With flights grounded, tours cancelled, entire countries in lockdown and social distancing now the norm (all measures I think are entirely sensible), the travel and hospitality industries are facing an unprecedented challenge.
The effects of this global health crisis will be far-reaching and long-lasting. There’s no denying that. When it comes to financial impact and loss of livelihood, no one is going to suffer more than small businesses in the tourism sector.
If you’re a regular here, you’ll know that one of my biggest passions (the whole reason I started this blog, in fact) is encouraging my readers to support locally owned enterprises when they travel.
Frequenting family owned guesthouses, eating at small restaurants and buying from independent artisans are just some of the ways we can ensure local communities see the benefits of tourism.
Homestay hosts, local tour guides, drivers – these are the people who enrich our travel experiences. And right now, many of them are going through an extremely difficult time.
When you build a business around hosting travellers and the travellers stop coming, there aren’t many options to pivot. The health crisis we’re facing now is temporary, yes. But for many, even a brief loss of income might be something they never recover from. The psychological impact of all this uncertainty and insecurity can’t be underestimated, either.
If you’re one of the many thousands of people who have had to cancel their upcoming travel plans in response to the virus, you might be feeling like you’re at a bit of a loss (I know I am).
The good news is that there’s never been a better time to reach out to small businesses in your own community. There are many safe and responsible ways you can back the travel industry and lend a hand to small businesses abroad, too.
Here are 10 suggestions for supporting small businesses through this difficult time – even if you can’t leave home.
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Postpone reservations rather than cancelling
Many larger travel companies (including Airbnb, most airlines and hotels) have adjusted their cancellation policies in light of travel and visa restrictions. Lots of small businesses are now following suit and offering travellers more flexibility.
If you do need to postpone your travels, and it’s within your means, why not take the credit option or reschedule for a future date instead of asking for a full refund. This is one of the best ways to help keep a small company afloat.
Be a tourist in your own city
One of the easiest ways to support small businesses in your own community is by filling in the gaps left by international travellers.
Of course, you should make a risk assessment and always err on the side of caution when it comes to public outings. If it’s safe to do so, join a walking tour or eat a meal at a popular tourist restaurant. Make the most of the great discounts many businesses are now offering and indulge in a staycation at a guesthouse in your area.
Not just right now, but in the short-term future as well. If you’re looking to book a holiday for the next 6-12 months, consider staying close to kick-start your local economy.
Here are more creative tips for being a tourist in your own backyard.
Buy a gift card to redeem later
The beauty of gift cards is that you can claim them whenever it suits you. You might not be inclined to join a tour or even eat out at the moment, but you can still help businesses with cash flow by buying credit now to redeem later.
My go-to Christmas gift last year was the Get Your Guide voucher, which is redeemable on any tour or experience anywhere in the world and valid for 18 months. A Cookly certificate is a great way to give the gift of a foodie experience or cooking class.
And if you can’t leave home, there’s always the option to spend the credit on a tour company in your local area.
Keep your membership or subscription
The arts and entertainment sectors are also suffering big time. If you have a membership for your local independent cinema or a subscription to an online travel magazine or website that you’re not able to use right now, consider holding onto it in the interim.
If your local museum or gallery is at risk of closing down, consider joining their membership program or even making a donation.
Leave a review
Small businesses always appreciate customer feedback – many depend on high ratings to stand out from the competition.
Had a great experience or meal pre-Corona but never left a review? Now is the perfect time to revisit their Facebook, Google Maps or TripAdvisor page and leave a heartfelt comment.
It only takes a minute to write a positive review, but it’s a lasting testament. Maintaining a good rating will certainly help small businesses recover customers down the track.
Engage on social media
Similarly, many independent businesses rely on word of mouth. While in-person marketing is at a minimum and promotional budgets are being cut, social media is one of the only ways businesses can stay engaged.
Create a mental checklist (or a spreadsheet) of your favourite local businesses or companies you supported on your last trip and make sure you’re following them on the channels where they’re most active. Liking and Sharing their posts are small actions that all add up.
This has the added benefit of helping business owners stay connected to their customer base, which is great for morale.
Pen a personal note
As travellers, we often form bonds with tourism professionals (hosts, guides, drivers) that last long after our trip has ended. If you have a personal connection with a business that’s doing it tough, drop them a personal note to say you’re thinking of them.
A short email or private message can go a long way in lifting someone’s spirits. For businesses in remote or rural areas, it also shows that you’re taking notice of their situation and that you care.
As soon as we learned about the developing situation in Hanoi, we reached out to a number of businesses we travelled with to lend them our support. All of them were extremely grateful to hear from us.
If you have to cancel, write an email
Making the call to cancel or postpone your travel plans can be difficult – I know from personal experience. Can you imagine what it’s like for a guesthouse owner or travel agent who’s now having to process dozens of cancellations every day?
If you do have to cancel a reservation, you might like to take a moment to write a short email to the business owner at the same time. If you’re hoping to re-book at a later date, you could mention it.
This weekend, we took a few minutes to message all the hosts for our upcoming Airbnb bookings and reassure them that we plan to honour our reservations. The response we got was heartwarming – a little message to put someone’s mind at east at a time when cancellations are pouring in means a lot.
Do your holiday/gift shopping now
While it’s primarily the service economy that’s baring the brunt, many makers and producers are suffering too – not only because tourism is drying up, but also because of the economic instability.
Souvenir shops, independent artisans and small-scale makers – anyone who makes products for tourists is probably doing it extra tough. With exports stalled, a lot of fair trade brands that rely on international sales are facing an uncertain future, too.
Get organised for Christmas or upcoming birthdays by doing your gift shopping ahead of schedule. Support your favourite local artist or visit a gift shop in your area (in person or online). If you have a favourite souvenir store you visited on your travels and they offer online shopping, why not support them by buying a few items online.
In Australia, our Buy From the Bush campaign to prop up rural artisans after the drought and fires was a huge success. I’d love to see a similar movement to help businesses navigate through these ongoing challenges.
Don’t stop planning!
Travel is the last thing on most people’s minds at the moment, and now is definitely not the time to be indulging in non-essential travel. But I do think it’s important to stay focused on the future. While things are still uncertain, I don’t recommend making any bookings – but it doesn’t hurt to do some fantasy planning.
Keep researching your dream destinations. Keep looking for inspiration online. If you have the travel bug, keep it alive. Travel publications (yes, including this one) are small businesses too – and many of us are doing it tough. If there’s a travel writer you love or a freelancer you follow, now is a great time to purchase their book or subscribe to a publication they write for.
Reach out to tour companies and guesthouses and let them know they’re on your radar for a future trip. Message a blogger or photographer you follow and tell them you’re still reading their content. You might just make someone’s day.
And most importantly, use this opportunity to take pause and appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to travel for leisure.
Many of us are feeling disempowered and generally discombobulated. I genuinely believe that supporting those in our local and global community who are most vulnerable – including small business owners in the travel industry – is one of the easiest ways to lift everyone’s spirits during a health crisis or in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
What are you doing to support small business owners during the Coronavirus crisis?