APU Business Diseases Emergency Management Health & Fitness Infectious Diseases Intellectible Podcast Public Safety

Podcast: How COVID-19 Has Changed Hospitality and Tourism

By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D., Faculty Director, School of Business
Dr. Alan Fyall, Associate Dean, Rosen College of Hospitality Management University of Central Florida

What’s the long-term impact from COVID-19 on hospitality and tourism? In this podcast, Dr. Gary Deel talks to Dr. Alan Fyall about the unprecedented crisis that continues to devastate hospitality and tourism across the world. Learn about the impacts on the workforce, projections about how and when the industry will bounce back, and what’s needed for people to feel safe traveling again. Dr. Deel and Dr. Fyall also discuss some of the silver linings from the pandemic including technological adoption and environmental benefits.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Intellectible
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts

Read the Transcript:

Dr. Gary Deel: Welcome to the podcast Intellectible. I’m your host, Dr. Gary Deel. Today, we’re talking about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the hospitality industry. My guest today is Dr. Alan Fyall, who is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and the Visit Orlando Endowed Chair for tourism marketing at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management University of Central Florida.

Start an Emergency & Disaster Management degree at American Military University.

Alan has published widely in the areas of tourism and destination marketing and management, including 22 books, and has conducted numerous consulting and applied research projects for clients in the UK, European Union, Africa, the Caribbean, USA, Central and South America and Southeast Asia. Clients include Grant Thornton, Ernst and Young, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Malaysian government, The Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities in Saudi Arabia, and World Travel and Tourism Council. Alan, welcome to Intellectible and thank you for being our guest today.

Dr. Alan Fyall: Thank you, Gary. Thank you for that generous introduction.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to have you here. So we’re here to acknowledge and talk about the elephant in the room, which is, of course, still the COVID-19 pandemic. For those listening to this at any point after the recording, it is the end of July of 2020 right now. So we are approximately I guess a little bit more than six months into our pandemic in the U.S. And obviously, the hospitality industry has probably been some of the worst hit from the economic impact of this crisis. So, I guess to start us off, what have you seen, what have you heard as an expert in the hospitality industry? Where have these impacts been felt the hardest within your wheelhouse?

Dr. Alan Fyall: Yeah, Gary, it’s one of those things, it’s a word that has been used countless times since sort of mid-March, and it’s the word unprecedented. I don’t think anybody anywhere has seen anything like this before. Crises and disasters happen on a frequent basis that have impacts on tourism and hospitality sort of all the time. But for the most part, they tend to be isolated to a region. What we’re seeing now and continuing to see, sadly, is a crisis, a sort of natural crisis, which is impacting everybody. And I think it’s important to say tourism and hospitality has been hit probably the strongest. But if you look at the manufacturer of planes, of cars, of multiple other industries, the repercussions are everywhere. But I think it is fair to say that hospitality and tourism is very much at the forefront of the impact.

And it’s devastating actually. It’s been continuous now as you say for nearly six months. There are signs of pickup but I think it’s certainly slow. And until a vaccine is out there, it’s going to be challenging, Gary, there’s no doubt about it.

Dr. Gary Deel: Is this something you think that in hindsight, the industry and society in general should have been more prepared for? I think back to the predecessor threats to the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m thinking back to SARS and Swine Flu and Avian Flu and Ebola. It seems like a major biological threat like this was in the news almost every year. And yet, there seemed to be panic and hysteria that ultimately culminated in virtually nothing, say for a few isolated casualties. And so, I wonder if people had a false sense of security about this kind of threat up until obviously COVID. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Alan Fyall: Yeah, I think you’re right. It goes back to where I started. I guess there’s been lots of, when I say many pandemics, I’m not belittling them, but they have been more localized. And I think hindsight is a great thing, isn’t it? But I think there has been a degree of complacency. I don’t think anybody imagined what has happened now, and the speed and the depth of the spread. And it’s interesting, actually, in terms of vaccines, there’s multiple companies looking at developing that utopian vaccine at the moment. But one of the lead contenders is a group from University of Oxford in the United Kingdom with I think it’s AstraZeneca. And the reason they’re slightly ahead of the game is because they were in the process of developing a vaccine for MERS, which was the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. And I think they found that there’s lots of similarities between COVID-19. So that’s one of the reasons why they’re slightly ahead.

