No longer limited to local trips, running tours again sure counts as a different travel experience. After a 2-year hiatus that saw the entire travel and hospitality industry come to a halt, it finally has all come to life again.
Being back on tour is a great feeling and I haven’t stopped smiling yet since hitting the road in early April. Quite tellingly, every soul in the industry I’ve met so far has expressed the same relief and joy over seeing visitors again. I am clearly not the only one sporting a smile!
But it is a changed landscape… and we will have to contend with the longer term fall-out for a little longer yet.
A different way to travel
The hospitality industry is probably one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with ongoing impact. While almost no travel restrictions in the form of tests and additional admin like PLFs remain in Europe, the testing requirement still dissuades some long-haul visitors. The potential travel ban and enforced extended stay is particularly tricky for our American friends yet. The nagging thought of not getting the all clear in the form of a negative test result makes the anxiety levels decidedly go up as a tour nears its end. The good news is that so far, only one out of about 60 of my guests, spread across 4 tours and 5 countries has tested positive.
But tour life has changed in other ways as well. Restaurants are struggling with staff shortages. You can no longer just rock up with a group of people unannounced and get them fed. This never used to be a problem with small groups. Now you have to pre-book almost everything just to make sure you won’t get caught out. “Sorry, we have no availability” doesn’t so much mean that there are no tables. Often restaurants are filled only to half capacity, so there are plenty of tables. The real problem is that there is no staff to serve all tables.
Hotels have similar problems. Pre-pandemic, it would have been unthinkable… A hotel room not getting a daily visit from housekeeping to make the bed… Change the towels… Wipe down the bathroom fixtures. Now in many places, room cleaning services are based on request, again because of staff shortages.
Even venues like museums and visitor attractions are struggling. They have to keep parts of the site closed because they no longer have the pool of staff to man all the rooms and keep an eye on things. Many have been operating for years on the goodwill of their volunteers, generally an older demographic. They may therefore still feel a little reluctant to give up on social distancing. Or they simply got used to “being retired”.
… or is it more how it used to be?
But it is not all doom and gloom. There are upshots to this new situation, challenging as it is. Do we really need fresh sheets on the bed every day? I’m sure it comes as no shock to you that I don’t change my sheets daily at home. And we’ve all seen the stickers in hotel bathrooms for years, telling us to help the environment by leaving towels on the floor if we want them changed but hang them up to use them again, only to find them replaced anyway! Perhaps simply not collecting towels and sheets at all is finally accomplishing what these stickers have failed to do.
And while it may be frustrating to hear there is a ½ hour wait for the next table when only half the tables are occupied at a restaurant, there are positives there too. The service I have received recently in a number of places has been out of this world. It seems like many people have left the industry, but those that are still there now, really WANT to be there! Their professionalism and friendliness have made me feel time and again like a valued customer. Maybe those currently working in hospitality really love what they are doing.
Venues may have to get creative in how they deal with ongoing staff shortages. Keeping a system of timed entries, offering guided tours at set times instead of letting people meander through a property as they please or simply rotate which sections of a property are opened to the public are all ways to run with lower staff levels.
There is no denying that the travel world is showing a changed landscape and the whole of the hospitality industry is facing some serious challenges yet. But rather than vent frustration over what no longer is, embrace what IS there. We have come back from such a deep hole already and it will keep getting better. Believe me when I say: everyone is very happy to see you!