Some tips from wilderness survival experts might be useful to hotel companies during the global pandemic.
In 1971, LANSA Flight 508 was struck by lightning and broke up two miles above the Amazon rainforest in Peru. Tragically, 91 people were killed.
The survivor’s name was Juliane Koepcke, a 17-year-old who sustained serious injuries in the crash and, seemingly miraculously, trekked eleven days through the jungle before finding help.
I love the outdoors, and I love to read books about people who have experienced loss and survived extreme situations outdoors. This is one of my very favorite survival stories, and it seems more than a little relevant these days. Because right now it feels like we are all lost in the jungle. The hotel business, like so many industries, is faced with existential threats. Everyone is trying to figure out how to survive the weeks, months, and even years ahead—and to chart a course that will allow us to persevere and to find our way out of the wilderness.
The tricky part is that the worldwide impact of the novel coronavirus is entirely unique. There is no playbook, there is no path, and there is no one who has done this in history.
But experts in wilderness survival have studied the factors that determine who lives and who dies in extreme emergencies. Whether it’s being lost in the wild for weeks without food or equipment, shipwrecked and abandoned on a raft in the middle of the ocean for months, or breaking your leg 20,000 feet up a mountain, with no help in sight and a storm on the way, tales of wilderness peril are filled with unlikely stories of survival under unimaginable conditions.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we can learn from those who have made it through extreme circumstance and about how we can consciously apply those lessons to the challenges we face today as an industry.
With that in mind, here are five critical personal skills that are essential to surviving and thriving in a pandemic world:
Focus on helping others
Studies show that having a purpose beyond yourself dramatically increases your chances for survival. That extra energy and clear thinking that comes from wanting to survive a crisis to see your spouse or child again is often the sole difference between who doesn’t make it and who survives. Thinking about others adds motivation and helps you step outside the emotional impact of the moment to focus on the big picture. It takes you out of your fear and gets you to a place where you can act.
Even if you don’t have a map, you can still have a goal. Here at Prism, we made the early decision to keep our entire corporate staff on our payroll when most other companies were cutting and furloughing. Sure, we saved our family, which is the basis of our core value “compassion” and wildly important to us, but it was also our mission to continue to deliver for our owners (and what they needed from us) that drove that decision. Focusing on them has been an inspiring and motivating mission for our team.
We are not solitary individuals. We are a tribal organism and we are hard-wired to help others. So don’t focus on your own net worth—focus on the people who need you. Your value to them will ultimately affect your success (or survival), and quite possibly your net worth down the road.
Maybe the single most important factor in wilderness survival is a positive mental attitude. In emergency situations, despair kills. “Mind over matter” isn’t just a cliché. The power of positivity and mental focus is profound. It’s about mindfulness: finding a way to expand your perspective, latch onto optimism and unlock opportunity. Whether it’s prayer or meditation or mindfulness exercises, finding a way to unfreeze your mind to be creative and find solutions is critically important. And at a time when it feels like we are flooded with grim news on a daily basis, conscious positivity and perspective—we will recover, and better times are ahead—can do wonders for your efficiency and productivity (not to mention your emotional wellbeing).
Keep a sense of humor
It might not seem like there’s anything funny about a serious emergency, but we’ve seen over and over again that an active sense of humor helps people make it through dangerous situations. Even in war, laughter has been a tonic to defuse stress and keep people emotionally stable. That holds true today. Here at Prism, we noticed that our operational calls were getting tense and stressful. The solution? We asked everyone to wear a ridiculous hat to the next Zoom call (including a reward for the best hat), and that seemingly silly decision entirely changed the mood and the trajectory of our meetings.
Rest and recharge
In survival situations, almost everyone underestimates the need for rest. Sleep deprivation is a real issue during times of stress. Taking time to recharge your batteries isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. You can’t do anything well if you are exhausted, and keeping your brain and body operating at peak capacity is a professional obligation. In a post-COVID world, we will find that the real survivors aren’t always the hard-charging CEOs.
Think clearly—and chart your own course
Using an outdated pre-coronavirus mental map is fatal. You’ve got to continue to change your mental expectations of what you can do and where you can go. Remember Juliane Koepcke: She adapted, used a strong mental map, and by continually updating her course, she followed a river downstream to safety. Thinking clearly in a crisis means being willing to change your mindset or strategy to adapt to constantly changing circumstances.
As we have said at Prism for years, “don’t do normal.” Now is the time to think differently as an industry. As we evolve our thinking and approach, we are mindful that no one knows what will happen next. You can’t control how or when things will get back to normal or even what normal will look like. But you can control your mindset and your actions. Empathy. Creativity. Flexibility. These are the characteristics that will allow you to make it through the challenges ahead and embrace optimism and, ultimately, opportunity.
In the words of the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.”
That is the mindset of a survivor.
Steve Van, president and CEO of Prism Hotels & Resorts, founded the Dallas-based company in 1983. Under his leadership, Prism has become an award-winning full-service hotel management, investment and advisory services company. For more information, visit https://prismhotels.com/.
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