Global volatility is the 'new norm' and the travel industry is OK with that

Police officers assist members of the public at the entrance to the Eurostar at St Pancras Station in London following the attacks in Brussels. Photo: Dan Kitwood/ Getty Images.

You might think global events such as terrorism, Brexit and Zika would all have an impact on the tourism industry.

But according to some of the biggest names in the luxury space, people aren’t being repelled in droves.

Eric McNulty, head of the Harvard preparedness leadership initiative, has coined a concept for the climate we live in. He calls it “VUCA”: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

It’s this concept Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch uses when referring to its impact on the travel industry.

“It’s about disruptive technology. It’s about changing business models. It’s about geopolitical shifts and the threat of terrorism,” says Upchurch.

“Since 2008, global conflicts have significantly increased and yet locally travel has increased as well. Tourism continues to outpace global GDP.

“Living in a VUCA era comes with daily challenges, and daily fears, yet how many people do you know that truly want to quit traveling?”

Despite living in a VUCA era, Upchurch says people are still traveling, and in fact, he says “VUCA drives a craving for authentic human connection”.

Forensic police at the scene in Nice. Photo: Patrick Aventurier/ Getty Images.

“Our work is often very hard, as we’re experiencing that this year. And yet for so many there has never been a more important time to travel,” he says.

Back in 2001, Upchurch was presented with the challenge of how to handle promoting travel in a post-9/11 world.

He recalls meeting with his team the following day, where they debated whether they should stop the press.

“We had drafted the freedom statement which landed with the words ‘boundaries divide, travel unites’,” he says.

“So on that difficult day we made a decision to change all of our messaging. We added the freedom statement to all of our promotional materials and we pressed on.

“We were not going to let our way of life be taken from us. it was a very tough decision, but one I am incredibly proud of. Little did we know… how important it continues to be.

“We need to continue to lead by example with our knowledge our collaboration and our trust. We need to be the one who do not allow fear to take over because travel is the largest employer in the world and one of the most important industries to human culture and understanding.”

Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato, a luxury travel company based in London, agrees and looks for other opportunities that uncertainty provides.

“(Travel) is always prone to external factors,” he says, adding that as a travel advisor while it means they have to remain vigilant, it also provides the opportunity to offer their guests with new destinations.

“When we look at this stuff we’re very responsive to it, but also in these time we see opportunities to develop opportunity to go elsewhere… creating trips to other markets.

“It’s a constant conversation and were not putting our head in the sand about it.”

Police evacuate an injured female hostage from the scene in Sydney. Photo: Getty Images.

Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president and co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, says it’s something the world is just going to have to get used to.

This volatile world is the “new norm”, she says, and it’s about learning to adapt to it.

“The world is going to continue to be unstable, chances are customers are going to want to book with someone they trust. Our responsibility is to stay on top of where our travelers around the world and help them.

“I don’t see the volatile in the world any time so but people aren’t going to stop travelling.”

For both Marchant and Wilson Wetty, this is where the benefit of their role as a Virtuoso advisors lies.

Being able to have direct contact and communication with a client all the time — before, during and after the trip — they not only know where their clients are at all times, but they can provide them with current information with ease and convenience.

The writer traveled to Las Vegas as a guest of Virtuoso.

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