The sooner we carefully, consistently and compassionately follow the guidelines, the sooner we will get back to doing what we love, says Trafalgar and Costsaver chief executive Gavin Tollman
I’m certain I’m not the only one…
Month after month, 2020 has been a reminder of the travel lives we all used to live. At this time in 2019, 2018, 2017, in fact every year at this time, I would usually be away on my annual trip around the Trafalgar world. I’d be visiting numerous cities on five or six continents, conducting countless meetings and taking part in extensive new travel season launch media interviews.
Come early November, I would be making my way back home to Geneva to rest my passport and reflect on the wonderful people and places I’d connected to on my travels.
This year has been a year of reminders: colleagues, social media, artificial intelligence – all reminding us of what life looked like only just a year ago. And now with daylight savings having ended in Europe, we sadly appear to be resetting our Covid-19 clocks too, with European leaders confronting a vast second-wave of coronavirus infections, which are sadly rapidly filling hospital beds and again driving up death tolls.
To some extent, Europe’s setback is hardly a surprise. In the spring, most European countries lifted their lockdowns abruptly, without consideration for the lessons learned and thereby sowing complacency among people, who without thought, stopped listening, stopped begin vigilant and rather quickly returned to their previous normal lives.
Public health experts have long warned that the virus could roar back when the days grew colder, driving people indoors where the risk of transmission is far greater. This warning is now, rather inevitably, coming to fruition.
Fatigue and frustration
Seven months later, the sense of collective fatigue and frustration is palpable. And yet sadly here we are again, witnessing country after country declaring official entry into the second wave of Covid-19. New surges of the virus, new lockdowns, and more deaths.
As we enter into November, a month in which many traditionally stop to give thanks, and with so little time remaining of this year, naturally this period marks a time of reflection. As I look back at the 10 months of this year, including my own Covid-19 journey, it’s the enormity of the uncertainty and the ever-present ups and downs that are most prevalent.
As much as the calendar year and new decade began in January, the story of 2020 began in March, a month that was as jarring as it was surreal. The speed of change, the loss of the known, the drama of the headlines, were at first novelty. But then quickly, we learnt to adapt to a new world – a fearful world. We found a new pace of work, WFH equated to days and nights blending into one. A mix of awe and anxiety around the unknown as the scale of Covid-19’s impact became clear.
April came and with it a month dominated by witnessing the power of the virus itself as it covered the world, causing absolute havoc medically, socially and of course economically. As someone who experienced Covid-19 first-hand, I can say with absolute authority that there is no ‘getting through it’ from either a personal or business perspective.
“As someone who experienced Covid-19 first-hand, I can say with absolute authority that there is no ‘getting through it’ from either a personal or business perspective.”
Existing with the virus, applying every ounce of energy towards getting through one day after the other, resulted in the uncertainty of too frequent visits to HUG (Geneva University) hospital. All this in tandem to developing bold, brave business strategies for the unknown. One common theme ran throughout – do everything in our power to focus on and manage what we could control…not that which is outside of our control.
Inspired by medicine
My inspiration, however, was this – seeing how the medical world adapted and evolved in both my care and their approach. Never before has the world’s medical community heeded the call of duty with such massive scale, speed or commitment. Everyone everywhere across the globe was at risk, and everywhere every medical professional and essential worker who could step forward did, and tirelessly.
The warmth of summer months arrived with optimism. It was then that the “new normal”, or rather the “next normal”, began. I was relieved when we could get back into the office, re-engaging with colleagues and the wider industry, feeling how positive it all was even with strict adherence to protocols.
However, the delayed financial fragility of many businesses and the economic impact on our global industry being grounded for months upon months, soon came to the forefront. At the peak of the pandemic the UNWTO reported that 100% of destinations worldwide had border restrictions. International travel was down an astounding 95%.
Those figures represent a lot of suffering. As regulations slowly, slowly eased, the travel and hospitality industry were on the frontline of the strictest restrictions. With no travel there is no travel industry. With no travel industry, there are no tourism economy supply and service chains.
The WTTC estimates that one million travel & tourism jobs have been lost every day as a result of borders and skies rapidly closing across the globe. Statistics are statistics, easily glossed over, however we must never forget that they represent lives and livelihoods: lost jobs of people whom I’d worked with directly and indirectly, businesses owners forced out, iconic brands shuttering their doors.
