You can understand if Wayne Smith may be experiencing a bit of déjà vu.
Many years ago, Smith worked as a tourism development coordinator for the province of Ontario, Canada. During that time, a mysterious virus was discovered in Asia and quickly spread around the world. Soon, health officials worried about the global impact of this virus. They urged people to wash their hands and avoid large crowds. The warnings and the news coverage convinced people to stay home and to not travel on vacations. In Canada and elsewhere around the globe, tourism suffered.
In 2002, it was the SARS virus that disrupted lives and commerce around the world. Today, it is the coronavirus.
Smith, now chair of the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the School of Business at the College of Charleston, says his experience with the SARS virus 18 years ago could be helpful as the tourism industry faces the impacts of the coronavirus today.
“What we learned from the SARS experience in Canada was that organizations need to have a plan in place in the event they experience a severe drop in business due to the current virus,” he says.
Smith recommends that if there is a downturn in the hospitality industry amid the coronavirus outbreak, companies should avoid laying off people. Instead, he says this is the perfect time to conduct customer service training and advance business training for employees. Not only will this help companies retain good employees, but Smith says it will also enable businesses to get back up to speed quicker when the recovery period begins.
“It is like a hurricane plan,” says Smith. “Hopefully you will not have to execute it.”
Smith thinks recent travel bans and warnings could cause a slight impact on the amount of international tourists coming to the Charleston region. He also thinks that there could be some rough waters ahead for the cruise ship industry.
“I think that the cruise ships will take a bigger hit than domestic tourism, especially in the wake of the Diamond Princess cruise ship story earlier this year,” he says.
As for the local area, Smith says there doesn’t seem to be any panic in Charleston’s hospitality community about this coronavirus.
“I think most people are taking it in stride because South Carolina has not seen any cases at this time,” he says.
Featured image: A cruise ship docks in Charleston. (South Carolina Ports Authority)