What can businesses do to sail through the Coronavirus storm?

For some categories, the opportunities might be far bigger than the threats if they consider a quick mix of innovation, digitisation and diversification

Abhik Choudhury
Updated: Apr 2, 2020 05:18:05 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

International Air Transport Association (IATA) has predicted passenger revenue losses of up to $113 billion considering a conservative 19 percent loss, which arguably can increase by quite a bit. Sanitisers and toilet paper rolls are being hoarded with as much ferocity as gold bars. Moody's Analytics says more than half of US jobs are at risk as people are going to buy less of everything and stock markets will go into a bear zone. The true corporate heartache of these times though, is unlike the 2008 financial meltdown where things were at least moving at a sloth pace, now we are in total hibernation. And when we wake up, the conditions and rules to survive will have been rewritten.

Yet, if any decade after the 1918 Spanish Flu could have been ready for digital classrooms or virtual office meetings, it would have been this. So apart from the much needed government financial support to mitigate losses, here are some measures businesses across the world can adopt for a more strategic plan in the skeptical times ahead.

Taming the tornado in travel and tourism
Strategise subscription models for winter and 2021. It can be fair to presume that flight and resort bookings aren’t surging in the next couple of months. And while the recurring costs remain the same, the only way to ensure cash flow right now is future lock-ins at attractive prices. Thomas and Jennifer from Chicago might not buy a round trip to Paris right now even for $500 but if for $75 'promise cards'Air France can guarantee a 35-percent flat discount on their tickets anytime in the next year, most couples won’t hesitate. The same stands true for vacation hotels and resorts, the bottom line being having enough cash flow to stay afloat through this storm; a small period of less profit is far better than the grave possibility of none.

AirBnBs and Oyos can temporarily turn themselves into self quarantine centres for veteran people who should preferably stay indoors and away from youngsters for a bit. When the dust starts to settle, the hotel industry should cheerfully market itself in the locality for get-togethers and parties rather than immediately being ambitious with foreign tourists. Remember #Staycation?

Digital allure of amusement parks, monuments and museums
One of the most culturally relevant Virtual Reality apps in the world is almost a decade old—Google’s Art and Culture—it’s time experiential touch points take cues from it. Consider this: Disneyland could hire Robert Downey Jr for a day to create a mixed reality series, where you can sign in and stroll through with Tony Stark guiding you. Even people who have been there multiple times could pay for this virtual treat, and that's a good reason for why the technology was made. With all travel plans cancelled, you couldn’t go to Louvre this autumn and are quarantined in your home. If the archaeological survey of India or Musée du Louvre’s star guide takes you on a personal live tour every day for two hours on your 55-inch 4K TV for a tenth of the entry fee, wouldn’t you sign up?

Championing corporate functioning
Today, a British advertising agency can hire a Canadian designer and Indian coder to get an American brand’s website live. And it is no longer because the resources are cheaper, it is because the quality is not diluted. With tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts, it should not matter if employees are working comfortably from home or at their offices. Corporate culture is built on the vision that each brand builds into the employees' DNA, not by four walls.

Yes, it needs a self drive to work remotely, but like every successful venture, well-established processes and effective guidelines are key. Clarity of goals, digital savvy leaders and ingrained accountability will eventually make the world an open office. It would have happened anyway in a decade from now, considering how the global talent pool will no longer run to three countries, and recurring office costs will be kept to minimum to make profitability sense. Let’s do a proper test run, shall we?

The chaos of small business
The trickiest and most hit category will be small businesses. While a $70 billion annual revenue corporation P&G can survive, a smaller beauty brand may have to shut shop in another three months. Local catering, bakery and salon businesses might not even last two. So is there any solution at all for business dependent upon daily human interaction? Partly, yes.

The sales number won’t be that of a regular summer, that's true for everyone, whether you are Apple, Google or BMW. But what is possible is a mix of business diversification, adaptability and digitisation to make through the tunnel in one piece.

If you’re a wedding photographer with postponed projects for now, for example, start taking online masterclasses of your craft online. As an interior designer, try to monetise your skills this month with YouTube tutorials. Cafe owners could work on a 'maching to plate' quarantine dessert series for neighbourhood deliveries.

Small business owners are the backbone of a society’s art, culture and local finance and of all the things that can limit you, enviable creativity definitely isn’t one of them. Sincerely focus on loyalty customers, the core reason to build a brand. And do remember a tiny little startup AirBnB, incorporated at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis, is reportedly worth $38Bn today; it does work out in the end.

Last week a little after the Ides of March, an inconceivable 21-day curfew began in India. And unlike Julius Caesar, this might be the only act that will save us all. For some business categories, the opportunities might be far bigger than the threats if they are ready to ride the storm. What demonetisation did to digital payments, quarantine has done to digital education and curfew will do to digital deliveries.

The writer is the chief strategist & founder, Salt and Paper Consulting

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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