As of September 2020, more than 121 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector had been impacted worldwide, creating the worst economic and social crisis our generation, and our industry, has ever seen. Not to mention the mental health crisis that rapidly emerged as a result of our global community facing devastating losses of loved ones, livelihoods, lifestyles – the foundations of wellbeing.
Guards let down
Now with the temperatures falling, the autumn leaves changing colour and the colder weather moving us closer to wintertime, I cannot deny that this second wave infuriates me. Why? Because for months it was clear that the pandemic was still dangerous, and that respect for protocols by everyone – individuals, families, colleagues, all of us – was critical if Covid-19 was to be lived with.
Yet over the summer we could see people letting down their guard, gathering in numbers far larger and far closer than guidelines permitted, getting bored with waiting for the virus to be “over”. Last month I made vividly clear my point of view on failures of nations worldwide, leaders and citizens alike, in doing what was necessary to ensure Covid-19 did not cause further damage to our global economy and community.
“I cannot deny that this second wave infuriates me. Why? Because for months it was clear that the pandemic was still dangerous.”
To experience the trauma of 2020, to watch these months pass without taking away lessons, would be a profound waste. As I consider all that has occurred due to the spread of the pandemic, and all that has not occurred due to our plans of global travel being abruptly stopped, I cannot help but feel the deep loss of the gift that travel has brought to my life, year after year, country after country, human connection after human connection. How deeply I miss it.
For me, travel is essential to my being, and to my wellbeing. Just like oxygen, water and food, travel feeds me with energy, optimism, education, discovery, creativity, and most importantly, gratitude.
I think back to when I was the age of twelve, the first time that I travelled overseas from my country of birth, South Africa. It was transformational – one of the seminal moments of my life. Venturing out into the big wide world I rapidly realised that different countries were so, so different. Each encounter revealed just how much we can learn from others when we shared what was in our minds, invited others into how we lived our lives…and yet how in our hearts we were all the same. It was during that first trip that I made a simple decision: travel would always be a passion and a purpose of my life.
Travel is not a luxury
I don’t just love travel, I need travel. And I know that, especially because of this year, I am not alone. Millions upon millions worldwide have realised the same thing. Travel is not a luxury, it is a necessity, for lives and livelihoods, for social, economic and mental health. The future of travel is bright.
I look forward to the opportunity of being able to travel again, with a glimmer of optimism. I am hopeful that after this second wave, the lessons will be learned, and greater individual reasonability will prevail. After all, the solutions really are in our hands: social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands are neither difficult nor complicated.
In the basics of public health, too many governments are still failing their people. Citizen wellbeing is a duty, an increasingly loud call of action. They must do better. It is in their best interests to act decisively, and collectively. The methods of social and economic restabilisation and recovery are there: treatments are gradually making Covid-19 less deadly, rapid testing is making mobility less risky, and the possibility of new vaccines have a positive impact on our ability to confidently and safely re-enter the new world ahead of us all.
This faith in human ingenuity and possibility is why we made guest wellbeing our absolute priority. Within our teams, we look forward to showcasing the extra steps we have taken to make our trips safe and secure. I am so proud of the work our teams have done to develop protocols to build guests’ confidence to explore once more, unlocking our collective love of travel.
Small steps back to our beautiful world
Finally, technology. I have read about a new app, CommonPass, which acts as a health passport for travellers who are virus-free. The app works by having travellers upload their Covid-19 test result before departure. The software will generate a QR code that airline and border officials can scan to verify that the traveller has had a negative test result and thereby allow healthy travellers to avoid quarantine, but be vigilant in their travels. Why are these measures so important? Because peace of mind is the foundation stone of the joy of travel.
These are all small incremental, simple steps that we can take to be able to venture out into our beautiful shared world once more. The sooner we carefully, consistently and compassionately follow the guidelines, the sooner we will protect ourselves, our communities and our businesses, and the sooner will get back to doing what we love – discovering new places, their people and their cultures.
To miss travel, to ache for the day we can dust off our passports, pack our bags, close our front doors and walk out into the world again, is a good thing. For in missing and longing, great love is revealed. I have made my first travel booking to go the northern part of Sweden at the end of the first quarter of 2021, where I hope to witness the brilliant flickering splendour of the Northern Lights. The hope of awe is worth every moment of waiting and sweet anticipating.
Whilst now may not be the time to cross borders, we can all hope, dream and plan of that moment when we can discover our world once more – a new world, with a renewed value for the rich gifts only travel can give.
Soon, so soon, one hopes. For now though, keep dreaming, because the time is coming when we will meet the world once more.
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