We’re Open For Business?

Last week, on both sides of the Atlantic, we could hear a number of politicians and economists asking for the reopening of  businesses and borders that are currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a tour guide, owning a small business in Zagreb, Croatia, working in profession that practically can’t exist with closed borders and living in a country that is highly dependent on tourism revenues, I should be thrilled. Soon, we will be open for business! Am I thrilled?

First of all, I can’t see this as a positive or negative news. I’m currently quite confused with some conflicting messages and predictions that are facing the hospitality industry. Or world economy in general. I see these calls for “business reopening” more like a desire than a real possibility. At the same time, we live in a world where I can easily imagine how the word of an economist or a politician is valued more than the doctor’s notice.

This week, instead of a regular “Monday Report” with news from the tourist sector, my article is something that is maybe more “a stream of thoughts” regarding the current situation.

This April 2020 all guided tours are cancelled, but Rilak’s Zagreb Guide is continuing online, with…

I’m conflicted myself. If I turn my business-mode “on”, more business means more visitors, more visitors means more revenue. So, yes, reopen it right now! Or… maybe not.

I am first and foremost a guide. I am a local guide, providing city tours, but the “guiding job” that I like most is being a tour leader or tour manager for longer trips. I adore being on tours, only last year I made almost twenty tours of 7-12 days all around Croatia and neighboring countries with groups from the US, Portugal, Brazil, France, Thailand, etc.. Being a tour leader demands a certain lifestyle. You are almost never at home! Last year, from April to November I think I spent some ten days in my own apartment. I am constantly traveling, changing hotels, transports, airports and most importantly, I am constantly surrounded by people and in close contact with them… I am so confused with this situation of being “forced” to stay home. I’m confused with the fact that my suitcase is not in the middle of the room because I need to pack for my next tour that will start “tomorrow” after I came back home “yesterday”.

elaphitiBut there’s always time for a wonderful coffee break. Elaphiti Islands, Dubrovnik region, Croatia

And I miss being on tours so much! That’s my whole life! And yet, I am a bit angered about this calls to “reopen everything for business because the economy is suffering”. Really? How did we come to this point where economy is more important than health? Remember, almost my whole revenue is made in the travel industry and some would say that I would be a perfect poster-boy for calls to reopen borders. But it’s simply too soon.

I think this is also my “tour leader mindset” speaking. When you travel with people all the time, you see sparks in their eyes when they get to know a foreign culture, you get to know them, and for a couple of days, they are your family, and you are theirs. And you don’t see your job as a job, but as a certain mission to create a good experience for your family. And currently, I would prefer to see my family “staying home” than “doing business as usual and catching the virus”, even if that means temporarily losing some revenue.

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Sunny day, group from Thailand. Plitvice Lakes, 2019.

I really do think that, if the pandemic continues, eventually the virus will become an acceptable risk for all. We can’t be “quarantined” for a year, or even for three months. If we close everybody for too long, we’ll probably stop the virus but cause severe damages to the people, economically and psychologically. To paraphrase a medical proverb, “the surgeon did an excellent operation on both patients, but one of them died of hunger and the other is being transported to the mental institution”.

Added note: Maybe this dilemma of choosing between “business as usual” and “staying healthy” will be acceptable two months from now. But there are so many uncertainties about the virus in this particular moment and a couple of more weeks of “uncertainties” seems better than rushing to immediate normalization.

And no, tourism is not facing “unprecedented changes” – it’s in human nature to explore, to travel, to be in contact with other people. There may be a change in some habits, but it’s quite possible that most of the things will stay the same. Hospitality industry existed even in the Middle Ages during plagues, it will continue now. Right now, I can’t imagine myself working differently, but I will get used to it.

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As I got used to the fact that sometimes kittens are more important than a city tour.

But, again, it’s simply too soon, not only for travel industry, but for a total reopening in general. I’m not a health expert but it seems to me the pandemic is not contained yet. And really, it hasn’t been that long up until now. It seems long, but in most of the world, the lock-downs started somewhere mid-March, in most of them around March 20th.

As, I said, I’m not a health expert, but I’m a tour leader, guiding groups in Croatia, including the marvelous city of Dubrovnik, where they invented “quarantine”. If you remember from my earlier posts, during the time of plagues, they came to the idea of isolating their visitors for 40 days, to see if they would develop any disease. The word quarantine comes from the Italian word for number 40 – quaranta.

dubrovnik grupa

Just got off the boat. Group from Portugal in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The globalized world today is not a small medieval port of Dubrovnik, but I think you got my idea – in most of the world, we still haven’t passed even these forty days. (Though, it is remarkable that with all the technology we have today, the medieval method of quarantine is the best possible solution for containing the virus.)

So yes, I am simply encouraging everybody to travel, but not just yet. If I can do it, and my whole life revolves around traveling, I’m sure everybody can.

Stay home now so that you can travel later…

Instead of a regular “Monday Report” with news from the tourist sector, this week I shared more like “a stream of my thoughts” regarding the current situation. It’s a very complex situation and many other aspects can be added or explored. It’s simply too soon to give any predictions on how the situation will develop or to come to a logical conclusion. For now we need to believe in the best possible outcome. But if you really want to travel right now, why not travel to Croatia… by reading? You can browse this site for more articles about the country, history, traditions on this ever-expanding “on-line tour”…

This April 2020 all guided tours are cancelled, but Rilak’s Zagreb Guide is continuing online, with…

Happy Easter to all believers of Eastern Orthodox churches and other churches that follow the Julian calendar! This year, the Easter date was Sunday, April 19th!

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Saint Sava, Serbian Orthodox temple. Belgrade, Serbia

2 replies

  1. Unfortunately, this situation hit the tourism business very hard and the forecasts are not very encouraging! Us really need to stay home now to be able to continue traveling as soon as possible! Good luck to you!

    Like

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