Don Welsh: There Will Be a Silver Lining, But We Are Not There Yet
The coronavirus pandemic has sent the travel industry into a tailspin, but there is light at the end of the tunnel—however long it may take us to get there, says Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International. Here’s his take on the current situation.
How are destinations dealing with the coronavirus from a meetings business standpoint?
I think there’s never been a more collaborative effort in the industry and with all the industry players involved in meetings. What we’re realizing, as we go through this, is that knowledge is power, and we’re getting more clarity with every passing day as a country and also at city and state level.
How have communications changed?
Cities are taking a proactive response to reach out to planners who have meetings scheduled. Many planners have reached out to destinations needing answers to the questions [being asked by] attendees or their board. There is heightened two-way communication between the destination, particularly at the sales and services level, and planners.
Are destination organizations still trying to sell destinations for the future?
We are all spending a disproportionate part of our day [dealing with the coronavirus situation], but that doesn’t preclude us from doing our normal, everyday work going forward. If you talk to CVB leaders, they’re spending a lot of time on webinars and conference calls, digesting information as it’s coming out by the hour. Right now, the situation is very fluid. Destination organizations are doing everything in their power to be responsive to their communities and customers and their needs at this time.
What’s the most important takeaway you want DMO teams to know right now?
We’ve certainly had 8-10 years of a positive run worldwide in terms of hotel performance, airline load factors, and hotel and airline profitability. This is a business that can never be taken for granted. As we’ve seen here — and as we saw after 9/11 — with the snap of a finger, or an outbreak of a virus that’s become a pandemic, all that can end and come to a rapid halt.
When we are firing on all cylinders again — back to normal, whatever that is — we will have a much greater appreciation for a healthy tourism economy, including meetings. In some parts of the world, this has been taken for granted for over a decade. I do see a silver lining, but right now we’re not in that. You have to look to the other end, of when we get through this. Travel is part of who we are as people; it’s in our DNA.
To access industry resources from Destinations International, go here. You can also find out information about DI’s weekly coronavirus industry update call, which takes place every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. EST, and upcoming webinars.