HEAL and THRIVE in a Post-Outbreak World - Part 1 of 2
By Giovanni Angelini
Tuesday, 19th May 2020

Giovanni Angelini, is a senior and well respected professional within the Hospitality industry world-wide and with a wealth of experiences of over 50 years acquired in 3 Continents, Asia in particular. A former executive and the CEO of the Shangri-La Hotels and ResortsPart 1 of 2 mini-series, a though piece of Giovanni Angelini, veteran hotelier, consultant and mentor: indications are that the curve of infections is flattening worldwide and this crisis has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, brought the global travel industry to a halt, and destroyed many well-established businesses in the process.

'Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps, the end of the beginning' (Winston Churchill, 1942)

This quote, uttered during the dark days of the Second World War, resonates once again today as we find ourselves facing the most challenging crisis of a generation – one which has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, brought the global travel industry to a halt, and destroyed many well-established businesses in the process.

A long road to recovery now lies ahead.

Is the worst of the pandemic behind us? Or are there darker days to come? Indications are that the curve of infections is flattening in many countries and regions worldwide. As responsible business people, however, we have to accept that the pandemic is not going to disappear soon. There is a growing consensus that the virus won't just go away, and we have to find ways to live with it. We have to accept that this "new normal" will be with us until the situation stabilizes, which could take a couple of years.

Inevitably, the restarting of social and business activities (including travel) is going to lead to new cases of infection. We are living in an interconnected world, and as long as the virus is circulating, and until we have a safe and efficient vaccine, everybody remains at risk. The road to recovery will be slow and long as there are still a lot of unknowns out there.

Now is the time for leaders to reorganize their teams, put in place lean/flat and efficient structures, finalize strategies/action plans, and thrive in their pursuit of sustainable growth. And despite the unprecedented and ever-changing situation we find ourselves in, it's important to stay confident, focused, and avoid the path of fear.

A resilient industry

Disruption is nothing new to the travel and tourism industry as we have experienced and successfully managed many crises in the past. In doing so, our industry has generally proved more resilient than others. At present, however, it's hard to fathom the dimensions of this global pandemic and the unprecedented financial damage the whole travel and tourism industry is experiencing as a result.

Two fundamentals drive the resiliency of our industry: consumer need (the demand factor) and employee passion/commitment to delight (the people factor).

Demand: Travel as a concept is as old as humankind, and most people view travel as a basic human 'right.' They need and want to travel either for business or leisure. This will not change, and demand will continue to increase in the medium-long term.

People (employees): The hospitality industry attracts passionate and committed individuals from many nationalities. They bring with them a wealth of experiences, styles, personalities, ambitions, and beliefs, making them truly special. Driven by success, they do not like failure. They are prepared to stand strong and united to prove themselves in recovering what has been lost, taking care of customers, and ultimately to thrive. This commitment is most appropriate and necessary to get the industry out of the deep hole it now finds itself in.

An export economy

Travel and Tourism is classified as an "export" in economic terms by most countries around the world. It brings significant value to local communities in countless destinations worldwide.

The most feared outcome of the economic fallout of this pandemic is the loss of jobs. Job creation and employment are key policy objectives for any government under any political system, but even governments are struggling to cope with this crisis.

While most industries/sectors have been affected by the pandemic, the bulk of job losses are in the travel, tourism and catering industries. Our hearts go out to all the good people and professionals who have lost their jobs and steady incomes due to the outbreak.

Forced to adjust

Pathogens are not new; they have been bringing humankind to its knees since prehistoric times, destroying empires along the way and helping to build others in the process. They have forced technological innovation and created powerful change.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with previous bad habits and adopt new mindsets and behaviour. The present crisis is no different, and the world will emerge transformed. Those who expect to return to their way of life pre-crisis will be disappointed as we are faced with a shifting economic landscape and continuous change. And if we can't change course now, given the circumstances we find ourselves in, the world and humanity will face severe consequences. The objective here is to accept what has changed, what hasn't, and what we can do to come out of this crisis stronger than before.

The nature of the virus, coupled with our highly connected world, has resulted in a rapid spread of infection in all countries of the world and with severe consequences. The whole world was caught unprepared.

Now is time for the world to unite towards two aims – first to fight the pandemic, and then to rebuild the economy. And as the scrabble for a vaccine can turn ugly, international co-operation is desperately needed.

Finger-pointing and dividing into rival camps is simply not the way, as no good can come from this. It is clear that no single nation/country can solve problems alone.

