Feedback by Dr. Birgit Trauer Ph.D. The Cultural Angle
Coronavirus impact and coronavirus resilience zones (CRZ)
The coronavirus impacts and developments seem almost unsurmountable at this stage. And it is tempting to return to that which we know something about, wanting to return to our comfort zones, to the ‘old normal’. However, I believe, like so many have expressed, that we are wise not to rush and return to the ‘old normal the day after’ – which does not exist – there is only a ‘new normal’ – if we accept reality and work with it – embrace a ‘new normal’ and a new human conscience. That in my view is the greatest challenge that we are facing!
The latest developments regarding coronavirus in China (new mutations …second uprise of coronavirus cases…new major lock-downs) again show that we have to be vigilant and continuously weigh up, again and again, the pros and cons, the costs and benefits on various fronts. – I reposted an article by The Conversation on LinkedIn and on my Facebook that reflects on the Spanish Flu in 1919 and its relevance to coronavirus…
Coronavirus Resilience Zones (RCZ)
As I understand, based on comments made by Dr. Rifai, the coronavirus resilience zones approach (CRZ) pays utmost attention to all developments as part of their formative evaluations.
It appears that destinations and organizations – not aware (yet) of the CRZ concept – in an attempt to alleviate the mounting economic hardship felt throughout society are possibly not demonstrating sufficient respect of the unknowns associated with the coronavirus (potential of re/contamination) – yes, I am concerned about a second more devastating the second wave….
Critical mindfulness of opportunities and threats, along with strengths and weaknesses is certainly evident in the CRZ approach adopted for ‘rebuilding.travel’ as highlighted by Dr. Rifai. It clearly demonstrates a concern with the big picture in mind, important in rebuilding trust in travelers, and other stakeholders…and rebuilding the industry. No doubt, we all realise this and that it is not an easy task given the complexities!
I agree with Dr. Rifai that local and domestic travel and tourism are important for rebuilding.travel, although, as mentioned, it may not carry the same potential for all. However, apart from the importance for rebuilding local economies by opening tourism (as it seems to be referred to in the media) in home regions, it also rebuilds trust among locals and the general public at large, as highlighted by Alain St. Ange “…to become spokesmen for the world”.
Some of the questions that come to mind for me are:
- Q: To what extent is there appreciation that locals tend to be more trusting in what is familiar, what is personally and directly associate with their comfort zones and feeling ‘taken care of’? (psychology of tourists as alluded by a brief comment by Dr. Rifai)
- Q: Would we (all of us travelers) benefit from learning to appreciate what we have in our own backyards before we go overseas – minimizing the hunger for the next ‘escape’ from what we believe to be missing at home? (and that includes those working in or for travel and tourism)
- Q: Would a practice of gratitude and patience be valuable for all of us to appreciate what we have – as a way to contribute to peace of mind and peace-oriented attitudes and behavior towards/with others?
- Q: Have we thought that traveling at home (domestic tourism) also might be a perfect way to enjoy getting to know not only our own nature, architecture etc. but also other people who live in our home environment?
- Q: Have we thought about extending our welcome and respect as travelers at home to those people with a different way of life in our neighborhoods – including the expression of different religious beliefs?
- Q: Are we giving locals who are travelling at home a sense of ‘ownership’ and appreciation of their importance in spreading the message to the wider community/world that the risks associated with travel in their home are under ‘control’? – This creates feelings of pride = CRZ
The importance of trust and pride that locals feel and demonstrate in their home environment sends messages further afield– to people within regions of relative proximity, and eventually those in far distant lands – (3 stage marketing).
Locals can become the ambassadors for their own CRZ at home for visitors from within the region and from afar (international)
Rebuilding confidence and trust
To rebuild trust (mentioned a few times, including also by Raed Habiss), the need for marketing was raised – clearly a need for it at all three stages of containment/pre-recovery phase, early recovery phase, and then late recovery phase. The importance of alignment between marketing and management, between promise and delivery, we all know is a prerequisite for rebuilding and sustaining trust. Trust is at the core of any brand! (marketing/branding – so often a matter of image creation lacks appreciation of keeping the importance of sociological and psychological perspectives in mind – focus often driven by the perceived importance of media channels etc.).
- Q: What is trust?
Trust is a matter of Intent – Integrity – Competence – Reliability
The intent is often not mentioned in the discussion of trust; yet intent is something we as human beings assess as part of our basic social survival mechanism – establishing ill will/goodwill – cooperation/competition. Of course, our social perception of intent does not exist in isolation from the cultural premises of individualism and collectivism – trust having to be earned or trust is based on status and superiority.
