Saturday, March 14, 2020. That day was like no other, restaurants, bars, tavernas, schools and other services were all closed. The following days the situation got even worse with restrictions on the operation of supermarkets, other food outlets and closure of all retail shops.
By Ioannis Bras, CEO Five Senses Consulting
All of us were left struggling with our ego to discipline with the instructions from the experts and the Ministry to stay home, in order to protect ourselves, our children and especially the elderly. That day was when we all realized that COVID-19 was really here and it was changing our lives.
On the same ‘‘train ride’’ are the tourism businesses in all their forms but also the cruise worldwide. Closed borders and seasonal hotels, cancellations, damages, employees agonizing for their future and the unknown that creates anxiety and stress. One could easily say that the next few months will be the hardest in the global village we call EARTH.
The situation is difficult everywhere with restrictions that have never been enforced in time of peace with cancellations of exhibitions, flights, cruises, travel in general not only from the traveler’s side but also from the governments and tour operators that suspend operations. Many countries temporarily close their borders, flights to/from different destinations are cancelled, and most cruise companies have also suspend operations at least until the end of April. The tourism season looks like it is lost until the end of May and all schools/universities are also closed at least until Greek Easter time (19/04), leaving the student community baffled about how the school year will develop.
After 70+ phone calls and a fierce battle with the call center representative of a well-known airline, I was able to get a full refund for the tickets I lost due to the restriction to travel to the US for a Major Cruise Exhibition. After this real battle I thought that we should not let the situation defeat us. We must not let any virus or anything else stipulate our future. Then I thought out loud: Yes, but what can you do with this situation now?
I am one of the lucky/unlucky ones to have been hospitalized for over a year when I was at university and I know firsthand what it’s like to be unable to move, be unable to function be unable to ‘live’. What someone can do in situations like this, is to put your thoughts in order and plan for the future the best way you can.
The current situation, no matter how difficult it is, at some point, will allow us to return to our normal everyday life. But if we, all of us, the Thinkers, the Authorities, the Local and General Government, etc. do not seek the opportunities that this crisis can generate, then our time in ‘lockdown’ will be for nothing.
The first opportunity, whose implementation has already started, is long distance learning. The Greek Ministry of Education is already testing applications and methodologies with the use of technology and soon all students will be able to continue their lessons from home. We need to utilize the opportunity and upgrade our understanding on the ways we teach and the ways we perceive knowledge. The education community needs to create for the new generation alternative ways of learning given that the ‘the information is out there’ and also create a flexible system that is responsive and connected everywhere.
The second opportunity that will significantly help reduce the size of the economic impact created by COVID-19 is to try and extend the regular tourist season in Greece to the end of November. The weather in many areas is still very good during this time and the infrastructure capabilities to support an extended season exist. With all the Countries, Authorities, Tour Operators, Airlines, Hotel Owners and the entire supply and transport chain effected by the situation globally, extending the season for 2 months seems like an ideal solution to reduce the damage cost that is already weighing heavily on everyone.
To the best of my knowledge the Ministry of Tourism has started initial discussions on this subject, even though it is not top priority right now, but as soon as discussions can start the effort must be cooperative and targeted. It is up to the State, the Tour Operators, the Airlines & Ferry Owners, the Hotel owners and tourism businesses and really everyone who is involved in the industry, to seize the opportunity and reach an agreement that will be beneficial for everyone. There has never been a need for a more collective effort, which in many cases will be an effort for survival especially for the very small businesses.
With the hope that the crisis will soon be over, the expansion of the tourist season will also provide opportunities for new forms of tourism in many areas of Greece and will create an additional trend/opportunity other than that of the classic ‘Sea & Sun’ model.
Please remember that the current situation as difficult as it might develop it will get better and then who and how quickly will make their return is clearly a matter of strategy, good forward planning and actions that we need to start thinking and organizing right now. If we manage this, we will have created the basis for repeating the extending of the season next year and the next until it becomes the standard season. Greece can and should have an extended tourist season and now is our opportunity to make this a reality.
We are all responsible for our future. Please #StaySafe and take advantage of the time we are given today with our families.