No, I don’t think anybody thought this would happen on the scale that it’s happened. There certainly has been instances on cruise ships before, and obviously cruise ships were at the forefront of the early spread. But I think if you just think back certainly in the United States, if you go back to February, the economy was booming, travel was booming. If you follow the United Nations World Tourism Organization statistics, there has never been a drop of this magnitude since they started collecting data in the 1950s. I just don’t think anybody anywhere anticipated something of this magnitude. I think a pandemic that hits a country or a region, yes. But the tourism industry is very resilient because the market just moved. If there’s a problem in Jamaica, people move to the next Island sort of thing. And so, the market has been very resilient but there’s been nothing, even wars that have essentially bought an entire industry to its halt.

So no, hindsight is a great thing, and I guess one of the questions is, will the industry or will people generally be more cautious in the future? Probably. But it’s a little bit early to tell.

Dr. Gary Deel: That’s a great question. I was going to ask because you mentioned vaccines, is there an end in sight for this, whether that come from a vaccine or a new way of innovating and doing business in hospitality that allows people to get back to their travel and tourism desires safely, and meetings and events and all the other facets of the hospitality industry? I guess what’s your projection on how much longer are we basically at the mercy of the vaccine development at this point?

I think so. I think the best example at the moment, actually, if you look to Europe, Europe is a very good example, at the moment, if you look at France, if you look at Spain, if you look at Germany, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, countries that for the most part got the pandemic under control. They had very, very severe lockdowns, particularly France and Spain. Far more severe lockdowns than we had here in the U.S. You would sort of find if you were sort of 500 meters from your home and quite draconian. But if you look at the trends, it worked.

Dr. Alan Fyall: However, the minute they opened up, so Spain opened up to tourism about three or four weeks ago, as soon as they opened up Catalonia, the region where we find Barcelona, the cases have just spiked again. So, this is an example that for the most part, Spain did everything right. It was for the most part, clean. As soon as you opened your doors, and travel and tourism is all about mobility at the end of the day, so as soon as you open your doors, and certainly in the bars, the nightclubs, etc, cases spiked. So you’ve now got a situation where the French government are considering closing the border. The British government have now said any British tourists in Spain on your return, you need to self-quarantine. And this was only announced about two or three days ago. So you’ve got airlines who are now canceling all flights to Spain.

So, this is a case where for the most part, you’ve got a country who did what was requested for the public health agenda. Clearly tourism is a huge component of the Spanish economy. They opened, and to be fair, they opened pretty cautiously, and this has been the reaction. So, you’ve now got a situation where Catalonia is now going back into lockdown, and Britons returning or Germans returning to their countries bringing the virus back with them. So tourism travel is mobility driven. And by stopping the mobility, you stopped the movement of the virus.

So, really, we are waiting on that vaccine by doing all the sort of standard protocols with masks, social distancing, etc. You can keep it at bay, but it’s certainly not going to be eliminated. So no, there’s definitely cause for concern out there, Gary.

Dr. Gary Deel: Definitely. Do you think that, as you mentioned, closing the borders, and that’s an interesting argument, not obviously for any geopolitical reason, but for contamination or preventing the spread of the virus over national borders. I wasn’t up to speed on Spain before you had elucidated here, but I had read that New Zealand was one country, for example, that had reportedly had completely wiped out the virus through their quarantine measures, had brought it down to zero cases. And I thought to myself, well, within New Zealand itself then, there’s an opportunity to reopen the economy and to allow New Zealanders to live their lives as normal. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, you can’t let anyone else into New Zealand if you want to ensure that the virus doesn’t reemerge in your society.

