In the past I used to take about 100 flights a year. Today, as countries around the world keep their borders closed to contain the spread of Covid-19, almost all passenger flights have been cancelled with many planes grounded.
Thousands of aircraft are now parked at airport aprons around the world, which is quite a rare sight to behold albeit a little disheartening. We understand that all this is absolutely necessary in order to win the war against the coronavirus, so I try to think of it in a different way: Perhaps the planes, like me, are taking a good rest to prepare for the next big take off.
A senior flight captain friend of mine told me: “After being a pilot for 28 years, I would say I fully sympathise with the company today. To be fair, a six-month no-pay leave is acceptable, but tens of thousands of flight attendants and landside partners have also been dismissed at the same time, showing that the situation is getting really serious now.”
Even though airline companies are reluctant to cut salaries and terminate employment of people they regard as family, there’s hardly any other option. With all flights grounded there is an abrupt interruption of cash flow. Companies have no choice but to save themselves from going bust (though some national carriers seem to fare better).
As for private airlines, in particular low-cost carriers, they can only wait and pray for the best.
The global aviation industry’s revenue is expected to drop a record of US$312bil (RM1.3tril) this year. Many may have to look to their governments to bail them out or opt for a merger. However, a merger may then create a monopoly in airfare control which in turn will affect consumers.
Could such an immense “paused” warning be a signal that someone out there is trying to show us?
The omnipotent and omnipresent coronavirus is already dealing a severe blow to the tourism industry as well as the related service sectors. The domino effect is felt across a broad range of industries including aviation, cruise lines, logistics, hotels, F&B, theme parks, tourist attractions, shopping streets and travel agencies, forcing them to cut salaries, lay off workers and possibly go into liquidation.
Despite the fact that the government has come up with a stimulus package to help SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) during the crisis, I feel that the amount is rather small and it may not help. If the government takes a deeper look into our tourism industry, we cover 4.7 million of the workforce and 99% of them are Malaysians. We are one of the industries which aided the country in transforming its dependence on primary and secondary sectors, becoming an economy that focuses on the service sector. However during this pandemic, we are also the industry that is “first to sink, and last to float”.
Hence, the government’s provision of subsidy and stimulus plans should take into account our longer-than-usual recovery period and impact to the economy. It is especially important, too, to retain the younger generation in the workforce, as well as providing aid to female employees.
I would like to humbly present my suggestion: The government should subsidise 60% of the wages for employees who are in the tourism industry, with the highest amount being RM3,000; the employers will bear 20% and the employees themselves will self-absorb the other 20%. This is to be implemented for nine months.
With my business and academic backgrounds, I am more inclined to have an optimistic outlook at this situation. I like to think of this as a momentary break for us to retune our business strategies.
The development of a successful vaccine is nowhere near completion, which means this situation may continue longer than expected. We may not be able to travel freely for at least another six to 12 months due to this pandemic. Therefore, even if we were to migrate our business to an online platform, it would not be effective or helpful in the short run.
However, I am confident that everything will turn out well in the end.
In The Book Of Chuang Tzu about the “spitting fishes”, there’s a line that goes, “When the springs dry up, the fish have to cluster together on the shore, gasping on each other to keep damp and spitting on each other to stay wet.”
This means that during tough times, both business owners and their employees must be more reciprocal in helping and relieving each other, to share the burden and pull through the crisis through mutual trust and patience. Fear not, we shall rise again!
Some business owners may not be able to wait for the arrival of government subsidies. In the United States, more than 22 million people are living on unemployment benefits each month. A Chinese-American friend of mine said, “There’s anxiety everywhere in the US, much more now than after 9-11. In March alone, 2.5 million guns were sold. That’s very unusual!”
The Italians, Spaniards and Indians have not fared better. I hope that it is just a brief three- to six-month hiatus for countries like China, Japan and Malaysia. Even if the situation gets worse, as long as the political and financial systems remain intact, we can always start everything fresh. What is more important now is to treasure our own lives as well as our families while planning our next moves. So, just be patient.
In the past few weeks, we have been praising our frontline doctors and nurses for everything they are doing for us. But we also owe a lot to online shopping platforms and delivery services. After this whole thing has come to pass, will we still spend hours eating out at restaurants and tea houses? I’m sure many will still count on the delivery riders for their daily necessities.
Because of lockdowns, curfews and social distancing measures adopted by nations across the world, at least we have had some good news for the environment. Fishes are back in the Venetian canals, the Himalayas are no longer shrouded in smog, you can drink straight from the Ganges river, Wuhan is getting healthier now and the sky over Kuala Lumpur is blue again. Our Earth has been purged of pollutants, but have our souls too attained enlightenment?
Don’t worry my friends, all this will come to pass for sure. However it’s the start of a completely different way of life. As the Chinese saying goes, “we must learn to follow the good way and abandon the evil”. And as Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 133 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.
Did you find this article insightful?
50% readers found this article insightful