It’s one thing to prepare for what lies ahead, for the future we think we can see. But it’s something else again to be ready for what lies not straight ahead, but around the corner. Out of sight. For many, out of mind.
Cast your mind back to what was lurking just around the corner less than two years ago.
Trying to see around the corner has for me been a constant challenge. Anyone in my position — a business person, big or small — needs to be a lifelong student of international and domestic politics, of the world and local economy, of societal and environmental trends. They need a working knowledge of the past and the confidence to predict how all of the above will affect their industry and their business in the future.
And that’s before they’ve even got down to what their business is really about: premises and products, suppliers, staff and pricing.
Like the rest of the world, I was entirely unprepared for Covid-19. But I was prepared to act, deciding to close my three Goodness Gracious cafes before the government made its decision.
Ever since then, we’ve been sailing in uncharted waters. Like others, I’ve been navigating my business with today’s issues in mind, but also with increased focus on the issues we might face around the next corner. Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns.”
I suspect we might be midway through the pandemic. In New Zealand, a combination of our initial response and our geographical isolation has kept us relatively safe (despite our slow and sporadic vaccine distribution), but with the Delta strain now sweeping the world we can’t rely on luck forever.
Earlier, I was confident that a large proportion of the world population would accept a vaccine once it was offered, and that life here and overseas would return to something resembling normal, a new normal.
But I’m now less confident. I’m even more uncertain than before about what’s around the corner.
In countries where the vaccine rollout has been much faster than in New Zealand, it seems often to have slowed once about 55–60% of the population has been inoculated. I had expected vaccine hesitancy to decrease over time, but the reverse seems to be the case.
Even assuming a more willing population in this country, I would no longer be surprised if up to 30% of the eligible population chose not to be inoculated. Add unvaccinated children, and there’s a risk the country as a whole will remain for the foreseeable future at the mercy of Delta and whatever strains might follow. There’s a risk that our health system will remain under pressure.
If that’s what’s around the corner — note the if — what can I, as someone in the hospitality business, do to prepare? With our borders bound to reopen at some stage, I must prepare for a future in which our Covid-free utopia is but a memory. I must prepare for many years when we’re continually responding to the latest outbreak, when we’re forever contact tracing, when we’re forever mask-wearing.
As I said, we can never know what’s just around the corner. It’s out of sight. But I can’t afford to keep it out of mind.