*** This diary entry was penned by Shanitha Fernando, President of Authenticities Sri Lanka ****
It has been a devastating time for our industry, midway into the pandemic I thought it was time to put pen to paper to write down our own COVID diary on how Authenticities have responded to the crisis. Our team is committed to sharing the message of the importance of travel even while our borders are closed. We know how critical it is to remind people of why travel matters, how it shapes us and how global exchange can transform society for the better.
Our mission at Authenticities has always been to inspire and empower people to change their lives through travel. We continue to plan and dream about amazing adventures, but until travel can be a safe reality for the majority of our community, we are committed to providing global inspiration and reminders of how listening to the stories of others can broaden our perspectives and open our hearts.
I have always craved global exchange, so as soon as we found ourselves in lockdown I began reaching out to our Employees in messages of reassurance, understanding the immediate risks to their own health and safety and that of their loved ones, people are facing long-term uncertainty around lockdowns and job insecurity: “Will their employer go under?” These are natural & obvious concerns any would have.
By early April I got in touch with all the staff via Zoom call to discuss the wellbeing of our employees and also to reassure them of each one’s jobs. We also discussed how the ‘new normal’ will look like for further travel and started reaching out to our hotel partners to put together the new COVID-19 protocols. We were the FIRST to contact all hotel partners in Sri Lanka explaining the need to have relevant new protocols across all departments of hotel and resort operations. All departments of hotels need new protocols from the front office to restaurants, from the kitchen to housekeeping, and from purchasing to security.
We also discussed how our own protocols at Authenticities should be modified by adopting new health and hygiene standards, this was to be an ongoing discussion over the next few weeks and we have now finalised our own protocols in handling our guests in the post-pandemic era. Again, we were the FIRST to do so.
The reentry and recovery phase of the pandemic crisis actually provides leaders with a: “Compelling reason to engage and strengthen overall connections with employees and stakeholders. Leaders who provide clear and inspiring communication during these phases will be best placed to come out of it successfully. Adversity can be a beautiful thing; it brings people together.”
With this came the need to keep all our overseas partners engaged, build capacity & to harness the knowledge. This wasn’t the time to do marketing or a sales pitch, instead it is the time to learn. We put together a series of interesting Topics and roped in the best host for each topic. We believed in the role of travel plays in enlarging our perspective, the rules of travel that can help you find the heart and soul of a place – that’s the greatest gift of travel. We believed our partners might be interested in this conversation & appreciate the worldly exchange, immersion and inspiration.
Between May and July, we arranged six webinars via Zoom to our audiences of travel partners across Australia, United Kingdom, USA, France and Italy. Key topics included ‘Why Colombo’, ‘Sri Lanka Tea & Resplendent Ceylon Luxury Resorts’, ‘Introduction to Sri Lanka’, ‘Buddhist Culture and Archaeological Sites’, ‘Sri Lanka Wildlife & Conservation’, ‘Architecture in the Crossroads of History’ and the ‘Story of Ceylon Cinnamon’. Another FIRST reaction to the crisis from Authenticities.
One of our key partners summed up the quality of our webinars: “I loved it. The calibre of your experts and the topics are very, very interesting and the entire presentation has a university-level quality to it “.
The key to leading through a crisis
In times of uncertainty and crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, a heavy burden is placed on leadership to navigate business and, understanding this, we launched a series of in-house capacity building sessions for our own staff. By bringing the best hosts in the country, we arranged conversations on ‘Marketing & Leadership in the Post-Pandemic Era’, ‘Architecture in the Crossroads of History’, ‘Sri Lanka’s History, Culture, Beliefs & Traditions’.
They say in a crisis, don’t spend money but energy. At Authenticities, we ignored this principle to some extent and launched a series of ‘Backpacker Trips’ for our staff going in three different directions covering the entire country: travelling by public transport, eating from roadside eateries, looking for hidden treasures on roads less travelled. The idea was to enhance our own travel experience and knowledge, to capture our own imagination on how best to enrich our itineraries, to have fun, enjoy travel and treasure the memories and finally to curate new experiences to our own portfolio of private experiences. Another FIRST reaction to the crisis from Authenticities.
While doing all this, we did not forget our chauffeur guides and coach drivers who we call “our ambassadors”. This crisis has put them out of work for two months already and will have no work for a further six months. Their incomes have been shattered and they were struggling to make ends meet. We provided 36 of them with a sizeable financial grant to meet their living expenses for a few months. Authenticities was the only company to help the tourist chauffeur and coach drivers. Another FIRST reaction to the crisis from Authenticities.
In keeping with our purpose, values and culture, we went a step further to help another 130 daily income earners – safari jeep drivers of Habarana, Yala and Udawalawe who were deprived of their incomes in the absence of tourism. We provided them with 13-kilogram dry ration packs each to see through the difficult months – a cause that resonates with our ethos. Another FIRST reaction to the crisis from Authenticities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed changes that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. Understanding the pandemic’s impact, reinforcing the values the company stands for and how they were demonstrated in the company’s pandemic response will be the guiding principles that will help to chart our own path through the pandemic and beyond. Through the crisis and our response, what have we learned about ourselves, each other and our organisation will help us in the future.
If any travel advisor would like to watch recordings of our Zoom webinars, please contact Authenticities Sales & Business Development Manager in Australia, Kirsty Thomas-Thoeun on firstname.lastname@example.org