Not freaking out about Zika.

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by: Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

Back in 2003, I was on a plane from London to Philadelphia during the SARS crisis in Asia. Although we were half a world away from the supposed epicentre of that outbreak, the British Airways 747 I was flying on was slightly less crowded than normal.

Four passengers, to be exact. On a plane accustomed to carrying more than 300 people. When asked if I’ve ever flown on a private jet, I say “well, not technically….” although that flight was about as close as you can get to the private jet experience. We had a flight crew of 18 servicing four lucky passengers up in the 747’s bubble in Club World, and if it wasn’t for the sombre conversation amongst us all, wondering if the world was about to succumb to this new mega-virus, it would have been quite the flight indeed.

Fast-forward to 2016, and let’s face it – we are a much more pragmatic bunch these days in the travel industry. Whereas thirteen years ago pretty much the entire travelling public stopped travelling due to SARS, today we seem to be much more willing to take educated risks.

That’s not to say that we ignore or disregard each new crisis, terror attack, medical outbreak, geopolitical stand-off or other challenge. On the contrary, we now are taking measured, thoughtful and calculated approaches to dealing with each situation as they come.

The most recent headline-grabber, the Zika virus, is getting plenty of airtime around the world thanks to our 168-hour news cycle. However, in the corporate travel industry, we at ACTE have seen a much more reasoned reaction by buyers and suppliers alike. Which is quite reassuring, given that BA flight years ago proved that we used to react wildly to any new crisis, whereas today’s travel professionals have a strong sense of how best to respond and support travellers with each new incident.

Thanks to the constant, ongoing and ever evolving dialogue that we have within our industry, the knowledge and capabilities that exists is stronger than ever before – and we should all be very proud of ourselves as it’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point.

Of course, we can’t rest for a minute unfortunately, as the next challenge is of course lurking out there somewhere and ready to strike at any time. That being said, at least we know that our industry shouldn’t be brought to its knees again like it was back in the early 2000’s. Although we have to be compassionate, careful, considerate and thoughtful about travelling during challenging situations, the reality we’ve all come to deal with is that these issues are now a constant. Thus our only option is to do everything we can to deal with it swiftly and confidently. There is no time to be complacent, but there is time to be reflective, and at this moment in time I reflect on an industry that has come a very, very long way in a fairly short period of time.

ACTE members have weighed in on Zika – read more about our industry’s calm, measured and practical response to it here.

Thanks for chattering – and travel safe.

Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives

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