COVID-19 and tourism: what’s to fear?

I’m blogging live from the BC Tourism Industry Conference, the can’t-miss professional development event of the year.

With an already jam-packed program, an emergency session was added to address industry concerns about COVID-19, a virus that according to some is “poised to be the next SARS” (or worse) for the tourism sector.

I’m going to share thoughts from senior leaders in our industry, who were convened along with hundreds of delegates (a rarity during this health scare) to discuss lessons learned from the SARS crisis of 2003. The session was reassuring for a number of reasons; serving as a reminder that we’ve been through adversity before and that we have sophisticated thinkers from the health and tourism sectors leading the way.

I learned a fair bit from each speaker on the panel. Some information may be outdated by the time I hit the “publish” button, so I won’t bother sharing health-related details beyond saying that as of today, March 4th, there are 93, 090 confirmed cases and a death toll of 3, 198 people.

Please visit the World Health Organization for up-to-date statistics and information by clicking here. For more about the industry’s response, and future outlook, read on. 

Greg Klassen: “Play the long game”

First up was Greg Klassen from Twenty31. Greg is the former President & CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission (now Destination Canada) and helmed that organization when the SARS outbreak in Toronto ground our tourism industry to a halt back in 2003.

Greg walked us through COVID-19’s impacts today. He spoke to billions of dollars in losses for Southeast Asia’s tourism industry, with high season occupancy dropping from roughly 90% down to 25%. He reminded us that iTB, the world’s largest industry gathering, was cancelled on orders from the German government. He showed us ForwardKeys data since January showing a global bookings decrease of 19.3%, with 87.7% of those from Asia Pacific. He spoke to challenges including decreased traveller confidence (fear of flying and the risk of being quarantined in a foreign country), cancellations (which the business events community is feeling most acutely), travel bans imposed by various governments, and digital listening indicating many are concerned about the ethics of travel during this health crisis.

And yet amongst this data, he says, is something of a silver lining. It appears a higher yield, higher educated and “intrepid by nature” segment is willing to shake off risk in order to travel. Another pattern Greg anticipates based on his experiences is that of a “substitution effect” where travellers swap out shorter-haul vacations for their longer-haul plans. That’s why Canada saw record numbers of US visitors in 2002, as post-9/11 Americans decided we were a great alternative to flying to other destinations.

Greg’s overarching recommendation for the industry is to approach the challenge in phases:

1. Short term: effective crisis management and communication, with a plan to engage in market research that can be acted on as soon as containment is reached.

2. Medium term: recovery efforts immediately once containment is declared, to reach those markets most likely to respond to offers, as determined in phase one. Later during Q&A he explained that Canada’s brand is founded on “safety and solid healthcare” which is a challenge when people want exotic and off the beaten track, but can actually serve us if we remember that this is an innate part of our brand, and something we can build on.

3. Long term: as we chart a path to a new normal, engage in more diversification of markets and ask ourselves what lessons there are to be learned. After the 2003 SARS crisis, Destination Canada invested in a number of initiatives including rebranding and developing EQ profiles as they reconsidered the areas that were being stressed.

Dr. Richard Stanwick: Seek “sources of truth”

Next, Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, spoke more to the health crisis rather than the business crisis. He urged members of the audience to continue to listen to the BC Centre for Disease Control, to implement proven methods like hand washing, using social distancing (staying 2m away from people), and not touching our faces where the virus can gain entry.

Dr Stanwick asked us to amplify “sources of truth” like the BCCDC and the WHO, to consult the 8-1-1 hotline for related local queries, to trust that we are being kept up-to-date, and to allow the health authorities to continue their path of “contain, delay, prepare” in ensuring BC is equipped to deal with cases as they arise. He stressed that there is total transparency and real-time updating taking place, it’s just a matter of going to the right source.

Rick Antonson: “Reputation is all we have”

Third on the panel was Rick Antonson, who was President & CEO of Tourism Vancouver during the SARS outbreak. He explained that “the first law of crisis management is to make sure you have a crisis”, and that now that iTB has been cancelled, we can call this a business crisis, but it’s how we respond to this that could become the defining moment for BC’s tourism industry. He similarly described what’s to come in phases: 

Phase 1 (where we are now): a time of assessment and uncertainty, where industry needs to be diligent in finding the difference between gossip and fact. This includes having operators check their insurance policy (rather than assume coverage), as well as revisit our own cancellation policies and fees. While some of us can charge fees, and cancellations present immediate pain, we need to decide how implementing these could damage our reputation down the line.

At this stage, we need to continue to provide updates and links to trusted sources, as well as start to put aside money for the recovery and planning for mobilizing after containment.