Destinations and organizations with CRZ in mind within their marketing, no doubt, will be seen as well-intended brands.
With the above in mind, looking at the request to look at ‘what to do next’ during the meeting, questions such as the following might help to illuminate our concerns:
- Q: What (or who) is it that instills a sense of trust? In ourselves? In Others? In the environment in which we live, work, and travel?
- Q: How do we demonstrate intent and integrity, with an emphasis on caring intent right from the start – in the context of travel and tourism: wanting to deliver safe and enjoyable experiences?
- Q: How do we demonstrate integrity – alignment with the caring intent proclaimed?
- Q: How do we demonstrate competence and reliability?
From what I could gather by the comments made by Dr. Rifai, the CRZ approach is extremely conscious of how to create and demonstrate trust – the various touchpoints in the case of the Aqaba/Petra mentioned by Dr. Rifai along travel experiences being a matter in point, serving as excellent examples. I thought they also demonstrated how important it is to
- Remain astute to the fact that any rush decisions may endanger the build-up of any positive momentum in rebuilding trust – flattening of the curve – in reality, not just in public perception/opinion of risk/safety – possibility of new coronavirus threat.
- Consider potential inconsistencies of what is aspired to, of what is important, in comparison to actions demonstrated.
- Take inconsistencies seriously – knowing that the loss of trust – among travelers and other stakeholders – including the general public – once lost will be hard to rebuild.
- Stay aligned with the vision and values that underpin the strategies and actions chosen.
An overall value management framework that informs strategies and actions, including marketing, is ever more important considering that we are witnessing growing disconnect, rifts, and rivalry at all levels of society. The public overall has become more critical. Also, to keep in mind is that, wherever we look, there are threatening clouds hanging over the political, socio-economic, and socio-cultural skies – from local to the global level – with travel and tourism at the heart of many upheavals.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing a strong rise in nationalism, in a self-protective mechanism with the potential danger of undermining previously proclaimed well-intended coordinated and mutually supportive approaches (e.g. EU). Nonetheless, as pointed out by Dr. Taleb Rifai (and reiterated by Alain St. Ange, Tom Jenkins, and others) – Governments have the power – they can exert control (my note: whether we like it or not) – and we have to work with them – governments!
Given the multitude of urgencies for ‘survival’ (physical health/economics now highlighted by different strategic approaches), all kinds of questions are being debated in the media, including:
- Q: Are we paying more attention to economic benefits, to a country’s GDP than people’s desire for health and wellbeing – physical and psychological) – rather than economic growth (see recent survey in the UK suggesting a value shift? Only short term or long term? – balance? – driven by the emotions of fear and anxiety?
The impacts brought about by the coronavirus in so many ways seem almost unsurmountable at this stage. And it is tempting to return to that which we know best – to return to our comfort zones, to the ‘old normal’, to our in-groups who we perceive to represent our comfort zone rather than a ‘new normal’. A question just re-entered my mind:
- Q: Perhaps we had already lost our path of what is important for our shared human existence?
In 2003, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave a speech at the University of Tübingen, in which he highlighted the need to cultivate universally shared visions and positive values (see my forthcoming book) – none more so than peace. For this, as he pointed out:
“We need to find within ourselves the will to live by the values we proclaim, in our private lives, in our local and national societies, and in the world.”
- Kofi Annan –
We all appreciate that coronavirus is creating immense anxiety and fear at a global scale, undermining any sense of consistency, trust and confidence among most people. And the fear will remain with us most likely for some time, more so for some than others – until we regain a sense of trust, of feeling safe (again this feeling is not the same for everyone), something that is of utmost importance for our human existence, of which the travel and tourism industry (industries) are shown to be a major part of.
Fear and Anxiety
A lot of what we are experiencing and witnessing is the result of the fact that we are all emotional beings. How we feel at any given time influences how we perceive and interpret what is going on around us, and accordingly our attitudes, opinions, decisions, and actions. Emotions are powerful drivers in our reactions and actions, with the capacity to hijack rational thinking – making hasty decisions and rushing into actions that appear to make us or others feel ‘better/good’, taking away the stress we feel, easily diminishing our critical mindfulness (danger of emotional manipulation as seen in the rise of populism).
No matter who we are, whenever our needs are not being met/or in danger of not being met, anxiety and fear rise up, calling us to protect what is important to us (physical health is at the top of the list – survival). On the other hand, when we believe! that our needs are or will be met, then we relax – potentially with a danger of going back to the ‘old normal’ – not mindful of or adhering to coronavirus safety measures for example (applies to both the supply and demand side in travel and tourism).
