For the past few days I have been writing headlines I never thought I’d write. Never wanted to write. Some of the world’s best and busiest airports closed; some of our industry’s most successful and acclaimed retailers shut for business. National boundaries closed; nationwide lockdowns; cruise passengers trapped at sea; travellers in quarantine; commercial catastrophes on a mass scale.
Like all of you I am feeling bewildered; both stunned at what has happened with this health crisis, unsure of what will come next. What began in December as a mystery localised illness in a single Chinese city has become a global pandemic that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives. Even typing that statistic made me stop in my tracks. For when I made a similar observation on Sunday during a Podcast, the figure was just over 13,000. That’s how fast things are changing.
My home office is no longer a Moodie Davitt Report Interim Bureau as I indicated in my last Blog. There’s no interim about it. I’m going to be here – and only here – for quite some time. The UK, like many countries around the world is on lockdown (in common with a quarter of the world’s population) as the COVID-19 tally soars. There are currently 8,317 confirmed cases in the country and 433 deaths. On Sunday when I did my Podcast it was 5,067 and 233. I don’t have to tell you the percentage growth rates those comparisons represent.
This curse (for that’s what it feels like) of a disease has changed everything. Countries, communities, companies. The travel sector has been brutalised and with it travel retail has suffered commercial carnage. Like all companies in the sector, we are trying to come to grips with the ferocity of the slowdown. Like everyone, we are trying to manage our business as best we can, following a familiar but weary refrain – get costs down, operate just as well as you can, support others as best you can, hang on. Hang on.
On Sunday I drove to Moodie Davitt HQ to pick up some important papers and other materials to sustain me through what may be an extended stint here. It may not be long before I am banned from returning (already, work must be deemed ‘essential’). The office, like the giant building that houses it, was empty, evidence of all my colleagues having done likewise and taken their work from home essentials with them. Eerie? A little. Poignant was the word that came to mind.
I placed my signed All Blacks rugby ball (a gift from Lagardère Travel Retail General Manager New Zealand Grzegorz Cuber during my late 2019 visit to my homeland) in price of place on my office chair.
On the wall behind my chair I have an original work by UK artist Trudie Timlin Brown, who (literally) weaves magic, crossing threads and ideas in beautiful artworks. The words on the piece below, repeated over and over again, say ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’. They are from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Whenever I have faced major challenges in, or to, my life in recent years I have taken succour in those words.
After I had read them once more, I turned towards the door, took the photo of a place normally vibrant with the chatter of my colleagues, now laid silent and empty. I (unaccountably) walked back, patted the ball and said “Look after the place”. I felt like the FedEx executive, Chuck Nolan, played by Tom Hanks in the film Castaway who gets stranded on a desert island after his plane crashes in the South Pacific. To help him remain sane and feel less isolated, he paints a face on a volleyball that he nicknames Wilson and begins talking to. I guess it was my Wilson moment.
It’s better at my new less-than-Interim Bureau of course than on a desert island and I am, as I said in my last Blog, among the lucky ones. I have a warm and safe home where I am well set up to run my business. But like all of us, I am disconcerted by all this. I don’t know when I will see my four kids again (my daughter, Sinead, who many of you know through our subscription and advertising department is in lockdown in Wales, six months pregnant) and just hope they, my team, and my friends (industry or otherwise) around the world will be ok.
The human side of this crisis was brought home to all our team yesterday when one of my team discovered her father had been diagnosed with the coronavirus and her Mum was being tested. And as they live abroad she can’t even get to see them.
I have always been a workaholic but I have never been busier. It is a day and night job to even attempt to keep up with developments and to keep the industry informed. Frankly, it sometimes feel impossible. Business, of course, is rough but we’re determined to continue doing things not only to the maximum of our ability professionally but also to offer support to others wherever we can.
How are all our credentials showing up in this crisis? As industry players seek relief so they must try to give it down the line. Not everyone is. I am not going to write about the need for, say, retailer support and then not show maximum flexibility when it comes to our business partners wanting to postpone any investment. “Sorry, terms & conditions apply.” If you’re told that, remind the party concerned that so will terms and conditions when the good times return. As in who you do business with. Don’t put up with it. Remind them they might find themselves talking to their own Wilson one day.
Keep sending me your feedback. I welcome the many emails and am doing my best to answer them while keeping up with the day and night job. Many of us around the world might be in physical isolation. Let it only be physical.