So I wonder how that works for countries that are, as you mentioned, we’re coming on six months into the pandemic in the U.S. at least, and several countries have managed it far more effectively than we have. And so, I wonder for those countries that are sort of ahead of that curve, if their best decision is to lock down their borders and to admit no new entrances until the society globally has eradicated this or developed a vaccine so that it’s no longer a threat to their people.

Dr. Alan Fyall: The New Zealand case is a good example. And funny enough, I was having this conversation with my daughter. New Zealand have done a great job for many reasons, but clearly, one of the key factors for New Zealand, it is isolated from virtually anywhere. So, they do have a distinct advantage, but that’s not belittling what they did because they reacted very well.

Australia, just across the border from New Zealand, they reacted very well as well. But if you look at Melbourne at the moment, which is a major festival and event city, in the state of Victoria, in Australia, their cases virtually vanished. Again, a little bit like the Barcelona story, they opened up, and now they’re having a torrid time. And I think it just demonstrates, it’s incredibly difficult to contain this. And as soon as you’ve got the mobility, it’s individuals, essentially, that are carrying the virus. So, it’s very, very challenging.

The U.S. has had a hard time in the press, I think partly is justified. But partly, the US is a very, very different beast to some of these other countries. And the sort of rates per head of population and certainly the deaths per head of population are actually worse in some European countries than they are here. I think for the industry, for the next six to eight months probably, because my hunch this will continue probably till next summer, actually, I’m sitting in Orlando, Florida, here at the moment. So, Disney and Universal Studios are two very good examples where they reopened Universal about five or six weeks ago, Disney about two weeks ago I think.

And to be fair to them, you probably will not find cleaner, more safe places anywhere in the country than at the theme parks. So, they’ve probably gone beyond the call of duty in terms of what’s required. But Universal had their quarterly results yesterday, revenue was down 94% for the past three months. So, that demonstrates the challenge that these companies have. Yes, they can reopen, they can reopen safely.

But the footfall is significantly less and it’s significantly less because I think a lot of people are reluctant to get on a plane, a lot of people are reluctant to be in a crowd. So, you’ve got the sort of human fear factor in there, which in part is justified. But as I reiterate, if you actually go to the parks, they’ve done a tremendous job. So, you’ve got the sort of industry driven, hey, we’re safe, we’re open, we’re spotlessly clean, the mask mandate and all this sort of thing. But then you’ve got the market, which is a little bit more reticent to launch out.

Interestingly, Gary, places are doing very well, destinations on the coasts, people feel more comfortable being on the coast, nature, national parks, mountain ranges. Anywhere that is outside, in a natural setting where people perceive there are to be fewer crowds, they’re doing reasonably well in the circumstances. But clearly the traditional big city urban tourism agendas, it’s incredibly challenging at the moment.

Dr. Gary Deel: That’s interesting. It makes me wonder whether that perception is well-founded or not. And obviously, I’m not a medical professional or virologist, so, beyond what I’ve read in the news, I’m not really qualified to speak to the transmissibility of COVID-19 outside versus inside. I’ve heard and read chances are less likely outside because of things like the UV radiation from the sun potentially killing the airborne contaminants. But I wonder how much of that actually holds true when you’re in even a semi-crowded environment, say for example, like a theme park and I know that, as you mentioned, Universal and Disney have, to their credit, reduced their capacities so that they’re not flooding their parks with long lines of people standing right next to each other shoulder to shoulder.

But I wonder how much the risk is actually reduced outside versus individuals perhaps just feeling safer because it’s, as you mentioned, it’s nature, and that concept of being outside gives some sense of peace and safety that you don’t feel in a confined room with recirculated air through a commercial ventilation system.

Dr. Alan Fyall: Yeah. And I’m with you, Gary, in the sense that I think a lot of it is perception. People perceive it to be safer outside. From what I read, it is safer outside, but it’s only safer outside if you adhere to the social distancing, masks, etc.

Dr. Gary Deel: Doesn’t help you if you’re standing on top of your neighbor.

