Tales from the frontlines of World War C

2020-03-30


My inbox has become the funnel into which all news about suspensions of service, cancellation/refund policies and alarming statistics and projections swirl.

I think it could be added to the list of legally classified depressants were it not balanced by an equal number of examples of inspiring and creative ways that people in the travel industry are responding to the Covid-19 crisis.

There’s a great new book, “The Splendid and the Vile” (Crown, 2020), about how Winston Churchill kept up the spirits of Londoners during the unrelenting bombing blitz in 1940-41, a Nazi campaign that seemed, by all conventional analyses, destined to succeed.

That it did not was a result of it becoming as much a battle of attitude as of military tactics. Brits did not submit to despair, and thus they did not succumb to what seemed to be inevitable.

There are parallels as we fight World War C. We must be clear-eyed about the very real dangers — to our health, our businesses and the broader economy — and take defensive action.

In parallel, we must also deploy an active offense, and a significant part of that involves our own state of mind. We have had to adjust quickly to a new balance between our work, home and social lives, and what I’ve found fascinating is the new — and in some ways, improved — ways that socializing has been integrated into work.

From the number of online happy hours I’ve participated in over the past two weeks, I have to believe the liquor industry is not feeling the effects that have been experienced more broadly in the economy. I’ve participated in happy hours with coworkers and happy hours with friends, and I recently saw that the Canadian tour operator Anderson Vacations invited travel advisors to a 30-minute happy hour this upcoming Thursday on the topic of Vancouver Island’s culinary (and other) delights. It strikes me that advisors, if they haven’t already, might consider hosting happy hours for clients as a way to stay in touch and keep them dreaming of their next trips.

Ironically, although I have fewer trips planned in the short term than any time in the past 20 years, I have never spent so much time viewing travel videos as I have in the past two weeks. Virtual reality tours are being heavily promoted, and I believe Royal Caribbean Cruises chairman Richard Fain has a future as a motivational speaker should he decide to give up his day job.

One of the most impactful marketing pieces I’ve seen from a tourist board during a time of no-travel is Visit Portugal’s recent distribution. They took footage they had already shot to promote the destination and wrote a completely different narration to go with the imagery that acknowledges no one is coming to Portugal now — and that’s for the best — but nonetheless leaves you hungering to visit as soon as it becomes possible. It’s a brilliant pivot using existing resources, my only criticism being they repeat the thematic tagline a few too many times.

My inbox notwithstanding, I’m constantly surprised by the many ways I’m made aware, and feel the impact of both the sobering and inspiring activities of the world outside my New York City apartment. From my window, I can see the flight paths of both JFK and LaGuardia, and can literally see how air traffic has slowed down, particularly at night. I had become accustomed to the pleasure of seeing the lights of planes lined up for landing in the distance, the brightest at lower altitudes and others angling up with fainter and fainter glows.

I live at the edge of a medical center, and the frequency of ambulances wailing has increased noticeably.

But there are compensations that more than make up for these unsettling changes. I now work from my dining room table; my wife has her computer on a table in the bedroom. The closing of high schools and colleges means more children at home and more family time. Board games have been dusted off, and my mother in Chicago has joined us at the table, via Facetime.

And I’m getting emails, texts and phone calls from friends, industry colleagues and relatives all over the world who express concern upon hearing that NYC has become a hotspot. A Chinese friend in Beijing, having read of shortages, offered to send me masks.

Likewise, I’m checking in more regularly with friends, particularly elderly friends, with greater frequency than ever before.

Without leaving our homes, we’re all on the frontlines of World War C. And the battle, we must keep in mind, is one of spirit as well as health and economics.

Keep calm and stay connected.

Courtesy of  Travel Weekly

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