#Voices of Travel: Pandemic will change what hospitality businesses should focus on, says Dr Diamantis

In this ongoing series, we explore how humans of travel are mitigating the ongoing COVID19 outbreak. Today Dr Dimitrios Diamantis tells us that the way forward must be more sustainable as models of growth and travel development. 

The start of the year 2020 for the hospitality industry was very positive.  The new decade was an event that everyone was celebrating while at the same time, the wildfires in Australia were at their peak, perhaps a glimmer of what the future held.  In both the demand and supply structures, the forecast for the industry was projected to be very optimistic, with indications of consumer confidence for travel at the global level and tourism development and projects such as Aman Hotel in New York and Soneva Fushi in Maldives, among many others.  In all, the growth for 2020 and beyond was projected to be very dynamic in both international and domestic travel activities.

Our educational plans for the year 2020 was to deliver our curriculum on a face to face delivery model. With our Les Roches sites in China, Shanghai, Spain and Switzerland our program model was disrupted earlier in the year with the Les Roches Jing Jang site in Shanghai under restriction and its programs then delivered via remote learning. Through our experience in education and as an establishment for international students for 60 years, we have been very much proactive with careful measures of hygiene from our student graduation starting mid-January and thereafter. We have worked on different scenarios of learning delivery for the start of the year and then we switched to remote learning per public Authorities decisions. The plans did not change as far as the curriculum and its learning outcomes. What has changed is the postponement of different campus events and study trips in Shanghai, Dubai and Chicago for our graduate students. As our educational model is very agile and global that also provided a good platform that we could be able to adapt to this short-term reality of remote learning.

The outbreak has definitely changed our business in terms of the educational delivery of our programs. In effect, we had to deliver them remotely. Our biggest challenge was to manage the natural worries of our students from 95 nationalities. Next, our faculty and staff have been very agile and understanding and as a community, we have adapted well into the new reality. With students and employee health as a paramount importance, our biggest challenge has been to make sure that everyone is taken care of as well as staying healthy during the pandemic period.

We are expecting that the outbreak may last for 2-3 months and are planning to resume our operations in July and postpone our next intake until mid-October. We will continue to deliver our curriculum and we have developed different scenarios and planning mechanisms. We are hoping that such event is not going to happen, but we are prepared for different eventualities.

We have developed our educational systems remotely and at the same time we are looking after a number of students on campus who were unable to reach out to their homes due to travel restrictions. Through regular meetings with our stakeholders: students, faculty and staff as well as the wider community, we are constantly monitoring the situation. At Les Roches, we have been very proactive and anticipated that the outbreak may reach our shores. As such, we had educated our population in healthy measures before our educational provision moved to remote learning. Our community has shifted to working from home mode and at the same time, we carry our regular meetings with all the community. Being healthy and well is of a top priority at this stage and as such we constantly monitor and communicate our situation with our community and local government agencies.

I am a realistic optimist. Realism is expressed by an understanding that hospitality at its core is about people, consumers, employees and the wider community. In the short term, the supply chain and the current structures will be at the “pause” mode. That is an inevitable situation that is controlled not by the supply chain but by the rhythm that the pandemic will illustrate. On the other hand, as any crisis has a start and an end, it will be inevitable that things will get back to normal. The “new normality” however will be different. Consumers will be hesitant at start, social distancing may take some time to become a social interaction and as such the travel may start being slow at first.  As with any historical events, society will manage to flourish after a result of a crisis. The way forward, however, needs to be more sustainable as models of growth and travel development need to take into account the well-being of the stakeholders of any organization.  In turn, that will provide a better platform to manage future travel growth, perhaps the pandemic will act as a turning point to what tourism and hospitality business should focus in the coming years.

Stay optimistic. Taking care of our health, family and community should be the priority for now. We should all hold our deep passion for the industry and it’s potential. At the same time, travel should be an “agent of change” and at these times will should reflect how that will occur. As an industry that we understand the attitudes of service, this is the time that we should volunteer to help and to assist what is feasible. At the same time, we should reflect on how the future of our industry will look like and what “positive change” can we bring into it, once the current crisis is over. That will allow us to showcase a deep understanding of the current situation as an event that will not be forgotten but rather a reminder that the future of our industry should be accompanied with care, quality and above all a human touch to everything we do.