Phase 2: involves dealing with the market impact while gaining intelligence. He echoed Greg’s sentiment that when we see a decrease in long-haul travel we can pick some of that up with (day’s drive) rubber tire traffic. When we reach this stage we should acknowledge and track pent up demand and remember not to alienate those longer-haul markets, because when this is over, all we will have is reputation as we strive to rebuild with them.

Phase 3: is the implementation of a recovery plan, with caution. He explained that when Scotland came back from HFM disease with a stellar campaign, they launched … on September 11, 2001. Sometimes you have to expect a second punch, but overall if we plan for this phase and focus on reputation management, our industry is resilient and can tackle this as we have the challenges of the past.

Coincidentally, I received the following tips for Tourism Vancouver members in an email as Rick was speaking:

  1. Be sensitive to the situation that our visitors and suppliers may be going through.
  2. If appropriate, consider eliminating cancellation fees and/or refunding penalties if visitors must change or postpone their trips to our market.
  3. Have confidence that the travel market will bounce back.
  4. Reach out to your partners or suppliers to express your concern and support.
  5. Consider a flexible refund and cancellation policy as a means of driving future bookings.
  6. Be aware of – and pay serious attention to – official sources for health information.
  7. Watch for Tourism Vancouver’s Member Updates as a source of sector information and updates and reach out to us, if you have questions.

Maya Lange: Sign up for industry news at DestinationBC.ca 

Lastly we heard from Maya Lange, VP of Global Marketing for Destination BC, who unfortunately has crisis management experience due to our recent record wildfire seasons. Maya stressed that information is key, and for industry to sign up for updates by visiting DestinationBC.ca and following them on social media.

Maya explained that based on statistics from OTAs and GDS, BC’s forward air bookings (March to October) are down 10% on average; where China is down 70%, the UK is up 7%. She reminded us that 50% of our revenue comes between June to September, and that the industry should be shoring up so we can retain as much of that revenue potential as possible. Reinforcing Greg and Rick’s comments was her message that domestic visitation accounts for is 74% of traffic and 48% of BC’s tourism revenue, and that if we combine domestic and US that is 90% of our visitation, so short-haul is a key factor.

Destination BC has a two-phase approach which involves:

1. Emergency Phase, more investment in stimulating short haul travel as well as modifying co-op and bulk buy programs (relaxing deadlines).

2. Emergency Recovery Phase, where they will inspire long haul travel with significant investments.

Later in Q&A, Maya was asked if we should be investing in more local travel, weekend getaways from nearby markets and similar initiatives. She agreed, and emphasized that #exploreBC, developing itineraries, and working with nearby communities are ways we will be able to mitigate the impacts of this situation.

Based on this session at the start of our annual tourism industry conference, it’s clear there’s alignment amongst leadership around what needs to happen. Let’s share the facts, weather the short-term, plan for recovery, and learn from this stress test to better prepare for the next business crisis.

Drinking the Airbnb Kool-Aid

One of my lesser-known tourism hustles is the Airbnb I run in my basement. My TV room, to be exact.

This little space is comfortable, clean, centrally located, and a great way to offset the fact I’m a single mom carrying a Vancouver-sized mortgage. It also doesn’t displace any long-term rental inventory since, seriously, it’s a TV room in my basement.

So imagine my delight when our dean suggested that faculty and a handful of students attend a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon featuring Chris Lehane from Airbnb. Chris is the senior VP for policy and, frankly, a dynamic and cool speaker.

It’s clear that, in his own words, Chris has started drinking the Kool-Aid at Airbnb, and as a host I’ve been enjoying it for some time. Here are some of the points raised during his presentation.

We live in a time of significant global challenge. 

The first challenge Chris mentioned was that of economic inequality. Today the 26 richest people on earth own as much as the 3.8 billion poorest … a divide that is growing as we see the emergence of AI and the loss of up to 40% of jobs to automation.

The second challenge he addressed was that of conflicts, whether intra-state (Venezuela, Syria), through cyberattacks, the online polarization of people and viewpoints through social media, and the displacing of billions of people due to unrest.

The last challenge he mentioned was that of global climate change, which in the last four years has seen the hottest temperatures on record, and closer to home (both ours in BC and his down in California) has contributed to annual ravaging wildfires.

It’s no wonder, according to Chris, that the world is now sinking to a ten year low in happiness.

Travel has a a role to play in addressing these challenges. 

Chris explained that travel has a rich history of contributing to migration and immigration and cultural exploration. He shared a picture of Burnaby-born hockey hall-of-famer Joe Sakic explaining that the movement of people has real benefits (in this case helping the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup, twice).

He then shared the Confucian quote that “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. Bonus points for going from Sakic to Confucius! This part of Chris’ presentation resonated with me — as some of you might know my father is an immigrant and I’ll spend part of this summer going back to the town of his birth.

Chris talked about historical names for travel and its impacts including the Ancient Greek “philoxenia” – the opposite of xenophobia, a love for strangers and an eagerness to be hospitable.

This is where Airbnb comes in.

Airbnb’s mission is that anyone can belong anywhere. Chris was quick to address the fact they’re a disruptor and that new technologies always lead to disruption. And he was clear that in this new digital era we’ve seen the emergence of platforms that are larger than any one country in terms of population and yet, at times, highly unregulated.

He presented different platform models — hierarchical, ad-based, the short-term labour model, and finally the community-based model (people to people) that tracks back to the original model of capitalism, in his opinion.

Chris shared the story behind Airbnb, of a couple of students offering air mattresses on the floor of their San Francisco apartment to pay their rent. In his view, the core of Airbnb has always been about disrupting FOR humans, not being disruptive TO humans. He credits the founders’ art student backgrounds in that they wanted to build something 100 people would love instead of something that 1000 people would like.

I’d say, in that regard, they’ve been successful. Today on Airbnb:

  • Six guests check in every second 
  • There are over five million listings
  • They’ve seen 15% growth over the last year in Vancouver alone

Their future, according to Chris, is as an end-to-end travel platform that facilitates how you get somewhere, and where you stay, who you spend time with, and what you do while there. The ‘Airbnb experiences’ catalogue alone has grown to 20,000 experiences in 1000 cities since it was launched.

It was the transportation vertical (how you get there) that got my attention. Airbnb is proposing to use existing infrastructure to help legacy businesses tap into wider consumer markets (e.g. rail travel) while encouraging innovators to bring their ideas to market.

Another passion of mine is destination development policy. Chris’ particular area of work focuses on exactly this — Airbnb’s commitment to help evolve policy, pay their share of taxes, and share data.

He says their next focus will be the office of healthy travel. Tourism already makes up 10.4% of Global GDP, so why not grow the industry sustainably? Chris spoke about Airbnb contributions including:

Investing in community development, like in Maharashtra India, where they partnered with government to help locals start up immersive homestays in the region.

Enhancing experiential authenticity while increasing spending in neighbourhoods —44% of which stays in the micro community where guests spend the night. In 2017 that meant an increase of  $107 million in spending to Vancouver restaurants.

Supporting diverse experiences by providing guests an opportunity to stay in non-hotel districts and rural areas.

Being inclusive, where currently 55% of hosts are women, and the fastest growing cohort of hosts are seniors.

Creating traffic to underserved areas through initiatives like their Cape Town partnership, and working with the NAACP to develop hosting capabilities in urban communities.

His final words were on the ways in which Airbnb is creating sustainable options simply by using existing buildings (millions of empty homes), in the place of new construction. For example massive events like the Rio Olympics saw an increase in hosting, which diverted the need to build up to 257 new hotels for the event.

Chris Lehane clearly “drinks the Kool Aid” on Airbnb. Vancouver is drinking it too. In 2018 the City and Airbnb signed a historic agreement to recognize and regulate home sharing, which was shortly followed by an announcement of a first-of-its-kind partnership in Canada with Tourism Vancouver.

I’m starting to drink this Kool Aid too. Are you? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Doxey’s Irridex 44 Years On …

Every time I read an article or post about the scourge of “Overtourism” I’m reminded of a portmanteau created by Doxey back in 1975: the irritation index or “Irridex”.

Back then, Doxey created the model to explain the four stages of resident response to tourism:

Euphoria: residents and guests are happy as a few visitors come to appreciate the destination as an underdeveloped ‘new’ experience; visitors represent new revenues o the community and the benefits clearly outweigh any drawbacks.

Apathy: residents and guests begin to take each other for granted, and there’s a need for greater stakeholder collaboration, foresight, and planning.

Annoyance: while guests are having a positive economic impact (and tourism gains political traction as an ‘industry’), residents are increasingly frustrated with their presence.

Antagonistic: as traffic, noise, pollution, and competition for resources like water and housing increase with visitation, residents openly protest tourism and clash with guests.

While the term ‘overtourism’ might be relatively new, the fact is these clashes have existed in some communities for decades.

And what made me think of it today? Hopping up to the local ski hill to catch a few runs only to find all the EV chargers occupied, the parking lots full, and massive lineups for lifts. The very things that make me an enthusiastic Vancouverite (yes, we really do ski in the mornings before work!) make me an annoyed Vancouverite (it’s only 10am and I have to wait 10 minutes to get on a lift?).

Cadillac problems to be sure. But something that should be on every tourism marketers radar going forward.

Where does your community sit on Doxey’s Irridex? What planning or coordination could help alleviate it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Healthy Ways to Cope

It’s obvious that I’m a do-er. I do. A lot. I get the proverbial “sh*t” done.

But while I’m passionate, there’s a risk to the way I roll, and it’s called burnout. Surrounded by germs on campus, early mornings, late nights, stress … it can easily take a toll.

This term I’m making an even more conscious effort to take care of myself. This includes:

  • Continuing to abstain from drugs and alcohol (I’m coming up on 10 years sober)
  • Morning prayer and gratitude lists
  • Training for “races” (all of which have been in the rain so far!)
  • Going to the gym and hot yoga class whenever possible (and carving out additional time to do this)
  • Spending quiet time with my kids (reading, board games)
  • Taking about 11 million hot baths
  • Continuing to cut back on caffeine (‘half-caff’ to the rescue)
  • Trashy TV when possible
  • Chocolate
IMG_1932.jpg
Run. Get a medal. Feel better about just about anything. 

The next question for me has been, what can I drop?

I recently had to back out of hosting experiences with Kudoz, a really cool initiative in the city. I simply can’t find time in my schedule to do this well. While I have a lot to give, it’s important that I take this time to give to myself.

I don’t know how successful I’m going to be, but this post is one way I can hold myself accountable that health is the cornerstone of me, and I need to be well to meet my commitments.

I’m genuinely curious – what do all you folks do to keep it going? What ball do you need to let drop? Let me know in the comments.

In the meantime I’m going to dedicate this post to Molly and the other students this term who’ve dropped my class, because they needed to. Sometimes quitting is the best option!

Back-to-School (already overcommitted)

So in case your Facebook feed didn’t pile up with pictures of little back-to-schoolers on Tuesday, I’m here to remind you it’s that time of year again!

It’s the time of year I:

  1. Completely panic
  2. Realize that I am the teacher
  3. Promise not to take on too much
  4. Take on way too much

Here’s a list of commitments that I entered into over the summer, and am now realizing might be impossible to meet:

  • Elected member of the BCIT Education Council (EdCo)
  • Member of the programming committee
  • New volunteer at Kudoz
  • Volunteer member for the BC Hospitality Foundation scholarship committee
  • Member of a cool new committee to do with the Tourism Industry Conference (TIC is my jam, as you know)
  • Member of the selection committee for a new Associate Dean for our department
  • And assistant coach of the marketing team for JDC West

Of these, I have decided to drop the last item (coaching) because mercifully another (more qualified) volunteer stepped forward out of the woodwork. That’s great, because as an instructor I’m now having to go from public speaking hibernation to ‘on’ several hours a day. And plan. And prep. And parent. Also apparently I have a social life?

Don’t let the calm-and-poised instagram post fool you, folks, I’m low-key freaking out over here. Next post I hope to address some (relatively healthy) ways I’m trying to cope with the stress.

What are your ways of dealing with back-to-school stress? Hit me up in the comments.

 

 

Relocalization: The “Roots” Trip

On August 20th, 1954, the SS Groote Beer docked in Quebec City and my two-year-old father disembarked alongside his family to start their life in Canada. My Opa made the decision to leave Germany as a result of his experiences in World War II.

As I approach a milestone birthday in 2019 I’ve been working towards a trip that combines a bucket list destination (Paris) with an opportunity to connect with my German roots. And since I’m the “tourism nerd”, I’ve been thinking about this trip and what it means from an Explorer Quotient (EQ) perspective.

EQ is a psychographic tool developed by Destination Canada, and in use across the country, that attempts to move beyond demographics (age, gender, country of origin) and into the psychological motivations and desires behind travel.

Typically as Canadian tourism professionals we focus on the ‘hot’ EQ markets for our destinations: Free Spirit, Cultural Explorer, and Authentic Experiencer. These are great segments to target, and you can read more about them, and how to apply EQ, in this handy PDF: EQProfiles2015.

Originally, however, nine EQ profiles were developed. And while I’m not suggesting we should focus on all of these, in my circumstances think it’s important to note a ‘special’ category, which is the Personal History Explorer (PHE).

EQ
The ‘Original 9’ EQ Types – there I am in my kilt and tam.

In the context of this specific trip, as a PHE I’m having a hard time accessing the resources I need. Part of this journey requires birth records (destroyed during the war), part of it relies on memories (my dad is a grandparent now, it’s hard for him to remember when he was two years old), and the rest relies on research that frequently yields incomplete results. For example, I’ve visited seven different websites with Groote Beer manifests, all of these are partial, most focus on arrivals to Australia and New Zealand … it’s a bit of a mess.

And let’s talk about shifting geography for a second!

My Oma and Opa were from the Sudentenland, which was the area of the now-Czech Republic inhabited by Sudeten Germans. Since Bohemia and Sudetenland are no longer political regions, and haven’t been for decades, I’ve had to rely heavily on my uncle to determine where, exactly, I should be visiting.

Finally, there is the emotional component of developing a trip like this. Immigration is a stressful change for a family, even when it’s for the better. Talking about family origins can dig up deep feelings of regret, loss, or even anger. If I’m honest I’m currently harbouring some resentments at my father for choosing not to keep his German citizenship, and for not teaching us to speak German – even though intellectually these decisions make sense in hindsight.

ThreeApples.jpg
My dad (no apples) and his two older brothers.

In his book “Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche“, Bill Plotkin talks about our need to return to our psychospiritual roots. He asserts there is an innate connection we have with our ecology of origin. I’ve looked at photos of the Black Forest (Schwarzwaldsince childhood and deeply known that those streams, trees, and mountains are somehow of me, just as parts of British Columbia like the Fraser River, North Shore Mountains, False Creek, and Burrard Inlet are part of my makeup.

Returning to these primal, ecologically-emotionally connected places is what Plotkin calls “relocalization” (p.55). I think as more boomers, Gen X, and even Millennial travellers start seeking out PHE trips, tourism developers and marketers will need to provide more support for this type of journey.

What I’m recommending is:

  • Local tourism professionals keep an eye out for unique stories like these and create customer journey maps to understand the ‘pain points’ of developing this kind of trip
  • Residents, staff, or other passionate locals help PHEs develop itineraries
  • Destinations with shifting geography/place names make this very clear in their marketing materials
  • Tourism marketers use these stories as a means to connect with other PHEs who may be interested in the region

Do you have a PHE trip on your mind? Where might you need to go to feel truly reconnected to your psychospiritual roots? Share in the comments.

Travel Healthy: Vaccines and other preventatives

In just 35 days my daughter and I will board a plan for Vietnam, but as a tourism professional I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t considered our health and vaccines. Thankfully another mom (who visits Vietnam frequently) recommended the Vancouver Coastal Health travel clinic.

This for-fee service from our local health authority pairs expert advice from prescribing doctors with nurses who administer vaccines and fill prescriptions, with the added bonus of purchasing other preventatives including:

  • Probiotics for increasing digestive resilience to foreign foods and bugs
  • High quality insect repellant (for Dengue Fever and Zika)
  • Sunscreen containing zinc oxide
  • Prescribed oral preventatives such as Dukoral (for travellers’ diarrhea) and Vivotif (for typhoid fever)

Upon arrival, a doctor consults with you to review your past vaccination and travel history. This doctor discovered I was out-of-date on Tetanus and MMR (childhood vaccines) and additionally recommended I vaccinate against Hepatitis A (I’ve been immunized, and proven resistant, to Hep B, or that would have been administered as well).

The doctor was able to rule out the risk of Yellow Fever based on our routing, and also ruled out Japanese Encephalitis based on time of year. He also reminded me of the risks of petting strays and wild animals (which certainly applies to my daughter), and that should we not heed this recommendation, Rabies is dealt with after potential exposure.

I appreciated the consultation, which was easier than doing my own research in the face of multiple conflicting sources. It was also much easier than getting a prescription from my doctor and having that filled at a pharmacy, where my experience is they frequently run out of the required quantities of these often-volatile oral vaccines.

The doctor was also able to make recommendations for my daughter, who’ll get her pokes next week. While it’s common for entire families to come in together, I decided it would be easier to investigate first and bring her in second. Next time I’ll get it all done in one go, since the convenience of the clinic is they have everything on hand and ready; and there’s a consultation cost savings per person if they come to the same visit.

Travel Clinic Fees
Each vaccine costs roughly $40-$60.

While preventables do come with a price tag, the benefits are three-fold: better health, increased peace of mind, and ultimately a better chance at an illness-free trip for this experience of a lifetime. I’d say it was well worth it!

To book an appointment (online) at the Vancouver Coastal Health travel clinic visit their site and complete their pre-visit questionnaire at:  http://travelclinic.vch.ca

As per usual, while this blog endorses specific products and services, I have not received any compensation for my post.