Given the devastation, we do not need to wait for an alien invasion for the world to unite. This pandemic has revealed that we live in social networks in which everything is connected, and it has sparked important conversations which had previously eluded us in our blind pursuit of individualism, freedom, a democracy of convenience, and money.

Business leaders have to anticipate the potential outcomes for their respective companies, their stakeholders and the industry. It's a testing time for hospitality leaders who are faced with tough decisions to keep business alive during the crisis and prepare for the future.

As traditional models are upturned, new ways of leadership will be required to take the industry forward. The situation calls for positive, experienced, and effective leadership – visionary leaders who are empathetic, good communicators, who can inspire and motivate their teams, and leaders who create trust.

We also need leaders who can forge ahead in moments of ambiguity and who can secure adequate cash flow to keep business afloat. We have to accept that, in the present business environment, the value of any assets will decline and this will most likely be the case until the market bounces back.

Organizations must progress and grow. Further flattening of company structures, the elimination of unnecessary layers, and the reduction of paperwork is a must. Productivity over bureaucracy and the status-quo of the past, belongs to the past.

Among many other important functions, it's vital to look at continuous digital transformation and assess the effectiveness of existing technology and determine what needs to be done to improve efficiency and agility. An ability to respond faster to customer needs and generate information to make smarter decisions is essential. In this competitive environment, no organization can afford to fall behind in technology.

Are there too many brands in the market? And can all these brands survive on their own? How long will it take for some of these brands to be taken over and rebranded? And which brand/s will have advantages in future? Who will be forced to sell or merge? Who will not survive? Unfortunately many organizations are now on “life support”.

Anticipating the recovery

With so many asymptomatic cases out there, rapid diagnostic testing would be of great help to the travel & tourism industry; airlines-hotels-cruises, etc.

The recovery from the current crisis is expected to be messy and will have a different shape in every country and destination. Forecasting a shape and timeline is nearly impossible. 'Science and vaccines need to come to the rescue' – the sooner, the better.

It's anticipated that recovery will come with long-lasting changes in regulations and consumer expectations. Preparing for these changes is paramount. How long will it take to reach the industry's 2019 performance metrics? 2023? or....? (and let's hope that we don't see many new infection waves in the future).

The industry needs to respond and adjust to the moment and readjust over time. Health-safety-security-hygiene, cleanliness standards/protocols, and regular physical improvements have simply become priorities for all. The well-being of employees and guests comes first.

Also, the overall product offered must be worth the cost; customers will not accept anything less (think "expectations versus reality"). Be prepared for this, and respond to the fact that the pursuit of happiness is a major reason for people to travel – and when selecting a place to stay.

Do not be influenced and driven by your competitive set. Your objective is to lead the competition by ensuring you are disciplined and consistent in your pricing. And remember that reducing your rates does not usually generate business, but it will bring you, and all your competitors, down. Once you're there, it will take years to recover.

Now more than ever, we cannot become complacent and we must remain vigilant. Changing guest segmentations, sources of business, geographic markets, distribution strategies, and customer needs and expectations are simply the order of the day. This will not change, and the law of supply and demand will also always ring true. Hoteliers will need to rationalize how their business operates in a transformed market.

Think long term and remember that things will eventually return to some semblance of normality, but we must adapt and respond to the new norm as it won't be business as usual anymore. Note that the recovery won't just happen. We must work at it, plan for it, and make it happen ourselves.

Remember that all customers are not created equal. Some are more discerning than others, and others are more discerning than they were before the crisis. Here comes the importance of customer trust and loyalty.

~ end ~

Keep an eye out on part 2, live Wednesday, May 20th.

Also read: (click title to view the article)

  1. Giovanni Angelini Series: Impact of Pandemics At a Corporate Level - Part 1 of 3
  2. Giovanni Angelini Series: Impact of Pandemics At a Corporate Level - Part 2 of 3
  3. Giovanni Angelini Series: Impact of Pandemics At a Corporate Level - Part 3 of 3

Giovanni Angelini
A 50 year veteran of the Hotel-Hospitality-travel industry with a wealth of experience acquired in 4 Continents, Asia in particular. A long term resident of Hong Kong and Retired Chief Executive Officer of Shangri-La International.

A board member of several large corporations and member of many industry related and quality management organisations. Founder of Angelini Hospitality, providing consultancy and advisory work to developers and hotels-travel-tourism organisations.

Recipient of two Honoris Causa (Doctorate) in Business Administration and in Global Business Leadership, four Lifetime Achievement Awards, the 2006 Corporate Hotelier of the World, Maestro del Lavoro (2014) and of several other recognitions and awards.


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