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Coronavirus Travel: What does hospitality mean now?

Earlier this week, I traveled to New Orleans from JFK Terminal 5 in New York. I had planned an airport conference a few months ago. Although many colleagues chose not to travel, I decided to support my former employer and fly JetBlue Airways.


The desolate airport travel experience made my heart sink. The security lines that are usually packed with early morning travelers to the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic were desolate. Never have I seen the airport so empty. If you want to know how desolate I mean, let’s put it this way. I bought a cup of coffee at Starbucks without standing in line. In the morning. At JFK. As you can imagine, that made me feel like the world is ending!
airport empty starbucks line

COVID-19 On Their Minds

Coronavirus is clearly on our customers’ minds regardless of how it plays into our own thoughts about travel. People are not traveling. Period.
So what do we, travel and hospitality organizations, do about that? Nothing. Nothing at all. We do not send marketing emails to our customers. We do not cancel flights. We do not lose our composure and act out within our operations.
This is hard. Doing nothing. But the thing we must keep at the forefront of our minds is our customers’ mindset. Not ours.  People have different risk profiles, different fears, and different backgrounds. All of these things will define how they coexist with the daily reminders that the public health is in some danger. Empathy is the name of the game, yet again.

Employees Matter

Now, since you are exercising the value of caring to your customers, remember to apply the same approach to your employees. They too have different fear profiles. And they are likely to react to the Coronavirus situation in unpredictable ways. Keep these employees in mind when you design your new (temporary) normal.
For example, we all have emergency response protocols that I am sure have been enabled over the weekend. But these protocols are not necessarily built specifically for a situation like the Coronavirus. So, revisiting protocols and ensuring that employee experience is considered in protocol design is a good step.
What if, for instance, your employees CANNOT work from home? Maybe they do not have the stable internet connection required to do their job. Or maybe they have toddlers or a newborn at home. Now is a good time to engage with the local community. See if there is an adjacent industry in need that is getting slammed by the Coronavirus and think of how you and your teams can help.  Doing this can simultaneously engage your employees, alleviate fear of the unknown, and create a renewed sense of purpose and belonging.

Colleagues and Business Partners Matter

Remember to extend your kindness and caring to colleagues and business partners, in addition to your customers and employees. At a time like this, communication is the most important tool in your kit. Update your customers, colleagues, and business partners on your plans and any changes to the way you typically do business.
This helps to keep your customers, colleagues, partners, and employees  more connected with you. And that sense of connection is more important now than ever.

Design Scenarios Save

When the financial crisis happened in 2008, banks found themselves without well thought out plans for a variety of stress scenarios related to liquidity. One of the jobs I had for Royal Bank of Canada was to design exactly that. It is the most practical business exercise that brings control and choice back to the business owner.
And it can be particularly beneficial for travel organizations. What would happen to soft revenues for 6 months, a year, or if they end tomorrow? Will you have the liquidity and cash to maintain your business? Now is the time to be vigilant about cash management and find ways to delay the cash outflow of your business.
travel empty jfk airport lobby coronavirus
Coronavirus is here. And it will be with us for awhile. Regardless of this new environment we live in, we all need to make sure to keep caring and hospitality top of mind. Continue to empathize with and take care of your customers regardless of what that means today, and they will remember it tomorrow. Today is one of the best moments to create a meaningful connection with your customers.
The elevated sense of fear drives the need to be part of a community. Be that community and you will win in the face of Coronavirus!
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Liliana Petrova

Liliana Petrova, CCXP is a visionary and a proven leader in the field of customer experience and innovation. Ms Petrova pioneered a new customer-centric culture, energizing the more than 15,000 JetBlue employees with her vision. She has been recognized for her JFK Lobby redesign and facial recognition program with awards from Future Travel Experience and Popular Science. Ms Petrova is committed to creating seamless, successful experiences for customers and delivering greater value for brands. In 2019, she founded an international customer experience consulting firm that helps brands improve their customer experience. To elevate the industry, her firm, The Petrova Experience, manages a digital membership for customer experience professionals to grow their CX careers and stay up-to-date with CX news and trends. Liliana lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughter. To learn more about The Petrova Experience story go to