When you shake a snow globe, it rattles the entire world in it. When you stop shaking it and wait for a few minutes, everything starts to fall and settles down slowly. However, most of the objects in the snow globe will not fall on precisely the same place as it was before you shook it. COVID-19 is shaking our world exactly the same way, and when it ends, nothing will fall in its own place. Everything will be different.
The pandemic is affecting every sector across the world. In fact, the hospitality industry took the strongest punch. According to a book written by Elizabeth Becker – Overlooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism - the $8 trillion travel industry got destroyed overnight. The essential pillars of the 21st century of travel – open borders, open destinations and visa-free travel will not return anytime soon.
The travel industry always creates a domino effect on the hospitality industry. At the beginning of the pandemic, when most governments across the world closed their borders and banned international travel, almost all hotels shut down their doors and were even forced to lay off employees. For example, 1.4 million workers lost their jobs in the UK in April 2020 alone.
The vulnerability of the hospitality industry employees to COVID-19 is a global phenomenon of massive proportions. It is because, during the pre-COVID world, the hospitality industry was booming and attracting a high number of employees. Diverse employment opportunities were available worldwide, starting from students to migrants and women to older workers.
Thus, higher adverse effects on the hospitality industry will have more significant negative impacts on the economy. The tourism industry accounts for 10% of the world's GDP (Gross Domestic Product). According to recent statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), prolonged travel restrictions can eliminate $4.7 trillion in the industry's contribution to the total GDP of the globe, equating to a loss of 53% compared to last year.
Thus, a set of recommendations were introduced by WTTC and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in September 2020 to help businesses to safely reopen amid COVID-19. The initiative worked as a glimmer of light in the midst of darkness for the tourism industry.
Several hotels, motels, lodges and resorts slowly started to reopen their doors globally by maintaining protocols from both international and national authorities. For example, Le Méridien Dhaka reopened on September 1, 2020, in line with the guidelines set by Marriott International and the national government.
There is a saying around the world that crises can be turned into opportunities. COVID-19 and some significant events of 2020 have brought numerous aspects of activities into the perspective of people worldwide. People and their concerns are becoming more sustainable. The crisis will push industries into according more priority to eco-friendly and health concerns.
Moreover, despite the limitations on international travel, the hospitality industry has started to recover slightly due to local tourism. For example, in Bangladesh, large numbers of people are traveling to places like Cox's Bazaar or Gazipur for relaxation, thus slightly boosting the hospitality industry's growth. Now international travel has taken a backseat to prolonged domestic escapades. On the other hand, expats living in Dhaka have been seen to be staying in the hotels to conduct work-from-home.
Meanwhile, hotels are now focusing on the food and beverage sector. As an instance, Le Méridien Dhaka has started to provide catering and takeaways to our customers. Since most people are still working from home and trying to avoid social gatherings to limit the spread of the virus, customers nowadays prefer to get food at their homes rather than restaurants.
The pandemic has boosted digital technologies, and hotels across the globe are also slowly adapting to the change. Hotels are now redesigning their operation activities, and the properties to facilitate better and safer service to guests, such as unnecessary meet and greet, have lessened. Soon, contactless technologies will become the norm for the hospitality industry, while automated cleaning features and IoT preventative measures might become a common aspect.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has made people realize the benefits of traveling. Travel boosts mental health and personal growth. Thus, when the situation starts improving, and the international travel ban is lifted, people will start traveling. Maybe not the way it was before because nothing will ever be the same again. However, people will go on trips, and soon the tourism industry will also start to revive.
The tourism and hospitality industry will not witness any dramatic change of rising and going to a peak in a day, but it will increase slowly. Numerous activities during COVID-19, like local tourism, catering and the support of policy-makers have given hope to the hoteliers that one day the hospitality and tourism industry will rise and thrive, like Phoenix rising from ashes.
[The writer is general manager of Le Meridien Dhaka]