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Op-Ed: Shackleton leadership lessons on our primary responsibility while achieving our mission

As we move forward with recovering tourism from the pandemic, there is guidance for leaders within the entertainment and hospitality industries on Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions to the South Pole. After facing extraordinary challenges and losing his ship, “Endurance,” he succeeded in protecting the lives of all his crew.

The pandemic continues to present incremental hurdles for the leaders and managers within these two sectors. In Puerto Rico, while the more than 5,000 businesses that make our tourism offer strive to operate at 100% capacity, the effects of the pandemic on our employees and their families, impose difficult challenges to management. With a positivity rate nearing 24%, one in every four of our employees and customers may be carrying the active virus.

To complicate the problem, in the US, a global health crisis has been politicized, causing diverse and contradictory public policies and guidelines. Most recently, a judge in Florida decided that the CDC doctors and scientists failed to adequately justify the use of masks in public mass transportation, while large entertainment and sporting events occur without masks.

As a result of this ruling, TSA, airlines, airports as well other travel industries moved immediately to make the use of masks optional, increasing their employee’s risks of infection, just as we prepare for the high travel summer season.

In Puerto Rico, COVID-19 illnesses are surging along with other respiratory conditions like influenza, mycoplasma, and asthma. Meanwhile, government guidelines are inconsistent, enticing segments of our population to imprudent behaviors, departing from the most basic healthy practices, and expanding the contagion to their families and friends.

For example, currently, wearing masks is optional in most enclosed and open spaces with 1,000 people or less, while schools require students to always wear masks, and our teachers and students are dealing with multiple outbreaks in classrooms of 20 to 30 students. These inconsistencies have caused an explosion of the positivity rate by almost 800%, and more than 400% in hospitalizations, in just seven weeks. And we are still waiting for the outcomes of the Holy Week vacations.

Author Tomás Ramírez is a former president of the Puerto Rico Small Inns Association, Vicechair of the Board of Directors of Discover Puerto Rico, and a member of the Puerto Rico Tourism Business Council.

Certainly, we have a high vaccination rate and have new therapies and medications; therefore, most people infected will not face the dark side of the disease. However, absenteeism due to COVID-19 is roaring through the island costing millions of dollars in productivity, and some small businesses are closing temporarily when a key employee or their children, tests positive.

As leaders within the hospitality and entertainment sectors, we must maintain a responsible balance, focus on scientific statistical data, and carefully evaluate the possible effects of every new guidance on our staff, operations, and communities, before embracing them.

More than ever, to avoid adding to our labor constraints, we must ensure robust employee screening and safety protocols are in place. Reducing proven sanitary practices, for guests and employees, may drive infections and absenteeism, just when we must boost capacity to serve the augmented volume of visitors.

During the past five years, we have endured multiple disasters by putting quality and safety first. Therefore, to succeed, we must focus on creating a safer environment and consistent processes, including removing unneeded barriers and restrictions.

In hospitality, different from other products and services, most of our direct services staff must be present and interface with the customer. Therefore, opportunities for substitution with technology, robotics, and remote work are limited and specific.

Consequently, like Shackleton, effectively guiding our teams through a complex and lengthy period of high ambiguity, requires servant leadership with precise strategic thinking and planning to help them overcome these obstacles that can hinder our mission and recovery.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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