Dr. Alan Fyall: Exactly. And I think one of the interesting debates is on the opening of schools. Although that’s not tourism-related, but it is very similar in the sense that there’s a political debate out there, should you, should you not open schools. And one of the comments was made that, well, if Disney can do it, so can the schools. You have to appreciate Disney, I don’t know the actual number, but it’s probably operating at about 25% of its capacity. So it’s substantially reduced capacity. And Disney have millions of dollars to make their sites very secure. In the circumstances, I think they’ve done a great job. If you’re running a public school …

Dr. Gary Deel: Can’t operate at 25% capacity.

Dr. Alan Fyall: It’s a bit more challenging, so, it’s a difficult one. I think one of the interesting debates that I followed closely and it’s still a little bit inconclusive, it’s actually flying because the number of air passengers are picking up slightly now. And the filtration of air on modern aircraft is excellent. It really is excellent. And in many cases, you’re probably safer on a plane than you are in many situations. However, if you’re sitting next to someone who’s got a terrible sneeze and they’re carrying, then you’ve got a problem. So, it’s very difficult.

And I think the reason why so many people remain uncertain is even among the public health and pandemic specialists, we’re dealing with virus here that nobody really has all the answers. And the trends have changed slightly, the data has changed slightly, which adds to the political dimension. We are dealing with something that has evolved and continues to evolve.

My sister’s a nurse in the UK, so I tend to hear a lot of stuff from my sister directly from what’s going on in the hospitals. One of the concerns is, there’s a lot of things that are beginning to appear in patients that they’re not quite sure what’s driven these trends. And if it is COVID, there aren’t necessarily answers at the moment. So that just adds to the uncertainty, Gary. Let me throw in a positive. What has always been the case historically, whenever there’s been a disaster, be it a natural disaster or a man-made sort of terrorist-type disaster, the tourism and hospitality industry has always bounced back. And it’s always bounced back quite strongly. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to bounce back but it’s bounceback-ability factor, if that’s a word, has always been very strong.

And why is that? It’s primarily because the market, they will forego a new car, they will forego a new refrigerator, they will forego a new television or something. But to forego their vacation or their weekend trip to the coast or their twice-year trip to Disney or whatever it is that people like, it’s something that the market for the past 50, 60 years has held on to very, very tightly. So, although things are challenging at the moment, there is that hope that the market generally to give up your vacation or to give that luxury weekend with the fam, etc, it’s the last thing that the market tends to give up. So, hopefully that will be the case in the future, that’s what the industry is holding on to.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. It seems to be an untenable proposition that we not vacation at least in the United States culture, I remember just during the lockdown, the hardest period of it where, it was pretty much a non-negotiable stay at home and only go out for must-have essential reasons. And the tension that people had and I think it was a product of, at least for young families like mine, being at home with children, that you didn’t have to supervise on a daily basis all day long. And that just sort of the blood pressure spiked of the nation as we endured that.

It’s apparent to me that some aspects of the hospitality industry have adapted as you mentioned, the theme parks have reopened with very strict safety and sanitation protocols. Restaurants have reopened with either takeout only or delivery, and in some cases, dine in but with social distancing between tables. The meetings and events industry has obviously been devastated, but there’s an analog to that, which of course, is the virtual event to at least allow people to congregate without having to be physically in proximity.

But yet some others have not seen nearly as much, the cruise line industry keeps coming to my mind as there’s been this absolute moratorium on cruising since I think mid-March, if I’m not mistaken. And the CDC keeps pushing back the prohibition on sailing out of U.S. ports. And so, the cruise line industry association has been following suit and pushing back the deadline. I remember that they were planning to reopen at the end of April, then May, then July, then August. And now we’re back to the end of September. And it’s entirely possible that that could continue into the fall and winter. Is there a reason why that particular aspect of the industry can’t find a way to adapt and that we can’t cruise safely?

Dr. Alan Fyall: Yeah, the cruising, it’s been quite a brutal experience, sadly, the cruise ships. I guess start again with the positive, it’s an incredibly popular form of leisure tourism.

Dr. Gary Deel: I love it.

Dr. Alan Fyall: Hugely popular. Yeah, it’s grown exponentially in recent years, the cruise lines do a fantastic job. They really do. And I’m sure once things settle down, people will go back to cruising because so many people enjoy it. I think the challenges they’ve got, there’s always been a little bit of a tendency to have viruses on cruise ships because of the inclusive nature of the ship itself. They’ve always had a slight propensity for this sort of thing anyway. I think what was particularly damaging to the cruise ships, and it’s really just one of those things, from a media perspective, when the pandemic really arrived certainly in the United States, the cruise ships were on the TV and the radio every single night. So, they were the sort of bête noire of the industry. And they said, oh, look at what the cruise ships have done.

Dr. Gary Deel: So the Diamond Princess created a stigma.

Dr. Alan Fyall: Yes. Perhaps they didn’t slow down as quick as they should, but at the same time, again, hindsight is a great thing. I don’t think anybody appreciated the depth and the reach of what COVID-19 has impacted. And at that initial stage, the cruise ships, they were the visual embodiment of the pandemic. So, I think perhaps in hindsight, they could have done things a little bit quicker but they were also a little bit unfortunate. But because the closed nature of the cabins, etc., it really did portray a pretty bleak picture. I’m pretty confident they will come back but it’s a case of, it’s like all these things that it really doesn’t matter what size your business, do you have the resources to withstand the hit essentially at the moment? And my guess really, the cruising, it possibly may be very, very slow until about next Easter.

And the particular challenge for cruise lines, although they’ve broadened their market base hugely in recent years and commendably so, they are primarily popular with the older market, and it is the older market which is most fearful of COVID-19 for obvious reasons.

So, they have a sort of structural challenge with their particular market in terms of who will return and their speed of return. Having said that, the market traditionally has been incredibly positive and incredibly loyal. The health factor clearly will weigh on people’s minds in the future.

Dr. Gary Deel: That’s interesting insight. You mentioned the air filtration systems aboard airplanes and I thought to myself, there can’t be any reason why that same sophistication ostensibly could be applicable to the air filtration systems inside of a cruise ship. But perhaps because people are there for much longer and there may be other variables affecting the transmissibility through the air inside a boat, then that would be different in the air.

One of the things that I wrote about in an article recently is the way in which I think the COVID-19 pandemic will propel or accelerate the rate of automation in the hospitality industry to remove and replace human beings in as many positions as possible. We were doing this at a certain clip prior to the pandemic for cost reasons, and the fact that in many environments, technology is better, faster, cheaper than the human alternative.

But now, there’s a new incentive and an urgent one, which is that, if I can remove that person who tears your ticket at the movie theater, that’s one less person that you’re exposed to that might create a transmission opportunity for the disease. It’s also one less employee that might potentially get sick or transmit sickness. So, for businesses, I feel like this has created another really big incentive to do that. What are your thoughts on that? Have you seen this taking place already and would you agree with that projection as we move forward?

Dr. Alan Fyall: Totally. Yeah. As with any trend, there’s positives and negatives. I think the reality is exactly as you say, Gary, the IT tech component of the industry will grow exponentially. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. And most of the tech is there already. I think a lot of companies were maybe a little bit hesitant to introduce it, they’re clearly not hesitant now. And the tech is amazing. Anything that reduces touch, even simple things like menus on tables, payment systems, iPads that you touch with your finger will be no more. A lot of simple things, the tech infrastructure will change hugely.

And it’s actually interesting because I’m at the University of Central Florida, the Rosen College. And we started about two or three years ago, starting to embed technological components into our curriculum far more than we had before. I think a lesson for us is that at the moment, we will need to keep going because the movement is there hugely.

Having said that, the human resource despite all the doom and gloom, I’m actually quite positive about the human resource. Although numbers may shrink slightly, there’s still in many aspects of the industry, the need for that level of service. It may be a slightly different type of service, it may be in a slightly different role, but I’m still pretty confident that the human, the personality-driven guest service, etc., I think it will still be there. But it will be complemented far more by technology.

