Our Recommended 3P approach to COVID-19

by Mar 4, 2020Covid-19, Hotel Operations, Travel & Tourism

We have arrived at the season of misinformation, panic, and sharing of stories (both genuine and rumoured) amongst family, friends, and colleagues. For instance, take this morning’s headline news as provided by a mainstream daily which suggested that 5 schools had shut down in the NCR. Fact Check – the article when read actually meant that two had shut and three of the related schools had decided to shut down earlier starting Friday or next week for the spring break as a preventive measure and that they would avoid PTA meetings scheduled earlier as the report cards could be distributed on-line (a pragmatic and preventive reason). Another TV channel had already decided to pre-name anything related to COVID-19 as the killer Coronavirus.

As a hospitality consultant, it’s my job to forecast what’s to come and then make appropriate recommendations. Unfortunately, I doubt I would survive in the mainstream broadcasting world where one is trying to out-do the next to get those eyeballs. However, as any consultant, I need to do fieldwork and get a better reading of the overall market before I start churning out my forecast and recommendations. What has stood out for me over the past 24 hours are the following things:

  • China announced the new number of cases to be further down to just 119 today from the previous day when it was 125. Both these are the lowest new case numbers since middle of January.
  • The Wuhan temporary hospital structure that they put up within a week will shortly not be in use as they feel they have things under control in regular hospitals and is expected to shut in March.
  • Apple announced re-opening of their factories in China. Read this.
  • Starbuck announced that they were re-opening many of their closed stores in China. Read this. 
  • Marriott Hotels & Resorts are re-opening some of their hotels in China.
  • A call with a friend in Singapore will show that businesses are finally getting back to normal. At lunch time the streets are crowded, and the street vendors are doing brisk business again. Hotel occupancies are back in the 50’s and are expected to potentially touch the 60’s in the coming week.

I predict that by the time you read this article you would have come across at least one more news which is positive. However, currently in the throngs of paranoia, you will see at least 10 negative stories for every positive one out there, as it just does not serve the purpose of the media to be responsible. The preferred approach would be to be able to sift out the noise from the news. We need to follow what I am calling the 3P approach. Let’s be Pragmatic about what needs to be done or recommended. Let’s be Preventive in our actions and speech; and finally let’s not simply press the Panic button.

Yes, things will get bad before they become better (just like in China, and please understand I am not saying that China is completely out of the woods yet).  However, let’s look at the overall picture. The only recommendation I would make is not to have any knee-jerk reactions to what you read and see on social and mainstream media. History and prior similar situations like SARs (in particular) and H1N1 indicated that the hospitality industry came back very strongly, almost in a V-shaped manner. Goa became a year-round destination post SARS in 2003. The same year also coincided with the start of the growth of domestic tourism. These are hard facts that are indisputable. Having said the same, there is no doubt that the longer this continues it could lead to a global recession and therefore have other types of medium to long term impact on all businesses.

Last week I wrote an article on the Corona virus and made some recommendations with regards to advising hotel operations team of not taking knee jerk reactions to reducing or cutting room rates in an attempt to stimulate room nights in the short term. Those that need to come to a particular hotel will come regardless of what rates are being offered and now is not the time to attract them with bargain deals that can overcome their fear.  

Some of the global industry events (ITB, IHIF, PATA) as they relate to the travel and trade industry took a pragmatic view of postponing or cancelling their events in their respective locations. Pragmatic because a large majority of there attendees were from overseas markets involving international travel from countries that have been affected hard and with the events being out just by a few days or weeks it was a good preventive measure. We have our own decision to make with regards to HICSA scheduled for April 1-2. The annual conference in Mumbai attracts mostly domestic delegates and hardly any from the major source markets. Our view is we will not panic just because others around the world are doing it. We will take a timely and pragmatic call on the same in the coming days ahead. This thought process was also re-iterated in our multiple conversations I have had with various Industry stakeholders.

I know the situation in India is rapidly evolving and things might be different tomorrow. Till then my advice is to keep calm and let’s not push that panic button just yet. Let’s be pragmatic and preventive by not doing silly things. I do believe things may get worse before they turn around just as we are seeing in some of the earlier countries affected.

This article is authored by Manav Thadani and the views presented are personal.

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