Voices From Travel’s Frontlines: ‘Fasten Your Seatbelts’

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Across the globe, workers in the tourism industry — from pilots to tour guides to chauffeurs — are worrying about their livelihoods as governments close borders, prohibit large gatherings and implement strict quarantines on entire regions and countries.

A flight attendant feared that with ever-changing border rules, she might become stranded during an overnight layover in Brussels. A tour guide in Puerto Rico worried over paying for insulin for his diabetic child. An aging hotel housekeeper in Hartford, Conn., weighed financial insecurity with growing health concerns, as she continues cleaning up after others.

We spoke with eight travel and hospitality workers, from California to Croatia. Each had their own story, but echoed similar concerns about the uncertainty about their future. In looking at an unprecedented worldwide coronavirus outbreak, they turned to the past: how their tourism industry had survived devastating hurricanes and destructive civil wars. They will survive this, too, they said.

Overnight, I have become an extreme “coupon-er” to go to the supermarket. I look at specials, I match up the coupons to the circular. The other day I spent $93, and I saved $65.

Airlines

It would be a complete strain on me. I’m 23 years old and I live on my own. I support myself financially, so it would impact me negatively very greatly. Budgeting, I would be OK for two weeks — but just OK.

I do not.

I’ve been Facetiming my mom. She’s definitely the number-one person I go to to stay sane and get advice. But I’ve been trying to stay away from her because I work at a hotel — so who knows if I have any germs — so just FaceTime.

Airlines

I love my job, and still have a sense of responsibility to show up for my flying partners and the public. People need to get home to their families and they need flight attendants to be on the planes to take them home.

HOTELS

Ms. Roberts, 60, has worked on the housekeeping staff at the Hilton hotel in Hartford, Conn., for 22 years. Ms. Roberts now works a reduced schedule, while most of the other housekeepers there have lost their jobs.

I spray down the door handle before I walk in, I spray disinfectant when I go in and I spray everything down before I touch anything. I wear gloves. I never take them off. When I clean the bathroom, I change the gloves and put on two pairs. And when I’m done, I’ll remove the gloves and use hand sanitizer. Before I go into the next room, I’ll wash my hands with soap and water, use my hand sanitizer and replace my gloves. And I do that between each room.

We’re dealing with people traveling out of the country and out of state. The government is worried about health care workers: but what are they doing for the hospitality workers? People need to realize that we’re here — we’re the everyday people — cleaning up behind you. And you’re depending on us to make sure that happens. We’re putting our own health at risk for this.

I need the money, and at this point I know I can take precautions to protect myself — even if my employer can’t. So I will continue to go to work until I feel that I can no longer protect myself, then I’ll stay home.

HOTELS

The engine of this area is the national parks. Here the park basically supports restaurants, the hotels, taxi drivers — everybody. The park is closing next week and we don’t know when they’ll open again.

The hotel policy is to keep employees even when we don’t have guests; sustainability means that people keep their jobs. We all believe that the hotel is going to reduce the amount of hours to be able to conserve the jobs.

If I have to, I’ll do it. The tourism industry is too exposed to the global situation: There could be another war or another outbreak tomorrow. After this, I just want to finish my studies to be a teacher and be better prepared.

These interviews, conducted by telephone and email, have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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