking the community - but the proliferation of webinars has moved from interesting to a veritable paralysing deluge. So much choice, so little time, even with no commutes. Ironic, right?

T5 TIPS
• Learning sessions - Pick and choose the learning sessions that fit for you. Just when it seemed that time had come to a standstill, once again it has become an often scarce and valuable commodity. Source balance. Rohit Talwar @fastfutures recently presented a meaningful way to think about issues facing the space.
• Fads – Everyone has ideas and you must choose ones that are practical for your business and that match with your core values and mission, as well as your new course - which must translate into a sustainable strategy. Think it through before you head off in that new direction. Is it really taking you where you want or need to go?
• Experts – Communication technology has exploded, and so many “experts” have appeared. Be discerning. Choose the shows that are offering valuable content and network opportunities to inform and enable your strategy.
• Trusted Trend Data – Business data is questionable at best. Economists are barely able to calculate unemployment rates let alone travel trends. RentalsUnited publishes regular trend data based on usage trends for the alternative accommodation category while BVA-BDRC, AirDNA and STR are producing market occupancy trending from key markets. This will assist in informing our new reality.

The short-term trends speak to:
• Clean – Prove it and speak directly to your customers’ worries
• Remote – Far away is better (Glamping, rental homes, rental boats) - Urban needs to compete in a new way to secure trust
• Contained – Serviced apartments and vacation rentals are being perceived as safe - interestingly enough – “No service, please, until we leave”
• Food – Delivery, please, and make sure it is great, hot and fast
• Price – Fair and no gouging
• Meetings/concerts/gatherings – Not right now. We need to meet but it must be safe. This category may well face the greatest degree of change and Innovation. Embrace digital - convert those ballrooms to walls of screens, or micro marketplaces. This is a real opportunity for meeting spaces to actually add capacity by blending in-person and digital.

Trust Marketing -T5 Strategies noted months ago that trust is the new currency. The travel value chain has never been as interdependent. We are challenging the leaders of each vertical (ride sharing, train operators, airports, airlines, rental car operators) in travel to find a way to communicate laterally. Covid 19 does not care about verticals. It attaches to the traveller. If the Uber taxi is not “safe” or the driver is not C-19 free, then the traveller may become the “carrier” that infects the airline ticket agent, the passengers around seat B29 and the hotel staff. Travellers and employees need to feel safe and know that you, the owner, are doing everything possible to make it so.

Associations and trade organisations - Create a new paradigm to represent their members and influence and connect with other associations of the travel value chain. Is the AHLA (American Hotel Lodging Association) working with their counter parts in other countries? Should the Airline Pilots Association reach out to AHLA to share best practices?

National tourism authorities – Typically the associations only market their country – the previous normal. The new reality is that they need to work with their target countries’ tourism officials to ensure that the air corridor bubble is as safe as possible as they hand off a traveller from one to each other.

Brands and operators marketing - Fear has gripped the traveler and each country is actively encouraging staycations. Many airlines ignited up to 50 per cent of their capacity starting in July contradicting the staycation marketing hope. Stop – the rules changed again! Countries such as the UK changed the quarantine rules literally mid-air while imposing a 14-day quarantine for those returning from Spain, for example. Europe is united in at least one thing; fear of Americans as if they have some other version of the new plague. We believe this regional exclusion will continue for quite a while as each tribe tries to protect itself. How will you market your property differently to get a share of your domestic and erratic international market? This new reality calls for a new way to connect with your target audience. The airbrushed couple staring off into the distance from an infinity pool is gone (we hope!). Trust, clean, safe with a fun twist is the new peace of mind. We all know the C-19 story by now, so tell your destination’s story in a new way. Your marketing message is all about demonstration. Testimonials matter even more. Take the time to reward by writing a review on TripAdvisor (and other recommendation sites) as a guest and respond as an operator. If your agency does not know how to communicate your business USP in 30 seconds or less digitally across targeted platforms, time to find one that does.

Customer experience - As the new reality reveals itself over the next few months, the customer will develop new baseline expectations. The travel journey from curb side to hotel/apartment or other type of accommodation, must be Trusted. Ratings will reflect this. Third party authentic validations will be more important than ever. Reach out to JD Powers, ASAP (Association of Serviced Apartment Providers) and other third-party trusted organisations. Booking.com added several weeks back a “cleanliness score” to their products. Take note!

Friendly is good, but a video detailing how you have adapted your business to fit the new reality of trust is much better. Tell the story your way. In most categories, flashy amenities won’t be as valued. Basic services will usually suffice, until we see amenity creep again. Valet parking or self-parking – which one will your customer trust?

Today is certainly influenced by what happened yesterday, but it is really the platform from where – and how - we create the new morrow. Our planet has never faced a global event of this kind, therefore there will be no new normal, simply a new reality that we will build, inventing tomorrow by learning from today, as we always have!

As Mick said, “It’s just a kiss away, it is just a kiss away, gimme shelter” - with a mask, that is.

Contact Sean at sean@t5stratgeies.com or LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube with success stories

T5 Strategies is a leading advisory firm to the travel and hospitality category, providing guidance to make sense of the present to optimise the future. Additionally, T5 advises firms through difficult situations including change management, administration and restructuring.

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