I’ve launched a travel business during the Covid-19 pandemic…here’s 5 reasons why I’m not panicking.
12 months ago, I followed my passion out of a safe industry that I knew well into the unknown territory of tourism. I had a dream to run tours to show travellers the world “through her eyes”, getting a female perspective on a country’s history, society and culture and supporting female-led businesses. I researched, retrained and worked, worked, worked.
If I got this right, we could help women all over the globe get recognised, gain financial independence and learn about other cultures. I felt that I’d found my ‘ikigai’ – my reason for getting up every morning.
At the beginning of February the website (www.shesaw.com) went live. Inquiries started to come in, our social media accounts were growing, new connections were being made with incredible enterprises, all raising women’s economic empowerment. It felt great. But in all the sunshine and rainbows, I could see a black cloud on the horizon - Covid-19.
Its impact on the travel industry has been and will continue to be devastating. And of course, SheSaw is being hit too. Tours we had planned to run in June are being postponed. Partner organisations are running on empty. Promotional events we were signed up to attend are being cancelled.
But there are five good reasons I’m not panicking.
1. Our “Why”
Responsibility. Economic Empowerment. Visibility. SheSaw’s three commitments. We exist to show that travel, done responsibly, can leave a positive impact on the world. We exist to empower women at home and overseas, to become financially independent and the freedom that brings. We exist to increase the visibility of women and affirm their role in society.
The disruption to the tourism industry and to everyday life, will have massive impacts on the very women SheSaw has set out to support. Many women we work with rely on tourism to feed themselves and their families. Health, economic, and natural crises are known to increase the vulnerability of women and children to violence and abuse - these women were in some cases already at risk.
Now is the time for SheSaw to keep telling these women’s stories, find ways to support them during the current crisis and be there as soon as its over, with plenty of visitors to buy their products and services. It’s the responsible thing to do. It’s the right thing to do. It’s how we and the women we are supporting will get through this; by being true to our values.
Over 60% of new businesses fail in the first three years (source: Australian Bureau of Statistics). You are told this by every bank manager and business coach when you first set out. They all give you the same advice: improve your odds with a solid business plan.
So one benefit of being a start-up during this crisis is the amount of planning that we have just undertaken; our business plan was only finalised a month ago. I’ve been a project manager for 17 years. Risk management plans, budget forecasts and schedules are my comfort zones and I gladly wallowed in their familiarity for months.
Whilst I did not anticipate anything like Covid-19, I did anticipate “force majeure” and made sure SheSaw had a strategy to respond to a large scale, unavoidable event. This translates to alternative activities to generate income, money in the bank to ride out a quiet quarter or two, and a plan to ramp up quickly to regain ground, when this is feasible.
Working in government also taught me to assume funding delays and shortfalls. This manifested in a pessimistic first-year forecast for SheSaw, which now looks optimistic. Now we will re-forecast, and adjust our schedules, spending and activities accordingly…and we will keep reviewing and adapting until the pandemic has passed, and we will keep on doing it afterwards. As Winston Churchill said, “Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan.” Being willing to change the plan is as critical as writing it in the first place.
Helping me build SheSaw is an incredibly supportive business partner and an amazing network of mentors, people and businesses that want to help SheSaw, and me, succeed. They believe in what I am doing and why I am doing it. They are offering their expertise, opinion and cheerleading skills to help SheSaw get over this rough patch and continue to focus on the positive impact SheSaw has the potential to make.
The travel and tourism industry has proved to be welcoming and open to this new-kid-on-the-block. I have no doubt this generosity and kindness will get our community through these uncertain times, not unscathed, but certainly with fewer fatalities.
Number 4 was going to be optimism, but that suggests a hopefulness about the future, without any evidence to support it. I’m being more purposeful. I’m not relying on positive thinking alone to get us through. Instead I’m looking for the opportunities this crisis presents, and I don’t mean the chance to make an exploitative buck selling hand-sanitiser.
I mean what opportunities does this time give us, that we wouldn’t have had before? We’ve now got more time to get to know our local guides (via Skype) and for them to provide more input to the tours – uncovering more fascinating women’s history and inspiring women to partner with. It’s making us diversify our offerings. We had always planned to do domestic tours and produce women’s guidebooks, but now we are focussing on these products and will launch them in our first year, instead of Year 3.
It’s also giving us the opportunity to go through a crisis at a very early stage in our business, when we have more to gain than lose, and to learn and grow from the experience.
5. "This too shall pass"
I’ve been a mum for a decade and “this too shall pass” is a phrase I’ve leaned on over the years…in the middle of the night during an endless feeding cycle, at the hospital nervously awaiting test results, watching helplessly as my daughter cries because life, sometimes, just isn’t fair.
I am reminding myself, every day, that whilst this is a terrible, uncertain and sad time, and many people are going to be very badly affected by it, this will eventually end. As a community and a planet,we will recover. I hope that we will come out of the other side more appreciative of our fellow humans, and kinder towards each other. What Covid-19 has proven is that ultimately we are all equal, regardless of gender, wealth, race or age.
As far as SheSaw goes, this is only the opening chapter in the story of our business. Besides, don’t all great tales of adventure have some drama along the way?