With the above in mind, possible questions to contemplate might include:
- Q: Are we conducting needs analyses to incorporate different urgencies by the various stakeholders? (the importance of needs also raised by Vijay Poonoosamy – thank you Vijay!)
- Q: Are we taking into consideration the feelings and needs (urgent for survival) of the various stakeholders? – especially those with quiet/silent voices? Are we providing a platform for everyone to be heard and considered and not squashed by ‘powerful’ stakeholders to consider issues of equity, of employment and income, of health, of education – access to travel in the future – social tourism vs. luxury tourism, etc.?
- Q: Are we taking into account not only our own needs and values but also those of others?
- Q: Are we considering the needs and values of the vulnerable, including their financial and also psychological needs for support (stress, burn-out etc.) to rebuild their strength, hopes, and dreams?
I believe that rebuilding.travel offers the potential to emphasize the benefit of travel and tourism across the whole spectrum of stakeholders – and to nourish our natural ability for empathy, for greater appreciation of diversity (cultural diversity/cognitive diversity/emotional diversity) as much as looking for diversity in distant lands. That to me that is what rebulding.travel is all about!
If we go back to the ‘old normal’ then travel and tourism is in danger of not showing commitment to its claim of contributing to equity and peace aspirations. Rather, it might add to furthering a greater divide between the have and have nots (cost for travel – transport/accommodation etc. going up in price) – with a greater divide between those in power positions and those that are not (issues of cultural values and their influence from a sociological perspective where institutions and social structures are carriers and ‘protectors’ of cultural values are important to consider).
What is apparent more than ever before: travel and tourism are very much part of this institutional framework – from local to international level – and accordingly call out to be questioned.
While travel and tourism carry the potential to contribute to poverty reduction, to equity and equality, I believe it pays to remain sensitive of the fact that travel and tourism have become very much part of our consumer-oriented way of living (conspicuous consumption) where travel carries a certain sign value, a status symbol, and a way of differentiation – for those who can afford to travel.
I believe that without asking questions and reflection, we are missing out on the opportunity for travel and tourism to be transformative, to be able to rebuild with a ‘new normal’ in mind. Mindlessness is known to put us into the world of ‘doing things the way we have always done them’, if not ‘ignorance is bliss’, consciously or subconsciously.
In summary, rebuilding.travel in my view is a matter of safety and security from various perspectives that are now being recognized by so many more people, including the general public:
- A physical perspective
- Safety/physical health and wellbeing, containment of coronavirus/flattening the curve
- A social-psychological perspective
- Safety/psychological health and wellbeing – anxiety/fear, confidence/trust –
- An economic perspective (supply and demand side)
- Safety/economic health and wellbeing – income for individuals (high percentage of contract/casuals), business (high proportion of SMEs), countries’ economic stability.
- A political perspective
- Safety of travel and tourism, in the end, is a matter of not only international affairs but indeed local, regional, and national affairs and thus very much part of life politics.
Safety and wellbeing are on everybody’s mind. They are mandates for politicians and claimed to be so by organizations at the local and global levels. Safety, as is apparent in what is happening around us, is a matter of self-care before other-care, with a potential for mutual-care. Yet, as pointed out by Kofi Annan, despite our tendency for self-protection, we have to remain focused on our proclaimed values, from an individual and cultural perspective for the benefit of all.
Considering the above, I believe it is essential to continuously ask ourselves:
- Q: Are we being transparent/sincere/honest to ensure alignment with what is important not only to individuals or certain groups only but in alignment with the ‘bigger picture’?
- Q: Are we critically mindful of the importance of safety for everyone, not just in our immediate environment (people in our in-groups) but across intra-regional and national borders, at the inter-regional and global levels?
- Q: Do we remind ourselves regularly of the fact that
- We are all interconnected?
- We are all co-creators of what happens in the world of ours (at home and while traveling)?
- We are all travelers and visitors here on mother earth – which yearns to be taken care of?
- Q: Do we appreciate what we might all have in common –reasons for joy and smiles and reason for sadness and tears?
In the end, we all long for a sense of trust, freedom of fear, which is at the core of our sense of inner and outer harmony and peace – something that travel and tourism are so often said to aim for. A big ask at any given time, none more so now at this stage in history.
Again, we are now faced with the acceptance of a ‘new normal’, which highlights the importance of a new consciousness that reflects a caring mind and a thoughtful heart.
As part of my conclusion, may I say so, Juergen: your openness and your continued commitment and passion expressed and demonstrated, along with also that by Dr. Rifai, apart from by various others, are examples of what trust suggests – a belief in the proclaimed values being upheld.