Crisis…. what crisis?
Several things strike me the moment anyone talks about ‘the crisis’ or ‘La Crise’:
- things seem to be going on to all intents and purposes pretty ‘normally’ outside the office window
- the irresistible urge to say ‘Crisis? What crisis?‘ after the title of a famous 1975 Supertramp album (Not that I can remember anything about the album, bar Roger Hodgson’s rather squeaky voice and his sneakily simple piano melodies that go round and round in your head whether you like it or not).
- with remarkable prescience, Captain Edmund Blackadder (with no little help from Messrs. Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton and Richard Curtis) got it about right in the trenches in 1915 when he put it most elegantly that: “This is a crisis, a large crisis. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, it is a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeted throughout; twenty-four hour porterage and an enormous sign on the roof saying: ‘This is a Large Crisis’. And a large crisis requires a large plan. Get me a ruler, two pencils and a pair of underpants.” Blackadder Goes Forth. Final Episode: ‘Goodbyeeee‘. (1989)
The Tourism industry is worried. Already there are rumours of large airline collapses and suggestions and projections of $9bn losses for the airline industry worldwide this year (I personally think that will prove to be an under-estimate). Ryanair posted a loss of some $239m in June. If that is for a June-June period then it includes 4 or 5 months before the ‘Crisis’ fully hit (if to the normal April year end, then 6 or 7 months)- and that is one of Europe’s two most successful low-cost operators who have generally been outperforming the flag-carriers for a number of years. Ryanair’s principal competitor, easyJet posted a 6 month loss of some £129.8m in April this year. If the fastest-growing, most popular and lowest-cost operators are performing at this level…. what are we likely to see of the others?
For years Tourism has been considerin g itself a ‘necessity’: in a busy world, where the pressure is mounting on employees in a globally competitive environment run by technologies with which we are not equipped to keep up, then ‘downtime’: holiday, clearly becomes precious. The World Tourism Organisation in one of its early pontifications on Tourism, stated that the economic and material elements of Tourism should never overshadow the fundamental ‘spiritual’ dimension (yes, they really did use the word ‘spiritual’) and spoke of the need for ‘recreation’, literally re-creation and the resorative effect of travel. Who can argue with that? At one level, no-one; but ask me at another level whether Tourism is ‘a necessity’ and I will inevitably have another answer altogether. If the going gets tough, will I cut back on having a car, a fridge, a washing machine, a dish-washer, the odd meal out with the kids, buying a few books, CDs or DVDs….? Hardly. But Tourism…. well perhaps, yes. Maybe I will not go at all, go for a shorter period, trade-down on quality, choose a type of tourism that is lower cost (like camping), curb shopping and other tourism expenditure….. perhaps Tourism is the the biggest, most expendable and easily-targetable expenditure to face the ‘chop’.
The same goes for Business Tourism. In a crisis and down-turn there may well be less business going on and less of a need to travel (although I accept that at such a time one has to ‘sell harder’ and that might presume the opposite). In addition, when income/revenue streams are becoming unreliable and shrinking, the quickest way to balance the books is to cut back on costs: hard. Corporate Travel Offices are no longer mere bookers of tickets-on-demand, they are fast becoming Travel Account Managers, charged with auditing all proposed expenditures: does it need to happen at all? / If it does how can the cost be cut back? / Are there credible alternatives such as real-time video-conferencing, email, voicemail, collaborative workspaces and extranets etc? Businesses may also wish to benefit from the time-saving from travel reduction: the opportunity cost of that intercontinental flight and meeting may well be four days away and two or three days of jet lag recovery: that is a whole week of a business executives time which might usefully be redeployed.
That said, somewhat ironically, this year I have been / will be on holiday perhaps more than in any other year of my life…. but not so much through planning. In Feb we went skiing as a family (driving to Austria) because of growing friendships in our village and invitations to our kids to join the party. We managed a trip to London to see Jackson Browne (on the evening of our first wedding anniversary – how could we not – though we stayed in a pub and not a swanky hotel. The family holiday is to a little agri-turismo in Italy for a week: low cost again. Finally a trip back to England to see parents who are in their 80s and have not been too well lately. With kids in mid /late teens we did think of perhaps going trans-Atlantic this year, but that was out of question price-wise. All flights have been low-cost: two of them at €0.00 – we paid only taxes. Accommodation has been farm, pub or VFR-based…. hotel or villa prices are just not possible.
This in ‘recession’. If it were to become ‘depression’…. Do you know the difference? So the saying goes: “A recession is when you lose your job – a depression is when I lose mine”. If it were to become a depression, then I think we’d begin to rediscover the ‘delights’ of VFR and home-swaps….
So all in all, the crisis for Tourism looks like it lies in its nature: it is still a luxury and there is no denying that in a crisis it is an easy candidate to be the first against the proverbial ‘wall’. The firing squad is lined up just waiting for candidates……