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Top tips to keep afloat during COVID with a leaner organization

Oct 20, 2020

In 2019, there were 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals globally[1], a 4% increase on 2018. And at the start of 2020, hopes were high for another year of strong growth.

Then. Well, we all know what happened next.

But just a few months on, even with setbacks, there are signs of recovery. And in preparation for the inevitable bounce back, businesses are taking time to rethink processes and respond to emerging traveler demands. In those markets where restrictions have eased, there is already increase in bookings. We’re seeing travelers hunt out more local holidays and experiences, often within 600 miles of home.[2]

Travel in China, for example, shows people are willing to fly internationally, but the self-guided and self-drive trip are by far the most popular choices.[3]

As recovery gains pace internationally, each of us will have a role to play. So, in the year that UNWTO celebrates its Year of Tourism and Rural Development, the question we all should be asking is: What can our business do to be part of the restoration process? 

Top of the agenda must be prioritizing a lean business model. A lean organization maximizes customer value while minimizing waste. In other words, it goes beyond simply keeping afloat. Instead, the focus is on transformation and restoration. 

Without a clear timeline indicating when our industry will fully bounce back, it can be challenging to plan and strategize for the future. But with the climate of uncertainty set to stick around for a while, we need to acknowledge it, embrace, and face whatever the future holds, square on. 


Reframe to recover

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, one message echoed loud and clear: For small businesses, connection and collaboration with community is one of the clearest indicators of survival[4]

From providing jobs for local people to supporting local projects, a business integrated in its local community has a wider network it can rely on during a crisis. The same goes for industry networks and global travel partners, a community of businesses, big and small, that, together, generate 10% of the world’s GDP.[5]


There are a few simple ways businesses can build on these connections.

  • Use social media or local events to raise community spirits and strengthen connections
  • Create helpful content for travelers that meets their current needs, such as ‘How to manage traveler anxiety’ or ‘Where to go on your next road trip’ (domestic car trips are trending[6])
  • Nurture peer-to-peer content – ratings and reviews – to instill confidence in travelers as they hover over the ‘book’ button
  • Develop transparent hotel listings that detail properties’ hygiene and cleanliness measures
  • Be a visible presence, both online and offline. It might be tough to know what to say but don’t stop engaging with those networks, be it engaging in conversation online or even being a physical presence at local events where regulations allow.
  • Setting out clear business values and purpose is another vital part of accelerating recovery. Not only does this provide a point of clarity amid all the uncertainty, it ensures a business remains accountable to its community. 


Consider two core values:

  1. Transparency: Remain transparent and honest with employees (and travelers) to help mitigate anxiety. This frees them up to channel their energy in a more positive direction. Create open channels of dialogue with employees, for example, via weekly updates from senior management or (where possible) in-person check-ins that leave time for questions.

    For travelers, keep direct means of communication, such as social media platforms, as open and active as before, with team members available to respond to queries and provide updates.

  2. Flexibility: Agility is key in a crisis. That goes for the macro decisions within a business; for example, keeping an eye on how companies in countries emerging from lockdowns are reframing their business models to recover, and being ready to adapt what works to your own business. But it also applies to micro strategies; for example, could you supplement salary with shares and benefits to manage cash flow in the short term?

    Similarly, being visibly flexible for end-travelers shows a willingness to adapt to ensure excellent customer care. Be flexible with cancellation policies. Be flexible with prices. Be flexible with the experiences on offer.


Look forward, not back

Last but by no means least, celebrate the little wins. We can’t control much right now. But we can control how we react, rethink, and frame our businesses – and our industry – to ride the wave. As we move through this crisis, it will be collaboration and pulling together to create innovation that will take us out the other side.

This sector has proven itself resourceful and resilient time and time again. Let’s celebrate that. And look forward to a better, brighter future.