Bounce back? I think I'd rather glide
As we face the extension of Lockdown, and we slowly adapt to this new suspended animation version of our former lives, those of us in the destination management business must occupy two worlds : the world of crisis management and the future world of recovery.
In a sector dominated by SMEs - for whom cash-flow can be make or break – not surprisingly our priority has been centred on supporting our businesses to weather the storm which the loss of important Easter earnings will bring. The knowledge that this storm is set to rage for some time, with no real end in sight, means that businesses need our support more than ever.
But they also need us to do the planning and horizon-scanning which is impossible for them when they are struggling to make ends meet. It is not simply wishful thinking that makes us turn our eyes to the future and life beyond Covid19, it is this thinking which will ensure that our industry can rebuild quickly and sustainably.
How will our time in isolation change us as consumers and as travellers? Will this time of clear skies and birdsong accelerate the trend to travel more sustainably and slowly? Will the experience of shopping locally change our buying habits forever? Or will our release from captivity result in a hedonistic rush to board planes, swarm the shopping malls and spend, spend, spend?
One doesn’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that what we will want is time together, safe spaces and safe travel. Whilst our beaches and countryside have been bereft of visitors, their images crowd social media - a veritable kaleidoscope of longing for future visits and appreciation of what’s missed. The wonderful “behind the scenes” itineraries which many of our attractions are showcasing online are engaging audiences and whetting the appetite for those halcyon days ahead.
But when we emerge, blinking into the sunlight – will we be ready to travel as we once did? Will we be ready for crowded spaces and busy streets? How long will it take for us to “return to normal”? Will our visitors ever travel as before?
There is much talk among the more optimistic economists about the bounce which will follow the inevitable plunge which we will see this year. Although a bounce is an energetic, enthusiastic movement, it also has the ability to jolt the stomach and soar out of reach. If our consumer needs coaxing back to our destinations, then our open spaces and socially-distanced landscapes could provide those first, baby steps. A planned, gentle, opening up of our tourism destinations and attractions is not only what the consumer will be ready for first, it is also a planned, sustainable way to drive footfall. For many businesses, moving from 0 to 120 miles per hour will be simply more than they can manage, necessitating resources that they no longer have.
Whilst reaching economic recovery as quickly as possible may be our ultimate goal, getting there at supersonic speed may be neither possible nor sustainable. As we rebuild our destinations and our industry, we need an incremental return to what will, inevitably, be a new normal. Regaining economic altitude is in everyone’s interest and our industry will need the long-term support of Government and the slow rebuilding of consumer demand to achieve it. But getting there by bounce? Maybe this time it’s better to glide.