A survivor’s guide to getting through 2021: Look how far we’ve come

WELL, that’s 2020 done and dusted. But is it? Dusted for sure and leaving many

WELL,
that’s 2020 done and dusted. But is it? Dusted for sure and leaving many of us
in the dust, wondering what hit us and now wondering how we pick ourselves up
from the rubble.

Done it certainly is not. Even as many of us took a breather from work the last weeks of 2020 we couldn’t help but be aware of second, third, fourth waves happening across the world. 

Call it Chronic Covid Sydrome but truth is, it’s actually been one long wave with a couple of breaks in between – and we have to be grateful for small mercies. Imagine if there hadn’t been the occasional breaks in the waves for us to get some air and sunshine before we had to hide again.

In Singapore, we count ourselves luckier than most in that we have now progressed to Phase 3 (a more relaxed level) and life seems fairly normal on the veneer, except we have to still keep watching our backs and wondering when that enemy is going to get us from behind. And that’s probably the note on which we enter 2021 – hopeful but cautious.

So here’s my guide to getting through 2021.

1. Look ahead but watch your back

During the year-end break I took the opportunity to do a tour of Labrador Park – it’s one of Singapore’s most historic parks and I am ashamed to confess that I never had the curiosity to visit it because the parks were always greener on the other side.

Labrador Park played a historic role in World War Two. Its tunnels, once a tourist attraction, are now closed.

During the tour I learnt about its role in World War Two and how the British cannons were facing the sea and aimed outwards while the Japanese troops crossed by land from then-Malaya. It’s pretty much a similar story in Fort Cornwallis, Penang, when British artillery also faced outwards while the enemy moved in on land.

In other words, they were looking out towards the sea but didn’t watch their backs.

2. Vaccinate against “the news”

As my guide Jeremy was telling the tale, my mind cast back to the budget meetings I am sure we have all had to do before the curtains came down on 2020. We were all having to look outwards (and often upwards, with fingers crossed) for signs that we could plot against.

We scoured the news for signs – the problem is, news today morphs as fast as the virus and new variants of “the news” make it even more confusing and you don’t know what to believe anymore.

In “Humankind: A Hopeful History”, the book in which Rutger Bregman pays a tribute to our better nature, he argues that the drug that has made us cynical and mistrustful as a species is the news. “The news is a mental health hazard,” he writes.

The reason we are susceptible is due to what psychologists call “negativity bias” (we’re more attuned to the bad than the good) and “availability bias” (if we can easily recall examples of a given thing, we assume that thing is relatively common).

You can see where this takes us in the age of social media where even the president of the world’s greatest country has to be banned from his accounts.

So it seems to me that even as we are all waiting for the vaccine to arrive and save us physically from the virus, we should all be invoking the vaccine within us to not be infected mentally by the news.

3. Take a guess, and stay steadfast

We looked to industry reports that said “2021 travel outlook” and read interviews with “industry leaders” to see if we could plot against their predictions. But I reckon right now, everyone’s guessing.

With the exception of China, where our travel colleagues have gotten back on their feet, there doesn’t seem to be much clarity anywhere, with every market going through its own set of challenges.

And it all depends on what kind of business you have and which market you are in. If you have more domestic, you could do better. If you have more multinational corporate, you could do worse. If you have more events, you could do worse too. Cross-border leisure, still a stretch – depends …

Depends though is not a word loved by
financial controllers.

You could argue on hindsight that perhaps it was easier to get through 2020. We didn’t know anything and when it hit us, we improvised. Now we know what we don’t know, it could be harder to improvise and we no longer have the bliss of ignorance and the sentiment of forgiveness.

In speaking to key executives to try and hazard a guess as to what they are planning for, the numbers seem to hover between 50% and 70% of 2019 with most of it underpinned on the second half of the year (giving time for the vaccine story to play out more). It seems that just we were hopeful at the start of 2020 that it’d be a year of two halves, we are also approaching 2021 with a similar wish. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself this year.

Therefore the most prudent and perhaps only thing we can do is to take a guess, and stay steadfast to our course. Hopefully, what we did in 2020 to save and strengthen our business will hold us in good stead to stay the course, no matter how hard it gets.

4. Look how far we’ve come

If you haven’t listened to it, I recommend the BBC podcast, “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse”. It’s a story about four friends who go on a journey, the obstacles they encounter along the way, and the lessons learnt at each juncture. In many ways, it’s also about looking ahead to the journey to come but also being mindful of how far we’ve come, because that is a certainty to be celebrated and to build upon.

In historic terms, mankind developed the vaccine in record time – being hailed as the moon-landing of this generation.

In humanity terms, we adapted as a species. We gave up wings for roots. That has to make us stronger in every sense, individually and collectively.

“Even strong trees get sick over the course of their lives.”

In “The Hidden Life of Trees”, author Peter Wohlleben writes that for trees, it’s not about survival of the fittest. “Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit …

“Even strong trees get sick over the course of their lives. When this happens, they depend on their weaker neighbours for support. If they are no longer there, then all it takes is what would once have been a harmless insect attack to seal the fate even of giants.”

The strong among us need the weaker among us to get through this together and 2021 must become our collective adventure.

In more practical terms, we went online, we streamed, we went virtual, some went hybrid where we could, we swapped cash for digital, we delivered, we localised, we developed community.

In even more practical terms you can guess how these changes in behaviour will play out in travel and the events industry (on which travel depends) in 2021.

• E-commerce will soar – travel included when it returns.

• B2B tech will roar – food, fintech, tours and activities, corporate travel, events.

• Software will rule – not only during Covid-19 times but in the future. On the tour of Labrador Park we were asked to download the Disvoize app, a group tour guide tech, which would not have gained such traction if not for Covid-19.

• Content
will reign. (Software is the pipe, content is the fuel)

As for when travel will return (and that’s a certainty), well, that depends on several things, including the vaccine …

5. Focus on what makes you and your business unique

It seems to me too that the other way to get clarity for an uncertain journey ahead is to look inwards. During my interview with Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia group last month, I asked him for three things he wanted to focus on and get really good at – and he cited, “really understand and empower the customer, drive success of suppliers with everything we offer and to be the best travel tech platform in the world”.

I decided to flip the question onto ourselves at WiT, but thought the best answers would come from you and so that was my homework – get clarity on what three things you felt made WiT WiT so we can focus and build on that.

Your answers were enlightening and encouraging. Thank you for helping us get through 2020 and thank you for giving us clarity on how to get through 2021.

Happy new year, and cake will be waiting for you when we meet face-to-face sometime in the year.

Featured image credit: Dilok Klaisataporn/Getty Images