Words are flowing out
Like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe – John Lennon, The Beatles
Plenty of words, indeed, have flowed from my keyboard in this awful year that feels sometimes like it has stretched for a decade.
It was 6 January when we first wrote about a then-new coronavirus strain discovered in China. By 22 January I was writing on this Blog: “Those of us who worked in this industry during the SARS crisis of 2003 know only too well what impact a major health crisis can have on travel markets, performance and stocks. I hope against hope that a repeat is not on the cards, but it is a time of deep concern for our channel.”
Perversely, if a repeat had been on the cards, we would be looking at 2021 a whole lot more optimistically than we are now. SARS was a terrible storm, mainly in Asia but it blew over in around eight months from the time of the first documented case.
Some 12 months on from the first identified case, COVID-19 is still raging like a typhoon. As I write, more than 76 million cases have been reported, and over 1.68 million lives lost, an unforgivable 33.8% of them in three countries whose leaders were most blasé about the threat in its early days and who have done little or nothing to instil confidence since – the US, Brazil and the UK.
As Ferdinand Mount, Former Head of Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street Policy Unit said so witheringly, “Bolsonaro, Trump and Johnson: these are men you wouldn’t put in charge of containing an outbreak of acne.”
The transformation of our world and, of course, our industry across those 12 months has been cataclysmic. While the rapid-fire rollout of the vaccines has delivered that crucial component of optimism, any such sentiment is inevitably tempered by the logistical difficulties involved in distributing the various courses worldwide. It’s going to be a rough ride in the aviation, tourism and travel retail sectors for a while yet and the commercial and employment toll has alas not peaked.
Embracing a fusion of optimism and caution strikes me as the best way ahead, certainly on a parochial level for my business. Prudence is required but so is nimbleness. Instead of thinking big we sometimes have to think small, treating our businesses as highly flexible enterprises (a good word, that one) that can switch tack as quickly as an America’s Cup crew. What worked (or didn’t) in 2020 might not get the same result next year. Anticipate the next gust of favourable wind, constantly keep watch for the adverse variety.
We’re closing out 2020 with a wrap-up eZine of the events and emotions that punctuated the year from a very upbeat go to a very downbeat whoa. The centrepiece of the edition will be a tribute to the men and women at the frontline of our industry through the years. It’s been both eye-opening and poignant this week to read some of the many submissions from employers (thank you) as they have saluted these largely unsung heroes and heroines. Look out for their pictures and stories in coming days.
I’m staying put in my Interim Hong Kong Bureau for what must pass as the festive season before laying down more permanent roots here in January with our new China-based global headquarters. I’m excited about that though the anticipation of a new and better year is muted by sheer weariness from this one.