And just a simple example, if you look at many of the new hotels that are being constructed, the whole check-in experience is very different. It’s like walking into your front lounge now with contactless activity. So, it is changing, but Disney is the classic, yes, you can have your Disney theme park, but to imagine not having any cast members around, I think the decline of the human element is exaggerated. But the technology most definitely will be a much bigger part in the future.

Although not here to talk about education, education is very similar. And I think many universities, including UCF, have survived quite well in the pandemic. And there’s one word to describe it: It’s called Zoom. And it has been a savior. So moving forward, how we embed Zoom and related technologies into what we do, will increase exponentially. I think there’s lots of parallels with hospitality and tourism.

Dr. Gary Deel: You brought up education and I think that’s a fair point. I wanted to ask you, and obviously, it’s only been, like you said, a little bit less than six months at this point. And so, that may not be quite yet the right time interval to evaluate the impact of this, but I’m curious to know if you think that the degree to which the hospitality industry has been hit by COVID-19 will affect future enrollment and program selection for potential hospitality professionals, folks who are getting out of high school entering college and thinking to themselves, “I think I want to work in hospitality. I want to be a hotel professional or a theme park professional.” And do you think that this crisis will change minds to the extent that those students or some of them might say to themselves, this is not a smart career move because look what’s happening?

Dr. Alan Fyall: Yeah. I think it’s a little bit too early to tell because historically, when there’s a crisis, a crisis like this, we haven’t had a crisis of this magnitude, but when crises occur, so 9/11 would be a good example. And then we had the financial crisis of ‘07, ‘08, there has tended to be a little bit of a drop in enrollment. There’s like a 18-month time lag. But a little bit like hospitality and tourism, generally, it’s always picked up very strongly.

Now, many programs are struggling across the country and around the world, but I would say many of the powerhouses, and we’re one of them, we’re actually seeing a spike in enrollment. And I think in the short term, what we’re noticing here is there’s a lot of local employees who are furloughed for obvious reasons. And to their absolute credit, rather than sitting around, they’re reengaging with education.

So, in my institution, UCF, our Master’s in Hospitality and Tourism Management, has seen the single largest percentage growth in applications across every single master’s program in the university and we’re a university of nearly 70,000 students. So, it really is an indication that a lot of those in the industry, they really want to stay in the industry. They’re hoping like all of us that there will be a recovery. And they’re re-skilling, they’re upskilling. Many taking technological-related courses actually. So it goes back to your previous question. So that’s a very positive.

If you’re a high school student this year, coming up, is hospitality going to be uppermost in your mind? I think for those that are really set on it, Gary, I think they will continue because what I would say to them, actually, this is the best time ever to really study because in three or four years time when you graduate, one would assume or one would hope that the market will be very, very different. So, it’s actually a very, very good time to come in.

Those students that may be are a little bit uncertain, they may hedge their bets with a slightly broader program. But I think what we’ve found over the years, the students that choose hospitality, event, we run an entertainment management program as well here which is very popular, they are very committed, they are very focused, and they know what they want to do. So, the pandemic may influence some of them. I’m not convinced it will impact that many. But again, it goes back to where we started. A lot of it depends on how long this is going to continue. So, I go back to the vaccine, but essentially, that is the solution. So hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later.

Dr. Gary Deel: It’s interesting because generally speaking, obviously, higher education and enrollments tend to be inversely correlated with the economy so that when things are not doing too well, people go back to school. But in this particular instance, that product or that crisis is also having such a profound effect on hospitality that it’ll be interesting to see how it affects interest in those programs. But I’m certainly glad to hear that enrollments are up at UCF. And I want to transition from that into a different question, but in full disclosure to our listeners, obviously, I teach as an adjunct professor for you at the UCF Rosen College. I teach the risk management and legal classes as they pertain to hospitality operations.

One of the things that is happening in the industry as a product of this pandemic is that there is lobbying taking place at state and federal levels by the industry to receive immunity from COVID-related claims, in most cases. And then there’s also some pushes, I can’t really speak to what’s happening here in Florida, but I do know from colleagues that I have in Nevada and Las Vegas where I spent several years that the casino resort industry out there is lobbying for blanket immunity on any and all negligence claims for an extended period of time after reopening, which I think the target is like two years, and then they might negotiate that down.

But that’s a really profound ask to me because essentially what that says is, if you walk into, whether it’s here in Orlando or in Las Vegas in a casino and you slip and fall on something or the business is careless in some way or another that causes you injury, if an immunity like that is awarded, you’d have no recourse, no way to recover from your losses there. And the argument, of course, is that for places like Nevada and Florida, the reason we don’t have state income taxes is obviously these industries. The tourism, travel, hospitality provides an income base, a tax base that makes state income tax unnecessary.

And so, in order to leverage that power in the societies in which they operate, these industries are saying, look, we’ve been devastated by this, we don’t have the financial solvency to be able to defend ourselves in court over litigation related to COVID or really anything for the foreseeable future. So, if you have an opinion, what is your take on that with respect to the way that government should subsidize or protect these industries as we move forward?

Dr. Alan Fyall: I have quite a clear view on this one in the sense that if they don’t have that immunity, Gary, I don’t see how the vast majority of the industry can actually open. When Disney opened, there was a flurry of news activity because their immunity statement was very, very strong. But to be fair to the operators, it all comes down to the uncertainty of the virus. And nobody really knows its full implications. Unless they’ve got that, I really don’t see how they can operate because the risk factor will just be so strong. And the losses are such at the moment that any major legal challenge on sort of the public health agenda, I just can’t see how the vast majority of the industry would survive that.

So, I think those that have opened, you have to accept that this is the environment essentially the whole world is living in. You need to be aware, you need to take individual responsibility for your actions. And that’s the risk you carry. I think with the mandates in place, for the most part, if people follow the guidelines, you’re generally okay. But on this one, I do tend to side with the operators and I’m not quite sure what else they can do.

Dr. Gary Deel: Okay, perfect. Well, thank you, Alan. I guess in beginning to wrap up our discussion here today, notwithstanding whether or not we end up with a vaccine in the near future, and we obviously hope that we do, what kind of permanent effects do you see as staples on the industry in terms of ways that business will change forever? We’ve talked about technology and I think you brought up some great points about going touchless, and I’ve been sort of championing for years the idea that that’s the smarter way to do business because whenever you have to provide a device for someone to use, like you mentioned an iPad, there’s an additional cost for the hardware on the business. Whereas if they can just develop an app and then make you download it to the phone that you paid for, then you’re using your own device that they did not have to provide for you at their dime.

And so now there’s this additional cost or rather an additional consideration that the industry has for making use [of] your own device. And that is that you’re no longer contaminating a surface that someone else will have to put their hands on. Do you see any other major shifts in the hospitality landscape in terms of the way that business is done that this kind of thing will forever change whether we eradicate it soon or it takes a few years?

Dr. Alan Fyall: Yeah, I think there’s two or three things that sort of come to mind that I think the first one is, the industry has always been vulnerable. Be it environmentally vulnerable, economically vulnerable, climatically vulnerable. And what do I mean by that? Tourism and hospitality works where there’s stability. It works where there’s economic stability, it’s all about discretionary income. So, if there’s economic stability, the industry tends to function. However, being from Florida, hurricanes, algae blooms, there’s a whole host of environmental things that, again, we tend to take these things for granted, but actually, they’re serious and you have to proactively deal with things.

And I think the COVID is a classic case of basically people or the industry just being a little bit more honest with itself as to what are the challenges out there, and being a little bit more proactive in dealing with them rather than just pretending that or perhaps they’ll just vanish, because essentially, they won’t. So, I think the industry needs to become a lot more proactive.

