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ITB Virtual Convention: The right approach to dealing with the coronavirus Eran Ketter describes the impact of the virus and what measures destinations can take.

Photo by Mick De Paola

No topic has dominated the public discourse in recent months as much as the coronavirus. New challenges are confronting the tourism industry daily and new questions are constantly arising as to how to deal with the situation. At the ITB Virtual Convention Eran Ketter, adviser and tourism coach, who specialises in crisis situations, gave a presentation on the ‘Coronavirus outbreak: Effects on global tourism and successful recovery and resilience measures’ and ways of dealing with the pandemic. A video of the presentation as well as others, plus all discussions and forums can be found on the new website at www.itb.com.

Ketter sees every level and branch of the tourism industry facing fundamental problems, be it hotels, airlines, cruise lines, museums or attractions. “The virus poses a global threat, and impacts health as well as safety. The coronavirus has the potential to trigger a global recession” in Ketter’s opinion.

According to Ketter, the virus had a threefold impact – on regions, over time and on economies. Geographically, the effects were noticeable mainly in China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. ”All these countries have major tourism destinations and China is one of the world’s important source markets with a global share of around 12 per cent. The decline is severe.” However, it had also affected the USA, where by mid-February outbound trips had fallen by around 20 per cent.

It was the mainly short and medium-term impact that was cause for concern, he said. According to Ketter, the airlines had substantial cash flow difficulties. However, the big issue was the summer travel season. For some regions it would arrive later, as they would need a longer period to recover. He predicted some destinations would require up to a year and called upon everyone to display confidence. ”In economic terms, it is conceivable that trips will decline by up to 40 per cent. Destinations and tourism professionals needed to be pro-active. We must keep the industry alive”, Ketter said.

As regards the industry’s recovery and its resilience, Ketter said that after the crisis it needed to become stronger than before. A quicker and better response to crises was necessary, he said. “I see four decisive factors here. In the first instance, the focus is on the crisis as such, which has to be contained. Destinations must institute safety and health regulations accordingly”, he said. Early financial assistance by the state was also necessary. Precautions had to be implemented to safeguard against infections, travellers had to leave the country, employees be given leave. Economic recovery required the support of everyone concerned. Close cooperation with providers was needed too.

The second factor was the destinations themselves, Ketter said. ”It is not just important for them to maintain their image. They also need to become more attractive and establish new products, for example. During the recovery phase, favourable rates are a tested for attracting visitors. This also helps airlines, hotels and tour operators. New markets offer a chance to become more resilient in the future.“ He called for management to develop more flexible structures and to rethink marketing and sales strategies: ”How do we want to grow again?“

As regards potential customers, Ketter sees domestic visitors as being particularly important immediately after the crisis. They were less sensitive to price fluctuations, travelled shorter distances and made quick choices, he said. Overall however, tourism professionals needed to embrace a wider market and consider different types of holidaymakers and a variety of markets and source markets. In his view, business travellers were a good prospect as they were usually quicker to make decisions than holidaymakers.

The fourth factor described by Ketter was the image that destinations, attractions and other elements presented. ”They must present a positive image to the outside world, that they are not oversubscribed and that, on the contrary, they are looking forward to visitors and can offer them every available accommodation.“ He suggested using media, live images for example, which showed that a destination was hardly impacted by the crisis. Ketter named webinars and coaching as suitable training aids. ”Tourism and life will go on.“

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