Changing the date of that booked holiday could be the kindest thing to do right now. Rather than seeking a refund, simply postponing plans might be a greater help than you could imagine. It may not feel right even thinking about travel right now – but we will want to. And until we do, there are a lot of people out there relying on us. Around 10 per cent of the world works in tourism. And right now most of those people have pretty much lost their jobs without notice. Not just the travel agents or flight attendants currently on unpaid leave – the Maasai guide, the Machu Picchu porter, the cinnamon-stick seller in Sri Lanka – they all rely on tourism, and might still be oblivious to the scale of the world’s turmoil. Soon they’ll have nothing.
‘We’re in this together’ – that’s the sentiment and spirit in this cherished community of ours. Defer, don’t drop that trip. When we do finally get away, hosts will be more eager than ever to welcome us. As lovers of travel, the best thing we can do for small, independent hotels is show sensitivity and support. Or else they might not be there on the other side. It’s not just about businesses losing bookings, it’s about all the individuals throughout the supply chains set to suffer from a total loss of income.
As inboxes heave with ‘a message from our founders’ sent by retailers, service providers and every single hotel you’ve ever stayed at, with updates on hygiene policies and terms and conditions when it comes to cancellations, what is key to look for is flexibility. Not only have hotels and operators lost all their customers, but all the bookings they did have require many man-hours to rejig and replan. With zero revenue coming in, let’s imagine how it must be on the other side. Filoxenía is the Greek word for hospitality. It translates, roughly, as showing kindness to a stranger, since ‘xenos’ meant ‘guest’ before the word evolved into meaning ‘foreigner’. In ancient Greece, it was prized as the most important of virtues: the respect and honour shown from host to visitor were the genesis of hospitality – it’s also up to us to show kindness, too.
Travel agents are showing us their mettle and value right now. Years of building up knowledge so they can share expertise and insight to ensure the greatest of escapes. Times such as this certainly demonstrate the advantage of booking through a human or reputable agency; they’ve got our backs and they know the small print, inside out. And that deserves our loyalty. What are our rights? Well, SETO (Syndicat des Entreprises du Tour Opérating) in France just got the go-ahead from the government to delay trips and issue vouchers to clients, rather than offering full reimbursements – it seems harsh, but perhaps we ought to postpone and feel complicit rather than shortchanged. ABTA is working to protect organisers who may have suppliers who are unable to refund – yes, there might be emergency funds to limit consumer hardship, but it could be for the best to avoid the headache and just push that trip back. It might be better for everyone in the long run.
When normal services resume, let’s be more mindful than ever of the power we hold as customers to help heal a post-C-word world. Let’s not scrabble around opportunistically for the cheapest bargains; instead think about every link in every supply chain that depends on our money. Consider how future trips can have a positive impact. According to the United Nations, for every $100 spent by a traveller from a developed country, only $5 stays in the local developing economy.
As thoughts of organic, plastic-free lives are gazumped by an appetite for antibacterial gels and latex gloves, please keep nurturing that conscience for the greater good when it comes to the world as a whole. Think of the most vulnerable humans at the end of the supply chains in the most deprived parts of the world who are having any flow of tourism totally cut off. ‘Rescheduling holidays also maintains that much-needed anticipation which gives us something to look forward to and helps us to all see the light at the end of the tunnel,’ says James Jayasundera, founder of Ampersand Travel. ‘If we care about all of these services that enhance our lives, we also need to look after them, too. Planning a new holiday or even postponing is going to help to give hope.
What this crazy, untameable virus has shown us is we’re all connected. Nature is a sequence of closed-loop systems, it’s a circular economy or virtuous circle where all activity is paid forward. Let’s take nature’s lead and consider how to spread better health to those in need during these unprecedented and uncertain times. As we wait, clueless as to how this will unfold, let’s look to travel company Black Tomato’s words: ‘We need to focus on caring for each other and the world we inhabit.’