Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

When the history of the pandemic is written, I have little doubt that the travel industry will be studied closely. Our response to the crisis is a case-study-in-the-making of an industry under tremendous pressure over a prolonged period of time. Psychologists, sociologists and academics who study the roots of resilience in the face of adversity will dissect our experiences to identify the building blocks of industrial perseverance.

I'm no social scientist, but I have theories about why travel professionals press on in an extremely challenging environment. If there's a formula behind our will to persist, I believe these are some of its components:

We're generous professionals

By and large, we're happy to share what we've learned. There's an understanding that disclosing how one overcame difficult experiences contributes to the progress of all. I've always been impressed that when I interview advisors and suppliers, my sources seem eager to share what has worked for them. Yes, competitors have sharp elbows when necessary, but time and again I've seen that when the industry is challenged, there's a collective awareness that the travel ecosystem does not operate as a zero-sum game.

Over time, our business skills have become sharpened by adversity

We're still relatively early in the century, but we've already been challenged by three significant threats (9/11, the Great Recession and the pandemic) and dozens of more localized tests: recurring incidents of terrorism, natural disasters, civil strife, supplier bankruptcies, war. Our ranks get thinned regularly, with survivors strengthened by experience. The result: an industry with a concentration of companies that have heightened levels of operational skill, sophistication and confidence.

We are an industry of optimists.

At professional conferences, I'm not particularly impressed when speaker after speaker projects positivity; every industry has cheerleaders. But I've observed that, in travel, messages of hopefulness are underpinned with genuine insight and supported by research. It's tremendously motivating when we believe our reasons for continued optimism are rooted in reality. Our leaders step up to the plate with more than just platitudes.

There is investor and stakeholder confidence

In the early, dark days of the pandemic, the cruise industry quickly received infusions of billions of dollars from capital markets, sovereign funds and private equity. Governments supported airlines and small travel businesses alike. These expressions of confidence provided both important cash flow and a psychological lift.

Sectors are separate but connected

The travel industry is not one industry but a web of interconnected, mutually reliant sectors: tours, cruise, aviation, hospitality, theme parks, destinations, ground transportation, technology vendors and retailers. In some industries, this fragmentation could easily become a liability in times of crisis. For the travel industry, it has been a foundational strength. A consumer trip may involve every one of these elements, and our survival depends on mutual support. 

During the pandemic, this manifested strongly along the critical supplier-retailer axis, where suppliers provided loans and revised commission plans and retailers rebooked (and rebooked and rebooked) canceled trips. The entire travel community has likewise been buoyed by frequent, honest communication, reflecting recognition that intersecting relationships will be critical when the crisis subsides.

The travel industry is fueled by passion 

Most people choose a job in travel because they're inspired by a desire to see the world, understand its people, dive deeply into culture, immerse themselves in the natural world and work in an industry of like-minded colleagues. And to succeed in travel requires the ability to communicate this passion to customers and guests. It's hard to walk away from such a rewarding profession.

Travel professionals are educators

They inform consumers about border restrictions, health requirements and the arcane rules and regulations of air ticketing. They provide geography lessons. They heighten cultural sensitivity and awareness. And in doing so, they not only provide valuable information to customers, they reinforce their own sense of professionalism, purpose and pride in their craft.

Creativity, vision and expertise abounds

The combination of vision and technical expertise found in the travel industry is unrivaled. A novelist can create a compelling vision of the world based on his or her imagination and bring it to life with nothing more than a word-processing program. But the minds behind theme parks, cruise ships and resorts have visions that are just as detailed but must be brought to physical life through an extraordinary combination of creativity, technology and teamwork. The process inspires the entire industry.

Travel companies moved forward even when times were tough

And finally, there were, despite unimaginable hurdles, tangible signs of progress for the travel industry during the pandemic. Cruise ships and spaceships were launched. Electric cars were added to rental car fleets. Costly and inefficient equipment was pruned from air and cruise inventory. Hotels took advantage of downtime to renovate. These signs of renewal in the midst of crisis helped maintain faith that there will indeed be a bright light at the end of a long, long tunnel. 

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