Editor’s Note: We will be staying on top of the impacts on our industry from COVID-19 and sharing expert insight and resources. Skip King, of Reputation Strategies, has navigated many an industry crisis and here we share his take on the situation.
Whether you think the concern—even panic—over COVID-19 is warranted or not is immaterial. The fact is that it’s the leading worldwide story, and it’s likely to stay that way for a while.
Part of that is because the news media attracts more ears and eyeballs when something big and alarming is happening. If you’re a publisher or news director, this stuff is great for business. Every cloud has a silver lining for the press.
But part of it is because there’s still a tremendous amount that’s unknown at this point. All appearances are that the mortality rate is fairly low, and the folks who it really wallops tend to be some of those who would also be at risk if they caught the flu—specifically, older folks and those who already have significant health issues. Kids, at least so far, seem not to be at elevated risk, though they are Petri dishes in everyday life anyway, so even if they’re fine, they could put grandpa at risk.
More importantly, all appearances are that COVID-19 is pretty damned contagious. And that’s a real-deal problem, because although very smart people around the globe are working non-stop to create vaccines and effective treatments, it’s likely to be a while before those are available.
The travel and tourism sector is already feeling the effects. Cruise lines are hugely impacted. We’ve heard tell of people cancelling bookings at ski areas. Major events, such as SXSW, are being cancelled. College basketball teams are playing in front of empty arenas. Airlines are feeling the pinch as both business and leisure travelers are opting—or being told—to stay home for now.
Relaxed change/cancellation rules. Speaking of airlines, this morning (March 9) we received advisories from two of the airlines we regularly fly. The advisories were very well done. But the more notable thing is that most domestic U.S. airlines have already relaxed rules regarding change fees on travel—a very smart move, in our opinion. It’s one we think you should strongly consider. More on that below.
Reducing exposure. People are changing their behavior these days—for the most part, in smart ways. We’re not talking about wearing masks everywhere, but about basic hygiene and being circumspect about traditions like shaking hands. They’re also starting to reduce their exposure to places where they come into contact with others. You can say that’s smart, or you can say it’s an over-reaction. Doesn’t matter. They’re doing it.
Realistically, people who buy your services are engaged in activities that, for the most part, really don’t offer high likelihood of transmission—at least, not while they’re actively engaged in those activities. The risk of transmission is highest in the access points—visitor centers, ticket areas, gear-up areas, F&B outlets, that sort of thing—and activities that involve close interaction, such as zip line landing platforms or some experiential activities. That’s where we recommend being especially careful, and even changing some activities to reduce instances of close contact.
What You Can Do
Sanitation policies. Keep an even sharper-than-normal eye on sanitation—in F&B, bathrooms, gear-up areas, etc. Make things squeaky clean, as often as possible. Make hand sanitizer easily accessible for guests and staff alike (even though good handwashing is probably more effective). Those airline messages we mentioned earlier? Both airlines are now using the same hospital-grade disinfectant used in bathrooms in ALL of their cleaning. They’re being more careful, and you can, too.
Cancellation policies. What else can you do? Well, for starters, you can accept the fact that some, if not most, adventure parks and experiential programs are likely to see business levels fall off fairly dramatically this spring. It’s your business, but we do think it’s worth being as flexible as you can with deposits and pre-purchases; doing so improves the chances you’ll get those folks back at some point, instead of angering them to the point at which they’re unlikely to darken your door again.
Staff policies. You can keep an eye on staff. Let them know what’s going on. Encourage them to use best practices in personal hygiene. Remember, people can be contagious even if they don’t show signs of illness. So, staffers—especially those in guide or front-line positions—who either are ill or have a close family member who is, should probably not be interacting with the public (if even on the property). It should go without saying, but that’s going to be especially important in areas like gear-up and ground school, where people are in close quarters.
Stay current. Keep a sharp eye on developments. Remember, the news business has a vested interest in making this story as alarming as possible, but truly good and timely information is being generated by sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A wealth of regularly-updated information is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. We suggest checking daily for updates.
Finally, communicate. Communicate with your staff about what you expect to happen—and what you expect of them. And, communicate with your guests: What are you doing in your operation? How are you managing cleaning and sanitation procedures? What products or services have you changed in response? What are you doing with regard to pre-booked business, if guests prefer not to come?
The good news is that the risks, at least currently, still remain pretty low for most people. But the angst out there is genuine, and not completely misplaced. Many businesses, especially in the recreation industry, are likely to feel at least a short-term impact. Ultimately, however, this crisis—like all crises—will eventually be over. We suggest planning your actions today based upon how you want your clientele to view you once this crisis has past.