One Year of COVID – and How to Prepare for Year Two

Listen to episode #9 of NAVIGATE, the travel podcastas we reflect on the global impacts of COVID now and in the future.

Reflecting on one year of COVID | North America Security Director Frank Harrison

Voice over

0:00:01 – 0:00:19

Welcome to Navigate. The podcast that helps you safely and securely traverse the globe. Alongside travel industry experts and global travellers, we’ll gather insights and advice that help you manage any pitfalls or problems that may occur while you’re away from home. Our voyage of discovery starts now.
Alex Twiggs

0:00:19 – 0:00:43

Hello and welcome to Navigate. I’m your host, Alex Twiggs. I’m joined today by Frank Harrison, World Travel Protection’s North American regional security director. Frank has had a varied career ranging from the Canadian military through to mining operations and the not for profit sector. His work has taken him around the world. He now finds himself back in Canada, where he’s been with WTP since February this year. Welcome, Frank.
Frank Harrison

0:00:43 – 0:00:52

Thank you, Alex, for the kind greetings. Good morning from Canada. Good afternoon in Europe and good evening, everybody else.
Alex Twiggs

0:00:52 – 0:01:18

The World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of COVID 19 pandemic in March 2020 so we thought it’d be a good opportunity to reflect on COVID one year on as companies and employees rapidly adjusted to the new operating environment, we saw massive changes in how people worked and travelled. Those changes impacted people in different ways, and we wanted to explore some of the implications of these changes and consider what comes next. Frank, could you start by telling us a bit about your own experiences over the past year?
Frank Harrison

0:01:18 – 0:02:24

So my COVID experience, I was working and living in Southern Portugal. So when the pandemic happened my last day in the office was 18 March last year, immediately went to a working from home environment. And you know, as the world began locking down, I was sitting in a rural area and what’s known as Baixo Alentejo and just the impact of the diminished flights going into Pharaoh from Europe and just watching as businesses slowed down and went to minimum operations, it was significant. And then just staying in communication with my family and friends back here in Canada and seeing how they were being impacted and then as the pandemic spread and watching the disparities and how the lock downs were applied. So from my perspective, I was fortunate. I was on rural property and was able to have a quality of life that I understand a lot of people haven’t had, and we can carry on with some of that impact as we go through this conversation.
Alex Twiggs

0:02:24 – 0:02:31

And do you think companies have given enough thought to the long term implications they made to practise and policy in early 2020?
Frank Harrison

0:02:31 – 0:04:21

Some of the biggest dividing lines to use the Portuguese example. The Portuguese government did a very quick pivot in April last year when the lockdowns were being recommended by the WHO And they created a programme called COVID Safe and COVID safe was focused on keeping tourism and small businesses open or alive during very restrictive locked down periods. And from my experience living in that environment, it was very successful, and it allowed local communities to be able to go to the small shops and shop safely and to keep the economy going. The Portuguese government has the mindset, the small businesses are the powerhouse that will restart the economy.

Returning to Canada in January and just to see the impact on small businesses and just in the greater Toronto area, I find it almost disheartening to see how we’ve had lockdowns over ordered and I’m looking at them and just from my experience, having worked with Canadian city in Portugal, it’s how many businesses have actually gone back and looked at the original lock down orders that they imposed, reviewed them against their business and made changes. I’m getting the sense that a lot of entity’s are just simply in lock down waiting for the magic ‘returned to office’ on one September, and then they’re going to re evaluate their business continuity plans. But there’s an opportunity to see what that impact has been to the business. And if there’s opportunities to change your business, some have been flexible enough to do it. But I get the sense the vast majority are just going from lock down to lock down to lock down and just pivoting within that space.

Alex Twiggs

0:04:22 – 0:04:28

And those longer term implications and unintended consequences. How do you think that will play out in the travel space as well?
Frank Harrison

0:04:28 – 0:05:23

The problem I’m seeing here or where the issue is there’s a lot of expectation for guidance from political leaders and a lot of expectation of guidance from different governing bodies. And in the absence of that, businesses and individuals aren’t necessarily being proactive themselves. They’re waiting to be told what it’s gonna look like on the other side of the pandemic, and you know if we look at some of the forecasting that’s been put forward, 2024-2025 for recovery, and I think that guidance is a little flawed because we can carry on without a statement further. But in the absence of guidance, there’s been very little effort to actually explore beyond lockdowns. That’s just what I’m seeing here in Canada.
Alex Twiggs

0:05:23 – 0:05:30

Looking forward, thinking of the travel aspect. Do you think companies will improve how they operate with regards to business travel and expat assignments?
Frank Harrison

0:05:30 – 0:06:13

Well, it’s interesting, And I’m hoping now as we’re getting into the spring into summer optimistic that businesses are actually gonna look at what the impact has been from this past year and start developing some lessons learned. Look at okay, this is what we’ve done for the past year. Here are the opportunities where we can actually get some growth or better impact our workforce, better impact our customer service delivery and for those industries that are supply chain, whether it’s mining, manufacturing, extractive resources, looking for those opportunities, where in this scaled back environment, they can move forward and be more streamlined, more agile.
Alex Twiggs

