Friday, 11 September 2020

Looking Back

Like everyone else, I know where I was when I heard the news. On the morning of September 11, 2001, shortly after 8 am, I was getting ready for work.  It wasn’t just an ordinary day – it was more than that. It was an exciting day as it was officially the first day that I was the owner of my travel agency. 

On the other hand, I can’t say the same for Coronavirus.  It was on my radar (albeit in the background only) as I had clients who had been or were to travel to Asia and the virus had already been making its mark in that corner of the globe. Even though I knew of Covid-19, I truly had no idea the impact it would have or still be making so many months later. 

9/11 was an unforgettable tragedy that left 2,977 people dead and that event forever changed the travel industry.  As of this morning (11 Sept 2020), Covid has killed over 900,000 and counting globally. Every life is precious, every loss is devastating and yet, I can’t help but draw comparisons and differences to these 2 catastrophic events.

With 9/11 the impact was instant and gut wrenching and it unfolded before our very eyes.  We sat glued to the TV and saw the footage of those planes crashing into the towers, we saw the explosions, we saw the towers collapse, the smoke, the ash, the people fleeing the buildings. Later, we saw dazed people searching for their loved ones, signs and pictures of the missing.  We saw the tears and perhaps we even shed them. We saw the first responders using their training they hoped they would never need, we heard the wail of sirens and we saw everyday people become heros.

 A 3rd plane had hit the Pentagon, and a 4th had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  Even if you knew no one on those planes or in those towers, you could feel the horror and anguish unfolding in front of you. US airports began to close, airspace shut down.  Flights were diverted – many to Canada where the passengers and crew were welcomed with kindness and  compassion.  If we hadn’t heard it before, the word ‘Al-Qaeda’ became common in nearly every household.

In 2001 there was somewhere between 36,000 to 40,000 flights taking off each and every day in the USA. All these planes were grounded and no flights were allowed into US airspace. Many Canadian and global flights were also grounded.  

A short 2 days later, on September 13th, air traffic resumed. Airport security was stricter, screening had new benchmarks and as time went on, we saw many new safety and security regulations be added and enforced.

Travel and Tourism was hard hit. Demand dropped due to fear and the winter (traditionally high season) of 2001 was a washout. The years that immediately followed saw many companies involved in travel – wholesale, retail or aviation, being sold, consolidated or closed. It was not the best of times but we persevered.  9/11 was not the only blow to the Travel and Tourism sector.

SARS quickly followed it – a big issue especially in Canada for the 2002-03 winter season although some what more of a regionalized issue in the east. In 2008 there was a global financial crisis, then along came the H1N1 Swine Flu, followed by Ebola, MERS and the Zika scare. In the midst of all this, Iceland’s Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano erupted shutting down European airspace for several days and affecting approximately 10 million passengers.

Despite it all, the industry survived, coming back stronger as people’s desire and need to travel, both for business and pleasure, outweighed the issues of cramped seating, higher prices, surcharges for fuel, currency fluctuations, extra baggage costs, and the inconvenient security screening procedures. Whatever came our way did not deter the wanderlust.

And then, along came COVID-19.

COVID crept up on us. A strange flu in Wuhan that was hugely contagious and was spreading to other countries. Not all countries reacted the same way. Some responded immediately instituting various travel protocols, warning citizens to return home, and advising social distancing, the wearing of masks and washing of hands.

Once again, we watched this unfold on TV news coverage.  The tragic scenes of those on respirators, sobbing relatives, exhausted front-line health care workers, bodies being loaded into vans. But the impact – while initially shocking – was different. As tragic as these scenes were and still are, as horrific as the news is, unless we know someone, unless we are personally impacted, we often seem to be somewhat removed from the reality and truth of it all.

Many of us wear masks, we keep 6 feet apart in our attempt to social distance, but we are also more casual about it all. Sure, maybe we are not going to wild parties, or political rallies, or crowded beaches but many of us seem to have relaxed somewhat.

We do meet friends on patios or head to the cottage with a few friends for weekend fun. We visit family without wearing masks, schools have re-opened.  We are human and as such, we need human connection and interaction and so, we assess the risk and decide for ourselves what we are comfortable with and what we’re not.

So, the big question is, are we ready to travel?  Perhaps some are while others may not be.  As an industry, 1 in every 10 jobs around the globe are related to Travel and Tourism.  That said, we do hope travel bounces back quickly but realistically, it’s going to be a slow recovery.  This industry was the first (and hardest) to be hit and we will be the last to recover.  But make no mistake…We Will Recover!

Even if you’re not ready at this moment to travel, we encourage you to keep the dream alive!  So many tour operators, airlines and travel providers have stepped up to provide safer travel options.  From small “travel bubbles” with a limited number of travellers, to flexibly changes to $99 low risk deposits, they are doing all they can to make travel possible in the future.

For those of us in Travel and Tourism it has been a devastating year. For the airlines, the cruise lines, the tour operators, hotels, transportation companies, the theme parks and attractions, the destinations, and travel agencies who represent them all – it has been brutal. There have been massive layoffs many with no recall dates on the horizon, a continued workload for months on end with no compensation all to ensure clients make it home safe and sound, refunds get processed, ever changing credits are tracked. To my industry friends and colleagues, I tip my hat to you and understand the incredible stress that has been our lives for many, many months. No one can possibly understand unless they too have lived this reality.  Travel isn’t what we do – it’s who we are.

So, as I reflect on the tragedy that was 19 years ago, I can’t help but also give some serious contemplation to the time we are living in right now. Let’s be considerate of the people around us. If we are going to travel, go to the bank, or buy groceries, please, please, do your part by to physically distancing, and continuing to follow health recommendations. 

When the time comes and you’re ready to travel again, please book with an ACTA certified travel consultant.  Find one in your area: