Hospitality and COVID-19

Hope for Hospitality and Tourism Amidst COVID-19

The world has changed dramatically in the past two weeks. When Scott and I left for our press trip to Washington, DC on March 10th, we could have never anticipated how the world would be turned upside down in a matter of days. During our time there, the US banned incoming flights from Europe, then quickly adopted social distancing measures, put bans on restaurants, and then shut down the majority of international flight routes. It felt so sudden, and it was. I went from expecting a somewhat normal family reunion with my parents to being inundated with work emails handling guests rebooking due to the virus. It got real very quickly — and what was it going to mean for us in the hotel industry? We were already adopting some new habits that felt counterintuitive to all things hospitality (no hugging, no handshaking, sub in elbow and fist bumps) but now with travel essentially banned and public health a real concern on our tiny island, what would be next?

We stayed attuned as things shifted, seemingly by the minute. Flights banned into St. Maarten on 3/17. Ferries from St. Martin’s French side to Anguilla canceled until further notice. Slowly but surely our transit options were being stripped from us and we were very conscious of the fact that we’d be staying in Anguilla for the coming weeks with the borders closed. Deciding to temporarily shut down the hotel was more or less a given in these times; guests couldn’t get in and out anyway, and we began thinking hard about the safety and health of everyone on staff.

And so, virtually overnight, we had to make the decision to shut down in line with the border closure. Many other hotels had done the same so we weren’t alone in that, but the reality was stark and extremely strange to close up the property during what would typically be an extremely busy time of year. We’re no strangers to annual closures; we close our doors every year for September and October due to hurricane season so this sense of departing and then reuniting is something we’re familiar with, but having to essentially evacuate guests and shut down so suddenly took us by storm. Like everyone else, we found ourselves in crisis mode, trying to find solutions to new problems, many of which arose (and continue to arise) unexpectedly.

There are a stream of emotions that come with this, and any small business folks out there will know this: there’s the sense of wanting to protect the people that you work with and keep everyone (yourself included!) safe from potential health risks. We feel that magnified even more on Anguilla where we live, where the healthcare system isn’t equipped to deal with an emergency situation. There’s the reality of the economic impact – broadly on your community and more specifically for your immediate co-workers – paired with the unfortunate reality of losing revenue and cash flow during a time you’d budgeted for some real income (ouch). There’s the delicate balance of communicating with guests/customers on how you’re handling the situation because let’s be honest, who’s ever handled this situation before?! We’re all in this together, somewhat clumsily navigating this unknown path and trying our best to be thoughtful and considerate about our approach. And there’s the real elephant in the room: the timeline. When does this all end? Who knows, who can project such things? Optimism tells us that we can try to resume our life in the next month or so, but reality may dictate something different.

For those involved with tourism and hospitality right now, it’s scary. Everyone remains hopeful but it’s hard to have a sense of the endpoint or to see the light quite yet. We sometimes liken it to Hurricane Irma in Anguilla, one of the more devastating experiences in our recent history, but in some ways this is even harder. Where businesses had insurance for hurricane damage and business interruption, that’s not the case with global pandemics. There’s no safety net to help catch us and keep us afloat right now. Beyond that, we’re not the only people impacted; it’s a global gamechanger so everyone’s feeling the squeeze right now which changes things quite a bit.

Tourism Amidst COVID-19
Photo by Kirk Nelson

Yet in the midst of all of this, there’s the overwhelming sense of resiliency and the strength of the human spirit. During normal times, we’re constantly inundated with negativity from around the world; news that tells us how the world has become a place filled with hate and violence, yet in the midst of emergency situations, we see that humans band together in a special way. There’s a sense of wanting to help our neighbors, to protect our elders, to give what we’re able to make someone else’s life just a bit easier during this wild time. Generally speaking, I like to think a bit of that desire exists in all of us. We’re seeing that with guests, too. Many people are on board with this idea of saving tourism; of rescheduling, not canceling, and ensuring that the lifeblood of many destinations continues to flow, even if it’s a bit stagnant at the moment.

What’s keeping us all afloat is the sense of hope, and knowing that normalcy will return at some point. We’ve lived through some wild times before and while this is new and different we all know that it will pass in time. For the travelers in all of us, that desire to see the world and continue exploring will never go away. It’s just on pause for now. We have a few trips on the horizon for late May into the summer and I’m trying to spread that hopeful and generous spirit that we’ve received during this time: not canceling – and certainly not until we see how this evolves! – but preparing to reschedule if we must for a time when the world’s a calmer place. Throughout all of this, we’re learning that we all need to be able to rely on each other just a bit and take a bit of comfort in knowing that these considerations we’re each making as individuals (rescheduling, not canceling in particular) add up to a great deal of hope for everyone in tourism.

To everyone reading: stay healthy and safe. We really are all in this together and this is our time to shine as people, thinking about ourselves not just as individuals but truly as members of the global community; a community that’s trying to heal and move forward stronger and kinder than before. ✨

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort.