May 14: Covid-19 Update

Bannikin | May 14, 2020

Are we still a force for good?

In writing this newsletter, our goals at Bannikin are: tracking travel-related news throughout the pandemic, providing a service to our community, and staying attuned to the evolving conversation around tourism as the industry navigates the devastating effects of COVID-19.

Eight weeks in, and after following developments from initial global closures to the first tentative reopenings, we’ve noticed a rising sense of urgency in the international tourism sector, with brands shifting from a “we’ll be here when you’re ready” position in favour of active, sales-motivated messaging.

In previous newsletters, we voiced unease over the potential for tourism brands and destinations to overlook the threats and uncertainties of COVID-19 in the interest of meeting consumer demand and economic survival. With lockdown protests in the U.S. and regions reopening against the advice of health experts, it’s hard to dismiss the rallying calls for “returns to normal.” Given that business is all about supply and demand, what does that mean for an industry that carries people from one corner of the globe to another, in a world being ruled by a deadly, contagious virus? What does that mean for an industry that prides itself on trust and expertise, yet is also often influenced by geopolitics?

A recent article in Tourism Geographies cautioned that, “As the pandemic wanes, the world will be poorer and more divided, which is not a recipe for a strong rebound in the tourism economy let alone a coordinated, strategic effort to transform it toward sustainability.” It also warned that despite the opportunity being presented to the tourism industry to embrace more sustainable forms of operation and address overtourism, “for many destinations and governments, especially those with authoritarian tendencies, the focus on tourism will be business-as-usual.”

In short, despite an altruistic identity based on being a force for good, tourism is an industry first and foremost. So even in the face of a pandemic, business-as-usual inherently means putting profits before people.

Restrictions began lifting in a significant way around the world last week, and, in our daily news trawling, we have witnessed a cluster of responses within the tourism landscape to be swift and single-minded — even as reopened destinations are facing setbacks. We’ve seen Carnival roll out plans to be back in business by August 1, mere days after the Center for Disease Control’s no sail order’s July 24 expiry date (consequently, bookings increased by 600% following the announcement). Disney is reopening in July, and Air Canada Vacations is “kick starting” again in June, embracing consumers’ “desire to travel.” Often missing in these conversations is the implications for the health of hospitality workers or the communities that will be forced to welcome international visitors from countries still battling the impacts of COVID-19.

More and more brands are latching onto the societal reverence of frontline workers by way of free trips, flights and contests — a practice referred to on Twitter as #COVIDwashing, a misstep already experienced by other industries.

The desperation for a restart is everywhere, and we get it — financial insecurity is real. But the need for health and safety is also very real, and considering experts believe we’re nowhere near being out of the woods, the decisions being made by some of the most influential brands in our industry should have tourism professionals wondering if and how we can reconcile the power of business interests and economics with our view of travel as a force for good.

Below is our weekly roundup of news, expert insights and food for thought…. If you can’t access an article due to a paywall, let us know and we may be able to send it through to you.

Stay safe and healthy,
Your friends at Bannikin


The week at a glance

Tuesday, May 12

Monday, May 11

Sunday, May 10

Friday, May 8

Thursday, May 7

Wednesday, May 6

Tuesday, May 5


What the media is saying…

New York TimesThe future of travel
Snippet: To learn how the landscape might change, we talked to dozens of experts, from academics to tour operators to airport architects. Across the board, they highlighted issues of privacy and cleanliness and the push-pull of people wanting to see the world while also wanting to stay safe. Here, answers to 14 of the most pressing questions about travel’s future.

CTV NewsNew normal: Rear-facing seats could be the future of air travel 
A germ-phobic public will be wary of closed-in and crowded spaces – literally the definition of an airplane. That’s not to mention the economic toll of lost jobs and battered revenues on discretionary household and business budgets. Only adding to the woes: a dramatic uptick in virtual meetings and remote work, and the success of the so-called flight-shaming movement that was already making some think twice about the carbon impact of flying.

SkiftWho will come last in global travel’s staged recovery?
In a way, the success of such a strategy is dependent on the core competency of a given government — can they actually do what they say they will do? — as well as the strength of their diplomatic ties with allies and neighbors. And if this crisis has showed the world anything, is that some of the world’s so-called superpowers aren’t as competent as we thought they were.

Condé Nast TravelerThese Countries Are Opening Back Up—And Cautiously Preparing for Domestic Travel
Snippet: The way we travel might look nothing like what we’re used to, but those we spoke to in Singapore, Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Rome, Milan, Ho Chi Minh, and beyond say that the moods in their cities are largely optimistic, and ready to move forward, uncertain as the future remains.


What experts are saying…

Tourism Geographies – Pandemics, transformations and tourism: be careful what you wish for
While some destinations will undoubtedly reconsider the nature of their tourism industry and focus more on local and more sustainable forms of tourism, without substantial institutional and governmental interventions, which are currently overwhelmed with saving lives and creating conditions to restart domestic economies and education systems, the juggernaut that is international tourism will roll on… For many destinations and governments, especially those with authoritarian tendencies, the focus on tourism will be business-as-usual.

Women in TravelFor tourism to thrive post-COVID-19, start by putting women at its center
Placing women at the heart of travel and tourism in the post-COVID-19 world will be necessary not only to reflect the ongoing changes occurring in our society, but also to secure the future of an industry for which this global pandemic now represents a watershed moment.

The Marketing InsiderCareless brand messaging during pandemic could have long-term effects
The lesson here is simple: While it may seem we’re living in a strange parallel universe — one that will ultimately give way to something more familiar — the impressions brands make today will not disappear. What consumers see of and feel about brands now may well be imprinted more deeply into their psyches; in the midst of the chaos, almost nine in 10 are predicting that they will care.