President and CEO of Toronto-based tour operator Tour East Holidays
BEAT THE SARS CRISIS OF 2003
RETAIN TALENT BY SHOWING FLEXIBILITY
“SARS started in February of 2003, and in the two or three months that followed, business dropped over 50%. People were not travelling to and from Asia, where we specialize.
“We didn’t lay off anybody at all. What we did was have very good internal communications. We let them know that it was indeed a very difficult time, but that we’d hold on. We encouraged them to take their discretionary vacations. We also reduced work hours so that people worked on rotation. For the employees, it was better to have some work than no work, and it helped us to reduce payroll. But the fact that we did not lay off people instilled in them a great sense of belonging. They were grateful that the company was there for them.
“On the product and business side, we expanded our lines of travel. People were afraid to travel to SARS areas, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t travel at all, like within Canada or to Mexico. We put together a new line of health-and-wellness packages, including spa holidays. It was really well received, and today we continue to grow in that area. Now, in a lot of our Asia packages, we also include those health-and-wellness elements. Who couldn’t use a massage?
“Fortunately, that downturn lasted only about three or four months. By late May, business was starting to recover and people began to book again. In the end, sales dropped by just 20% for that year.”