The steady spread of the novel coronavirus (legal name: COVID-19) across the U.S. has incited a countrywide self-quarantine effort to flatten the curve and lessen the virus’s lifespan, which is already predicted to extend into summer.
The saving grace right now? Besides Netflix’s Tiger King, experiences are the wellness resource and social lifeline we need. Virtual eperiences are growing rapidly across social media and video meeting apps, from memes that show how to have a wine tour at home (the cabernet sauvignon in your living room is particularly good this time of year), to concert streams from The Met in New York City and live cams from Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can watch jellyfish float by as a backdrop to your team’s Zoom meeting. Livestreams on Instagram have veritably exploded, with live fitness workouts, water meditations, and cooking lessons happening from brands and media personalities who want to continue to engage their audiences from home.
All this to say that experiences are a relief resource for the travel industry right now. If you can find and use unique virtual experiences to maintain that line of communication—that trust and intimate audience connection—you can leave the COVID-19 crisis with your audience not only in tact, but potentially boosted.
Where do airlines stand now?
With the president signing the U.S.’s $2 trillion stimulus package (or CARES Act) into law last week, airlines are eligible to receive $50 billion from the government—half in grants, half in loans. If airlines accept federal money, they will be prohibited from laying off or furloughing front line employees through September (a good thing). Airports will have access to $10 billion in relief funds, although leaders in the industry contend that might not be enough to stave losses.
Some major airlines run their own employee relief funds, which give grants to workers to support their families in times of need. But the ability of airlines to provide such relief during the coronavirus pandemic may be restricted or reduced to nothing. The most helpful resource airlines and airports can give to their employees now is constant and radically transparent communication—on what grants and loans are being applied for, expected timelines, and how the company will continue to provide for employees under unprecedented circumstances.
What about hospitality?
Hotels and hospitality businesses will have access to federal loans (the limit is 250% of a business’s average monthly payroll) under the relief act, too, although industry leaders are suggesting, like some in air travel have, that the act is a bandaid for a business downslide that will have months, possibly years, of ripple effects. Hospitality giants like Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt have reportedly furloughed thousands of employees as occupancy at some hotels has sunken into single-digit numbers.
One hospitality brand offering unparalleled crisis relief (after initial missteps) is none other than Airbnb. Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky, announced a $260 million relief package for the company’s host community after coming under scrutiny for offering refund relief to guests but not to hosts for losing business.
The Fight to Save Restaurants
The food and beverage industry is bleeding. An estimated 500,000 workers may lose their jobs in coming weeks as restaurants and bars struggle to stay afloat on on delivery and takeout orders following closures due to coronavirus. Many have shuttered entirely. Of the more than 1 million restaurants in the U.S., around 70 percent are small businesses whose passion for the industry doesn’t equate to a sustainable profit margin. With an increasing number of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs laying off their entire staff or delaying the inevitable, action must be taken.
More than $300 billion has been allotted to small businesses through the CARES’s Paycheck Protection Program, but chefs, like Top Chef‘s Tom Colicchio, say it’s not enough to keep the industry as a whole above water. On the ground, the internet is rallying for restaurants: advocating for supporting businesses through frequent takeout and delivery, direct donations to national and independent restaurant funds, and the continual surges of Twitter threads and Instagram posts offering donation support to unemployed bar and restaurant workers—or workers on the front line in service.