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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Caldwell

The Stages of Grief - Tourism & Covid-19

There is no doubt that Covid-19 threw us all a huge curve ball – if you’ve worked in adventure tourism, or probably even just tourism, you’re likely to have spent a lot of time over the years, like I have, planning for a crisis. You run mock crises, do desktop exercises and plan for your ‘black swan moment’. Well it’s fair to say that in my many years in the industry, we never practiced or considered a global pandemic that would effectively cut off 100% of our revenue overnight.

For those of you who own businesses, there was no doubt initial panic – trying to figure out what this meant for you and how you would get through it, and for those who are employed in the industry, there was a huge black cloud suddenly above your heads – and this inevitable "what would this mean for my job?"

When I look back now, what I was going through was grief – albeit very different to the grief I have previously experienced, but this was for a life spent working in the tourism industry, a life and industry I absolutely love and has brought me so much joy, and incredible friendships and experiences over the years.

So here I was working through the stages of grief:

Initial disbelief and denial – “this was a problem on the other side of the world and wouldn’t affect us too much” “it’s really only affecting older people or those with health issues” – yes I was ONE of those people. After a little while reality hit and I could see that this was much bigger than something confined to one region of the world.


Pain and Guilt. When all this started, I was working for a primarily domestic focussed business, so I thought my job was safe. At the same time, a lot of my friends were being made redundant and facing an uncertain future as businesses moved quickly to reduce their cost lines. I made it my mission to try and do what I could to help – even if it was just zoom drinks or text messages. I set up a little Facebook group which grew to over 1000 members really quickly – and this just highlighted how many people felt they needed a shared space and support during this time. And at times, I had to check myself – my job was safe, yet there were hundreds of my friends suddenly out of work. This was real.

Anger then set in for a lot of us – where was the government? Where was our tourism minister? What are they doing to help us get through this? Can’t they see how hurt the tourism industry is? Why aren’t they doing more? Then you start to look around you and realise that there weren’t many industries untouched by this pandemic – the flow on effects were enormous. And sometimes industries and businesses that weren’t top of mind suddenly came into focus – no events means no artists and performers, so therefore no ticket sellers or caterers either. No programmes needed to be printed and no cleaning done after the performances. This was affecting EVERYONE.

Next phase – depression. There were moments of hope, I was working on some great plans for the year ahead, collaborating with others like never before, we’d had some really exciting news from the government about travel in level 2 and voila, my role was disestablished. Just like that. I’d never been made redundant before in my 26 year career despite having been through many restructures. And it hurt. But these are the decisions that businesses are making through this time, and I had to look ahead for the opportunities that might present themselves as a result of all of this.

Steps 4, 5 and 6 – the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, and acceptance and hope are all happening a little hand in hand for me. I was fortunate that I had Destinate in the wings and my brain has been working overtime on how I could ‘pivot’ – oh yes I hate that word too, and turn my passion into work. And here I am.

I want to send a message to you – this hasn’t been easy and I know a lot of you have been working incredibly long hours – unsustainably long hours – to ensure your business is able to weather this storm, you’ve been renegotiating contracts, and supplier agreements, hibernating costs where you can, and probably most importantly looking out for your people. And this is probably the hardest part right? Our industry is a people industry so the hardest things we have to do are those which affect our people.

And it’s okay to ask for help or admit that this is hard. I have shed many tears with industry friends over the past 4 months and that’s okay. But it’s also time now to look after yourself. We’re through the crazy period of unknowns and we’ve been through our first school holidays so hopefully you now have a little hope for the future and also have some space now to breathe – when was the last time you had a weekend off? Like completely off, phone put away and not touched and you escaped with your family to somewhere relaxing? Let’s walk the talk and go do something new NZ.

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