Unite to conquer: how travel, tourism and hospitality players can help pandemic recovery

Tim Hentschel, CEO and co-founder of HotelPlanner, sets out key actions tourism and hospitality stakeholders can undertake for a united front against Covid-19.

Hope can sometimes be so fragile. In April this year, we’d been eagerly anticipating a travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong set to commence end-May. Singapore’s Minister for Transport had also caused ripples of excitement following his comments about looking to forge similar agreements with neighbouring countries like Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Brunei.

Fast forward a month, and a sudden uptick in the number of Covid-19 community cases suddenly sent Singapore back into Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) from May 14 to June 13. Within the span of a few weeks, hospitality industry optimism had been replaced with sadness and frustration. And to add to the misery, the World Economic Forum also announced the cancellation of its annual meeting, scheduled for August in Singapore.

What’s next for the battered tourism, hospitality and events industries? What can our business associations and governments do to help in times of uncertainty?

“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore,” said Christopher Columbus. While the obstacles we currently face may be large, we need some bold and brave moves to help us reach a better place. Here are some ways I believe will kickstart that process:

Collaborate on vaccine support strategies
The speed of vaccine rollouts in Asia has been comparatively slower than the US and the UK. While Singapore is ahead of the region with nearly a third of its population fully vaccinated, the rest of South-east Asia has been lagging with less than four per cent of adults receiving both doses.

As one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, tourism, hospitality and event companies must collaborate rapidly and meaningfully with each other and their local business associations to present a united, supportive strategy in their respective countries.

Hotels, for example, can offer their premises as public vaccination centres. Vaccine storage requires refrigeration facilities – if your restaurant has spare refrigeration equipment, consider loaning it out to the relevant healthcare authorities.

Companies can also take a proactive stance in setting up parallel vaccination drives for their employees. For instance, Europe’s largest hotel chain Accor secured its own supplies to vaccinate its teams across the world, while South-east Asia’s super app Grab delivered much needed vocal and operational support for vaccination initiatives. Smaller enterprises can always consider incentives to encourage their staff to take the vaccine.

The industry can play a much bigger role on a second important battlefront – vaccine education. Business leaders can leverage their public profile by taking the lead in getting vaccinated and distributing accurate, up-to-date information on the vaccines among their employees.

The quicker we’re able to achieve herd immunity, the less time we’re giving the virus to mutate into dangerous new variants.

Clear business solutions for contact tracing
While the vaccine is being rolled out, the region’s industry players can adopt strict protocols for contact tracing. This was a common practice among businesses in South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, where the first outbreaks of the pandemic last year were most effectively contained.

Installing watertight measures like employee and visitor check-ins and check-outs empowers your business to quickly conduct contact tracing in the unfortunate event a Covid-19 case is suspected or confirmed.

Adopting technology-based solutions such as mobile apps also boosts the accuracy of contact tracing to isolate community spreading.

These measures are only effective if widely adopted. They require the cooperation of all industry players across entire cities, states or even countries. While these moves require allocation of resources, ultimately, it’s an investment to ensure the industry’s future and will speed up the pace of recovery.

Offer regular workplace testing
Human contact is an essential aspect of the tourism and hospitality sector, so regular Covid-19 testing of your employees can help detect asymptomatic cases early. This also reduces any potential negative impact on your business and operations, as well as contributing to the containment of community cases.

Antigen Rapid Test (ART) kits have already been used for pre-event testing – these only require a quick nose swab and offer results within the same day. A more comfortable breathalyser test has recently been rolled out at Singapore-Malaysia border checkpoints. If this works well, it would be an efficient solution for our industry, too.

If your country is distributing test kits to businesses to carry out their own Covid-19 testing, sign up for it immediately. Alternatively, work with local business organisations to obtain tests to enable you to roll out your own industry programme.

As I said at the beginning, hope can be a delicate thing. But when positive action is matched with united efforts across industry and governments, we can build something much more substantial. So let’s start, today.

And finally, let’s not forget that the greatest steps forward out of this pandemic begin at home. After all, the best weapon against Covid-19 is a healthy immune system. So each of us should remember to eat healthily, get good sleep, drink less alcohol, do some regular exercise, and get out for a dose of fresh air and a little sun each day to boost our vitamin D.

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