A Global Reawakening
Each day, news from around the world is highlighting how countries are starting to unlock their tourism potential and restart their devastated economies. And there is a lot to tell, with each country announcing steps to minimise the risk to travelers and locals alike.
Airlines are looking at ways to recover their lost income even as many have closed or are in a dire economic position, and they are coming-up with imaginative ways to attempt to avoid transmission of the virus. Hell, even the designers are getting in on this act with new and outlandish seat configurations and designs, while cabin-crew seem set to don hazmat suits to avoid catching the 'bug' from their passengers.
Destinations themselves are looking at ways of welcoming visitors and securing their safety with crazy ideas like the UK's 14-day quarantine phase for arriving passengers, or Greece's requirement for plastic shields between beach loungers. In South Africa, we have recommendations for the closure - and even banning, of buffet-style service and the ridiculous requirement that service staff in food businesses not approach more than 1.5 metres fro guests?
The point is that while we need to take reasonable precautions that don't make us look ridiculous, there is far-too much overkill at the moment. Probably as a result of the fear that has been instilled in us by the deaths internationally - and perhaps to an extent the nanny-state approach of many countries, we seem only too happy to oblige. But consider this. If South Africa imposed a 14 day quarantine on arriving passengers - who research has shown spend an average of 7.2 days in country, what chance will we ever have of attracting visitors. Or worse! If we suddenly banned buffet-style eateries, how long would it take before counter-service of any kind is banned?
The fact is simple. This virus will be with us for at least the next few years - even if a vaccine is found in the next twelve months, and it could even morph into yet another form in that time. And yes, we are going to experience loss of life through the extreme months (in SA's case September) when infections and deaths are expected to spike, but are we as an industry going to live in perpetual fear and by so doing, change the face of hospitality as we have come to know it?
By all means, avoid things that can potentially increase transmission, but don't go crazy! I mean, is it really necessary to empty in-room beverage fridges and hide cushions; hermetically seal rooms between lets; steam clean every item in bedrooms between guest use and stop table service at close-range? Is it necessary to make our guests feel so insecure that they don't even try to visit? What are we trying to achieve..?
Tourism and hospitality go hand-in-hand, and the minute we sanitise this industry beyond reason and common sense, we stand a very real chance of killing exactly what we are trying to achieve - growth in visitors.
Tourism is reopening and we need to be ready to welcome visitors - both local and international, with that warm South African hospitality that we are renowned for. But let's do it with empathy and wisdom, not as some box-ticking,cataclysmic over-reaction exercise designed to insulate us from our guests and visitors. That is in no-one's best interests.
And let's do it now.