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Adaptation Ideas for Small Hospitality & Tourism Providers during and after the Pandemic.

On May 7th, 2020 we held a Virtual Ecoclub Member Meeting to discuss 'Pandemic Adaptation Strategies for Ecotourism'. Our aim was to brief each other on local conditions and compare notes on what can be done during and in the aftermath of the pandemic so as to protect and support our businesses, our communities and Ecotourism.

Due to the pandemic lockdown millions of tourism employees, professionals and small business-owners have suddenly been left unemployed or precariously employed by near bankrupt businesses. If international tourism recovers too slowly, many of them will need green (re)training and new green jobs and opportunities outside tourism. The pandemic itself can only be stopped if a cure is found, if the virus mutates into a less potent form (there are some indications in late May 2020) or if there is mass immunity. It is as if a huge earthquake has taken place (the disease) and we are now waiting for the tsunami (the economic impact). Depending on how long it will last and if there is a second wave in late 2020, it will either be a case of Darwinian 'survival of the fittest' (quickest, smartest, more flexible) for communities, employees and businesses, or a more civilized process prioritizing and encouraging green businesses and practices.

In the very short term, apart from emergency government aid, small businesses must help themselves quickly. This document has a narrow focus on practical ideas and quick solutions that help ecotourism businesses survive the pandemic and post-pandemic periods. In some respects, small tourism businesses are by definition more resilient than larger tourism businesses. Family-owned businesses sometimes have no choice than persevering – they can not easily lay off their friends and relatives. Similarly in cooperatives, partnerships and worker-owned tourism businesses. On the other hand, profit-margins are usually small in small businesses with little set-aside for calamities such as the current one. Very large businesses, such as airlines or international hotel chains usually have plenty of cash, and also have the attention of banks and governments, they are generally profitable and too big to fail and thus take priority when it comes to grants and soft loans.

The following Ecoclub Members (in alphabetical order) co-authored the suggestions you will find below:

Ms Frosso Dimitrakopoulou (Co-Editor, Ecoclub, Greece)
Mr Haris Fevgas (Hotelier, Agrikea, Greece)
Ms Grace Gichuru (Government Employee, Kenya)
Mr Anthonie Gronum (Senior Tour Guide, Nomad Africa Adventure Tours, South Africa)
Dr Palitha Gurusinghe (President, Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation, Sri Lanka)
Dr Sudipta Kiran Sarkar (Senior Lecturer in Tourism, Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom)
Mr Daniel Koeppel (Director of Operations & Sustainability, Lifestyle Retreats, Bali, Indonesia)
Mr Jeff Parfrey (Hotelier, Pousada Serra Verde, Morretes, Brazil)
Mr Antonis Petropoulos (Editor, Ecoclub, Greece)
Mr Allen Schnaak (Vice President of Business Development, BioNova Pools, South Carolina, United States)
Mr Norbert Trehoux (Responsible Tourism Consultant, NT Consulting, Lyon, France
Mr Shams Uddin (Project Manager, Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT), Pakistan)

The following list is by no means exhaustive and it may not apply, for legal, tax or other reasons, in your specific circumstances or destination.

1 - First and foremost take good care of your staff. Supply them with masks, gloves and all necessary cleaning tools and consumables. Accommodate their needs and seriously consider their suggestions, they know their job better than anyone else.

2 - If you cannot pay your staff, rather than firing them, try to support them in kind. For example, they can save rent if you provide accommodation in one of your many empty rooms. Or if you have land it may suitable for growing and selling vegetables.

3 - Pay cleaners extra and educate them about high-touch areas. Insist on greater hygiene standards so as to give confidence to your customers.

4 - Now is the time to train or retrain your staff, for example in how to use social media to promote your business, to learn a new language online.

5 - As important as taking care of your staff, is to see what you can do for your community in a time of need.

6 - Monitor news announcements for new government subsidies and loans on daily basis. Prepare all necessary documentation typically required for such programmes so as to be ready when the opportunity arrives.