I think one of the debates out there at the moment, and it’s related to that really is the extent to which how will the industry transform itself or how will the market transform itself? So do we automatically go back to normal or does the industry become a little bit more sustainable? Do tourists become a little bit more aware of their surroundings? Will the market become a little bit more aware of its behavior, etc., from a sort of public health perspective? I think the verdict’s out on that one at the moment. I think a lot of people are hoping that despite the seriousness of the situation, will this be the moment where the industry does evolve into a much more clean, much more sustainable, less overcrowded industry. But it is too early to say.

It’s ironic, Gary, the first event that was canceled for me in March was a keynote address I was giving to about 400 elderly people on the phenomenon of over-tourism, which seems ridiculous now. But to be fair, up until March, that really was the primary concern for many parts of the world, of too much tourism. So, it’s ironic that we’re now in a situation where we’re talking about non-tourism rather than over-tourism. The degree to which the industry and the market will transform for the better, if there is going to be a positive of COVID-19, that will be it I guess.

Dr. Gary Deel: I think a lot of people fail to, or they under-appreciate the silver linings that come with this, and I’m not trying to downplay the hardship and the casualties so far, but the air has never been cleaner as a result of the reduced traffic, and the lack of human activity or lesser human activity on the planet that’s occurred in the wake of the pandemic.

Dr. Alan Fyall: I think it’s one of those things, Gary. I’ve taught tourism, I’m involved in tourism development and industry for over 20 years and I think things that I was saying or many people were saying 20 years ago have really just been highlighted that come to light with the pandemic in the sense that you can’t operate any tourism and hospitality in isolation from everything else.

Public health tends to be downplayed a lot in many countries. But if you haven’t got your health, if the economy’s not functioning, you’ve got a problem. And I think the pollution aspect, the cleanliness of cities, green energy, all this stuff, and this isn’t a political thing, it’s just the cleanliness of the air that we breathe, etc., and the cleanliness of the sea and the water, the lakes, the rivers, all this sort of stuff, if they are not clean, then tourism doesn’t work. So, you have to protect what you have if you have an economy dependent on tourism.

And I think public health was always viewed as somebody else’s problem. Well, actually, it’s everybody’s problem. So if anything, it just demonstrates the integrated nature of tourism and hospitality development. You can’t develop these things in isolation from anything else. Essentially, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. We’re all in it together. And you pollute something, then you’re not going to have tourism. That’s the reality. And there’s examples all over the world.

Dr. Gary Deel: Is there anything else you want to add, Alan, before we wrap up?

Dr. Alan Fyall: I’m the eternal optimist but I think it will be foolhardy to say that the past few months have been easy. They’ve been incredibly difficult. I think it’s going to really come to a head in the next few weeks, actually, with the opening of schools, where we will have opinions irrespective of what side of the political divide you’re on. Everyone’s got a view, which is as it should be. But I think when you actually walk into a school building, okay, it’s a bit like the tourism. Yeah, we’re going to go. But the minute you walk in a hotel, you do become a little bit nervous.

And it’s awkward because we don’t really know, but I think the vaccine development really everything falls on that to be honest. I think the signs are pretty positive. I’m pretty confident that once things do start calming down, the industry will bounce back. And we certainly hope so in Florida because it’s so important to the economy. It’s important to the tax base and everything really.

And I guess as a final comment, Gary, the strong players will survive. I think where it’s really hard is those smaller, family-owned businesses. Whenever there’s a crisis, they always tend to be the ones that suffer. And I’m sure that’s going to be the same again. That’s where it’s really tough. But the big players, I think they will come out fighting. And hopefully, we can all put 2020 behind us.

Dr. Gary Deel: It’s been a year, that’s for sure. We’re obviously rooting for a speedy recovery for the industry. Well, thank you for sharing your expertise and perspectives on these topics, Alan, and thank you for joining me today for this episode of Intellectible.

Dr. Alan Fyall: Thank you, Gary.

Dr. Gary Deel: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can learn more about these topics and more by visiting the various APUS-sponsored blogs, including Online Career Tips. Be well and stay safe everyone.

Comments are closed.