0:06:13 – 0:06:26

And do you think we’ll see a different type of trip. When we do see a full-scale return travel with the C suite trying to pack more in for example. Then are there any increased risks associated with that?
Frank Harrison

0:06:26 – 0:08:14

Travel is going to be to me we’re looking at were stopped, we’re dead in our tracks. There’s very little action right now. The Canadian government has locked down the borders and have made it very restrictive for Canadians to travel. They’ve put a no travel order in place and let’s be realistic. Canadians are an interesting culture. So we’ve got this no travel ban. But if you look at January of this past year of 2021 we’re approximately 86,500 trips to Canada from US residents, which is down 92% from last year. But you think we’ve got a closed border. We’ve had 86,500 trips into Canada, and then we look at Canadians who actually crossed the border, and we’re looking at approximately 265,000 Canadians who entered the States in 2020. And in January alone it was about 70, there’s the number 70,000, so I know that that includes drivers of long haul trucking and different things.

The Canadian government efforts to stop Canadians from travelling can’t succeed with that border because people are crossing the border, going to major, uh, airport hubs and they’re going to Southern destinations and having vacations, and then they don’t have the same requirements to quarantine as an air traveller does. So they cross the border and they go into self-quarantine for 14 days. Versus if you’re on air travel, you’re doing your three-day mandatory stay in a government facility and if you get a negative testing, then quarantining at home.

Alex Twiggs

0:08:15 – 0:08:20

And when mass travel restarts again in earnest, can you share some thoughts on how you think that would be different?
Frank Harrison

0:08:21 – 0:10:15

So as the organisations and individuals it goes back to Canadians, we have this growing surge capacity and that when the restrictions are lifted, whether it’s leisure or business, people are going to travel and the industry is going to have to respond to that. Now, for organisations that have business travellers, it’s preparing them to the reality that when they go back out to their project sites or their facilities around the world, you’re facing a new reality.

There’s a lot of – with the shutdown – there’s a lot of businesses that are going out of – they’re out. People are unemployed.  people travelling into regions that they may have been familiar with before that will now potentially have criminal aspects to it. There’s going to be socioeconomic impacts to it. If you’re a major resource extractor and you’re the only business that’s operating, you’re going to become the target for any multitude of social licence unrest or socio economic unrest.

And if we look at just your leisure leisure travellers with the Caribbean predominately being opened for business now, and Mexico has remained open for most of the major resort locations. In the absence of North American travellers, a lot of these facilities have been occupied by South American tourists and non-traditional tourist base. But they flocked into these resorts in the absence of North Americans, and when Canadians especially start travelling back to their favourite destinations, whether Mexico or some of the Caribbean, the Southern US, they’re going to discover that the landscape has changed. They are entering something that’s going to be new, whether it’s the economic downturn, or they’re gonna be faced with a whole new cultural aspect of tourism.

Frank Harrison

0:10:15 – 0:10:35

And to quote Roger in his statement last week, our first travellers out there are gonna be pioneers, and some of them are going to be, you know, those bold nomads that are going into a whole brave new world. And we’re gonna have to pay attention to what happens with the first flow of passengers because they’re not going into what’s normal anymore
Alex Twiggs

0:10:35 – 0:10:38

For the corporate travellers, is there anything companies could do to prepare them better?
Frank Harrison

0:10:39 – 0:11:02

Same with the business travellers. You got these examples of these very seasoned expert travellers travel all over the world, travel consistently in the same places, and then they’re gonna also be travelling into these new unknowns. And absolutely they’re going to need a mechanism to be able to measure that. Because to them I would put money that to a lot of these travellers, it’s going to be disconcerting.
Alex Twiggs

0:11:02 – 0:11:12

Well, that seems like a good place to wrap up the discussion. Thank you so much for your time and thank you, everyone for listening. We look forward to you joining us on the next episode.
Voice over

0:11:12 – 0:11:41

Thank you for listening to this episode of Navigate. The World Travel Protection podcast that steers you in the right direction, helping you explore the world safely.

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The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic in March 2020. Since then, the repercussions have been felt around the world as countries entered lockdowns, established travel bans and social distancing regulations, closed venues and workplaces, and saw unemployment rates soar.

Life has undeniably changed – from the way we catch up with friends and celebrate special occasions, to how we work and even grocery shop.

So, how do we prepare for year two of the coronavirus pandemic?

In this episode, World Travel Protection’s security expert Frank Harrison joins us to reflect on the extensive changes people and organisations have made since the initial COVID-19 outbreak.

Having lived in both Portugal and Canada during the pandemic, Frank shares how his experiences in the two countries differed: from efforts to keep tourism and small business alive, to enforced lockdowns and the ways organisations have adapted and learned to thrive under new conditions.

Frank also explores what life beyond lockdowns look like, when it will be the right time to recommence business travel and expat assignments, what the return to “normal” will look like, and when we might actually get there…

If you love travelling, listen to this episode to learn what COVID in 2021 and beyond means for global movement and increased travel risks before you plan your next trip.

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