7 - Keep your past and future clients up to date with your new health and safety measures and adaptation strategies by direct email campaigns and social media posts.

8 - Support Healthcare Workers by providing complimentary services/accommodation.

9 - Cut unnecessary spending not by inflicting unnecessary pain on suppliers and employees, but by greening your processes (saving energy, reducing consumption, waste, upcycling). Seek local suppliers so as to shorten supply lines.

10 - Save your brand by postponing advertising campaigns. Search for free, alternative and affordable promotion channels. Opt for digital brochures, rather than printed ones.

11 - On the contrary, you need to maintain good communication with both suppliers, and past and potential guests. Communication must be sensitive to local conditions where guests live (better avoid bragging about how few covid-19 cases there were in your destination, just indicate it.)

12 - Reduce operating hours.

13 - Focus on smaller groups and domestic tourism with special rates and tour packages/activities that appeal to domestic travellers including family-friendly activities and special programmes for children.

14 - Adjust your Marketing strategy to focus on space & cleanliness, experiences (for example tying in a stay with time at local producers/artesans/craftsmen) and value (people will have less money to spend at least over the next year). Experience is another keyword for the future of tourism, as well as transformation. With more expensive and binding travels, the value for money will be concentrated on "what do I get from this trip?", whether it is sharing people's life or learning a new sport.

15 - Rent out your idle cars or buses to other businesses or the local municipality.

16 - Develop new revenue streams by offering new services to the local community: for example, catering, delivery and laundry services.

17 - Liaise with educational institutions, host a conference or seminar for locals, when the lock-down relaxes.

18 - Hire local artists and craftsmen to develop gifts for sale to past customers – encourage them to support you and your local community during this period.

19 - Convert some rooms into apartments for rent / the sharing economy.

20 - Convert some rooms into home offices.

21 - Double the size of rooms – it may work in some hotels with small rooms, they could be converted into suites.

22 - Encourage customers to reschedule instead of refunding holidays by offering them free upgrades/extra nights.

23 - Produce and sell gift holiday vouchers online with a long redemption period.

24 - Do not lower your rates. Offer your post-pandemic guests a credit for a future stay.

25 - Contact your favourite past guests/customers and offer them a personalised, special discount.

26 - Proactively contact companies and offer to organise Incentive weekends.

27 - Organise your own cleaning protocols following the guidelines but adapting them for green-minded customers. Resist the temptation to exaggerate on chemicals and plastic, seek eco-friendly alternatives Then let your customers know the details!

28 - If you can afford it it is a good time to undertake long-term maintenance.

29 - It is also a good time to apply and prepare for certification by an Ecolabel.

30 - You or your chef may offer virtual Cooking lessons.

31 - Offer online language lessons in your native language to tourists and the travel trade.

32 - Produce videos, blog posts and social media posts to maintain interest in your services and destination.

33 - Organise a virtual trade fair/webinar with other local businesses and professionals to promote your destination.

34 - Liaise with your local Destination Management Organisation, Tourism Board or equivalent so that you participate in/support their initiatives and webinars and social tourism programmes.

35 - Engage your accountant so that they keep you informed of stimulus support packages available for your business.

36 - Prepare a reopening strategy with different capacity scenarios and corresponding marketing plans.

37 - Talk to your peers and colleagues in your destination and around the world, compare notes, brainstorm.

38 - If you have absolutely no hope of receiving tourists in your area for the foreseeable future, consider hosting refugees and migrants, converting into apartments, not opening at all this year, or selling.

39 - Demand that your Government/ Local Government:

- Significantly reduces VAT on Tourism
- Reduces property tax payable by tourism businesses
- Reduces municipal tax payable by tourism businesses
- Extends unemployment support benefits and health insurance cover for tourism employees out of work until the full return of tourism
- Reduces social contributions payable by tourism businesses and tourism employees

We hope you will find some of these ideas relevant and you are most welcome to add more suggestions in the comments below!

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