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By Jon Bailey

The hospitality and tourism sectors have taken a huge hit during the pandemic – that’s not news. We’ve all suffered from the fallout of COVID restrictions and whatever your point of view is on that, we must accept that the travel industry has been devastated. For basically two years, leisure travelers had been encouraged to stay home, business travel had been greatly curtailed, and conferences and incentive travel had dropped to nearly zero.

And throughout it all, marketers have tried their hardest to encourage visits within safe parameters.

Of course, this has raised all sorts of conversations about the ethical ramifications of travel during a pandemic. As marketers we’ve been committed to supporting our clients throughout these trying times, but that hasn’t always been easy.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

Ethical Travel Protocols

Airlines, hotels and destinations have worked tremendously hard to put protocols in place to ensure safe and healthy travel. As someone who has needed to travel through-out the pandemic, I’ve noted and appreciated the number of programs in place to pro-tect me on airplanes, in hotels and across destinations.

Like so many travelers during this time, I’ve obeyed every rule and in many cases, I’ve taken more precautions than I probably needed. I remember flying to the East Coast in the thick of the pandemic with a colleague, and we both shrugged as we donned our goggles, gloves and double masks. You better believe I disinfected every square inch ofmy seating area, tray table, arm rests and more.

But I kept traveling because my clients needed me to. (I’ll come back to this theme in a minute.)

What I witnessed during these travels was not always pretty. Some people refused to adhere to the restrictions, some found ways around them, and some were just plain sloppy. However, the vast majority of travelers managed themselves responsibly and carefully with consideration for others – including the people working to provide them with a safe travel experience.

Even taking all these precautions, people traveling during this time were called “brave” or “intrepid”. Or perhaps “irresponsible”. I was actually travel-shamed by one of my blogreaders for writing about a recent trip we’d taken as a family, telling me it was inappro-priate of me to encourage visits to this destination. Clearly, emotions have been runninghigh.

But one thing has remained crystal clear to me. It is quite literally my JOB to promote travel. Therefore, I will continue to get on airplanes to meet with clients, and travel with my family to destinations for my blog. Safely, intelligently, responsibly, but travel I must. If not, I would just be a hypocrite.

Ethical Decisions

Those of us in destination, tourism and hospitality marketing could see ourselves in a difficult position. Like my dad always liked to say, caught between a rock and a hard place: risk travel or be the very thing that has been damaging our clients so badly.I have seen it another way. We are leaders in tourism and it’s our duty to set an exam-ple. Yes, a safe and responsible example, but a traveling example, nonetheless. Of course, there are reasonable circumstances that would prevent someone from traveling.Maybe they have pre-existing health conditions, or young children at home, or close contact with someone at risk – all irrefutable reasons to stay home.

For me, I don’t care how many times I must succumb to that hideous swab pushed up my nose to prove my health status. If that is what it takes to continue serving our travel clients, then swab away.

Ethical Marketing

I’ve been impressed by our clients’ caring and responsible approach throughout this whole mess. Yes, they wanted visitors to come, but they wanted them to behave re-sponsibly when in the destination. Masks, distance protocols, and other rules were strictly enforced. Capacity was reduced to accommodate space needed between guests. Extra cleaning procedures were adopted and communicated to ensure both staff and guests were protected. All of this came at an enormous cost, (while making no money).

Some great examples:

  • Organizations like Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau focused on the beauty of their destination’s outdoor experiences, where guests could safely distance and breathe sweet, clean air.
  • Hotels in Los Cabos strictly enforced safety rules, including masks, shoe disinfectant, hand sanitizer stations every few yards and more, with stern reprimands for non-compli-ance.
  • Hilton Hotels put a seal on every room to indicate it had been cleaned and disinfected before a new guest arrived.
  • Harrah’s Casinos moved gaming tables apart from their normal positions and removedsome seating so players could be properly spaced, with masks enforced at all times.
  • Destinations like Mammoth Mountain even encouraged visitors to not come, because they could not guarantee the safety of their normal crowd counts.
  • Some destinations flat-out paused their marketing efforts during the pandemic, resuming as safe travel protocols became normalized.

Jim Lüttjohann, CEO of Love Catalina, said “When faced with the inevitable impacts of COVID-19 on safe travel to Catalina Island, Love Catalina and 62ABOVE paused marketing efforts until the Essential Travel order was lifted.

The results were evidenced by a very low infection rate in our local commu-nity that has limited resources for critical health care.”

To Be Continued

No one can predict for sure what will happen with this pandemic. All we can do is our best to move forward, be safe and care for each other with consideration and respect. And that goes for whether we are traveling or not.

Luckily the number of people traveling has started to increase as restrictions loosen andsafety protocols prove their effectiveness. Travel is on an upswing, although it has far togo before it reaches its pre-pandemic levels.

I, for one, will be continuing to travel. How about you?