The global tourism industry is at the most testing times as the headlines of tourism performance indicates the grim reporting by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) as shown below:
- 1 billion fewer international tourist arrivals
- Tourism sector lost nearly US $4.5 trillion for 2020
- 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk
Though day to day lives in some parts of the world are heading towards normalcy, an alarming spike of death toll in India and Brazil forces the industry to be more patient to restart international tourism in order to heal the wounds of the pandemic.
Covid-19’s unfolding crises force leaders to face unprecedented challenges with no easy answers. However, just waiting and hoping is indeed not an option for the leaders in the tourism industry. While operating in a VUCA ( Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment, it is perhaps the right time to look back to the past and learn from ancient philosophers and their teachings.
1. Socrates (470 to 399 BC): Know thyself
Socrates, one of the first westerner philosophers, insisted on our right to think for ourselves. Too often, he said “I don’t know what I know but I do know that I don’t know that’s why I inquire”. It is the best time to dig down deeper as a leader.
Many leaders just sleepwalk through life, simply going with the flow, failing to make any disruption and leave no legacy. This happens because they pretend to know everything hence stop inquiring. Let the Socrates in us come out and guide us to gain more knowledge in order to be able to navigate through the present crisis and gain the ability to differentiate between knowledge and wisdom.
2. Epictetus (50 to 135 AD): A resilient mind-set is a choice
Epictetus who was born as a slave later turned into an eminent Stoic philosopher. Epictetus is known for simplifying complex philosophy with a dichotomy of control. A leader should know what he could control and what he couldn’t. We can control our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, but everything else is to some extent out of our control – other people’s perceptions and behaviour, the economy, the weather, the future and the past. Going by the advice of Epictetus, a leader should focus on what they can control, and feel a measure of autonomy even in chaotic situations. This allows the leader to come up with a more effective strategy to cope and rebuild business .
This was impressively practiced by Admiral James Stockdale as a Prisoner of War (POW) in the Vietnam war, and later he introduced stoicism to US military training courses. This taught soldiers the Stoic lesson that, even in adverse situations, we always have some choice on how we choose to react. We can learn this resilient thinking, and it will make our organisation and employees more capable of reacting to crises. The external environment may appear to be grim and we may not see light at the end of the tunnel. However, focusing on doing what you can, you make a deliberate choice to improve the competitive advantage.
3. Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180 AD): A Philosopher Emperor
If the present day business leaders feel that they are facing the ugliest days of their lives, one should read ‘Meditation’ by the Roman emperor who died in a plague named after him, and has much to say about how to face fear, pain, anxiety and loss.
Marcus was considered as one the philosopher kings who ruled by virtues. Though he had a choice to flee to a safe heaven as the emperor, he chose to hang on and fight back as a great military leader. Marcus used to ask himself, “What virtue has nature given me to deal with this situation?” That naturally led to the question: “How do other people cope with similar challenges?” Stoics reflect on character strengths such as wisdom, patience and self-discipline, which potentially make them more resilient in the face of adversity.
Today’s leaders can learn discipline from Marcus Aurelius, and the agile leadership with the tactics of “unfreezing” in the pressure of the coronavirus crisis. Leaders should strive to work in new ways with clear goals, focused teams, and rapid decision making as the industry begins to navigate through pandemic. Every crisis has a life cycle and emotional states and the needs vary depending on the stages of that particular cycle. The leaders in the tourism industry must accept the crisis for real and check out from the state of ‘false hope’. The waves of pandemics seem they will continue for some time despite an inoculation drive to instill hope and safety among the travellers and host.
The effective leadership depends upon the ability to adapt and remain helpful. Being resilient might not be enough, one should cultivate an “antifragile” mindset as practiced by the ancient philosophers.