Coronavirus: ‘The most important thing is to look after the people you work with’

Travel Weekly owner Clive Jacobs highlights a way through the Covid-19 crisis for businesses. He spoke to Ian Taylor

Almost 40 years in the travel business have given Clive Jacobs considerable experience in dealing with crises.

The owner of Travel Weekly and chairman of Jacobs Media Group says: “I’ve been in travel since 1982 and most crises to hit have been instant and had an ongoing impact that one could manage or had an unknown impact but not gone on very long.

“We’re in completely uncharted territory now because it’s impossible to know when this crisis will end and it has a universal impact. Having said that, running businesses means things hit you every day which impact your business or people working for you or with you.”

MoreLatest coronavirus news and updates

Travel Weekly coronavirus resource centre

Jacobs’ advice to business owners is clear: “The first thing to remember is that things will come back to normal at some point. So be mindful of the actions you take. Any decisions that are not thought through will have consequences.”

He insists: “The most important thing is to look after the people you work with and who work for you. Everything else is secondary. Before businesses consider laying people off, which larger businesses can be quick to do, remember you will need people to work with you when you come out the other side.”

After that, Jacobs says: “How do you come out of this stronger and better?

“Do everything possible to keep everyone together. The pain should be shared equally. If you have to reduce wages and move to a four-day or three-day week, it should be across the board – not last in first out or using the crisis as a chance to get rid of people.

“Everyone is going to suffer some pain. You must treat everyone as fairly as you can.”

Look after people

Jacobs insists: “Your first priority is people. Your team comes first and paying the government, rates and taxes, last. In between, there will be tough decisions, particularly in an industry like travel. You have to be conscious of partners and suppliers who are smaller.”

How a business prioritises payments “depends how much cash you have”, says Jacobs, arguing: “Every business is different.

“Many operate hand to mouth. The smaller the business, the more likely that is – although big businesses do collapse. At the end of the day, if you run out of cash you go bust.

“Travel has been completely grounded. No one has money coming in. Everyone is going to need support.

“It’s a judgement call and it’s not easy. What cash exists should go to those who work for you first. Where you have partners, you need to consider smaller and more vulnerable businesses, [but] the judgement is unique to each business.”

He adds: “Bank loans will be 80% guaranteed by the government, but what I hear is the terms will be normal.

“The banks are not going to make it easy. People will need professional advice as to how to get these loans because they will be the only way to survive for most businesses.”

Jacobs describes the wholesale lay-off of employees as “disgusting” and says: “Governments have to step in and do something for everyone.  They have to fund businesses from the point when the clocks stopped.

“They stopped a banking collapse [in 2008]. Now they have to stop a collapse of society.”

He suggests businesses should also use the time “to reflect on how they do things, how they could do things better, and ready themselves for better times. It’s not a time to watch Netflix.”

After the crisis

When the crisis passes, Jacobs argues: “We all need to learn lessons. In the last 20 years, the frequency of flu-like viruses has increased. If this was SARS or MERS the death rate would be considerably higher.

“We enable people to cross boundaries. [But] our industry is shown to be a spreader of the virus. We need to look at how to better protect the world from the inevitable next virus.

“We should not just brush this off. We need to give people confidence [to travel].

“We have to think as an industry about how we act and react in a crisis. If measures had been in place to take evasive action more quickly we may have been able to stop this, but airlines kept flying and cruise ships were quarantined.

“We need to take a lead and be proactive.

“That is why we at Jacobs Media Group created the Global Travel & Tourism Resilience Council in 2016 as a forum where the industry could share knowledge and best practice and explore ways we can work together better.

“As an industry we need to work with governments and be prepared for something like this to happen again, to think what we could do differently.”

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.