Strategic planning

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Strategic planning for times of crisis 

If you think of various scenarios that might play out in the back half of 2020 and beyond and build “what if” statements around those, a number of questions arise.

  • What will your business look like going forward? 
  • Have the needs of your customers changed? 
  • What can you do to fulfill these changes? 

Answering these questions to the best of your ability now can help inform your long-term plans and position you to quickly adapt.

This crisis has highlighted the importance of strategic planning. In a lucrative but volatile space like travel and tourism, contingency plans are a non-negotiable, and circumstances can change rapidly. Think about how you would adapt your campaigns, messaging, product or audience to meet shifts in the market. Implement regular reassessments of these “what if” statements and check if they are still accurate or if any are becoming a reality. By thinking ahead, your business will have the plans in place to begin taking action quickly when the time comes to react.

None of us can predict what will happen next, but we can plan for different scenarios. The following provide some strategic planning models that you can use to help your business build robustness and resilience in the face of crisis vulnerability.

Strategic planning models – PESTLE Analysis  

The PESTLE analysis framework is another strategic planning tool you can use to bolster your risk management and scenario analysis. With its holistic approach, accounting for a range of influential factors, it can be invaluable in both planning for and navigating your business during a crisis. It stands for:

  • P: Political
  • E: Economic
  • S: Social
  • T: Technological
  • L: Legal
  • E: Environmental

Each of these elements allows an organization to take stock of the business environment they’re operating in, which helps develop a strategy for success. Use a PESTLE Analysis template to help you get started. This video provides a guide to the model.

Strategic planning models – Porter’s Five Forces

Additionally, you can use Porter’s Five Forces as a strategic planning tool to identify the economic forces that impact travel and tourism and determine your business’s competitive position. The five forces include:

  1. Competition in the industry
  2. Potential of new entrants into the industry
  3. Power of suppliers
  4. Power of customers
  5. Threat of substitute products


Strategic planning models – Visioning 

Visioning is another strategic planning model and goal-setting strategy. It helps your organization develop a vision for the future and the outcomes you’d like to achieve.

Once you reflect on the goals you’d like to reach within the next five years or more, your business can identify the necessary steps to achieve your goals. This can be used to both bolster business resilience and inform your strategic planning. Visioning also provides a useful framework to merge your strategic plan with your innovation strategy so that it remains core to your overall strategy and not a “bolt-on” feature.

Strategic planning models – VRIO

The VRIO (Value, Rarity, Imitability, Organization) framework is another strategic planning tool that’s used to identify the competitive advantages of your product or service. Specifically, the VRIO framework provides a means of assessing product/service viability. Given the importance of adapting to new market realities, particularly for travel and tourism products, this can provide a consistent means of assessing your business model in a comparable way. Many models have become unworkable or undesirable almost overnight with the onset of COVID-19, but how can you assess this within your own business?

VRIO is composed of four different elements:

  1. Value: Does it provide value to customers?
  2. Rarity: Do you have control over a rare resource or piece of technology?
  3. Imitability: Can it easily be copied by competitors?
  4. Organization: Does your business have the operations and systems in place to capitalize on its resources?

Strategic planning models – Theory of Change 

Theory of change (TOC) is a strategic planning method that requires you to think backward and identify the conditions that are necessary for you to achieve your goals. This model is useful because it empowers you to forecast a desired outcome and reverse-engineer it to your current situation. A popular model in the Impact and ESG (Environmental Social Governance) space, TOC has adaptability for changing conditions embedded in its methodology, and thus is a particularly impactful model for travel and tourism SMEs that need to develop a vision and plan to adapt.

The method consists of the following steps:

  1. Identify long-term goals.
  2. Backward map the preconditions necessary to achieve your goal. Explain why they’re necessary.
  3. Identify your basic assumptions about the situation.
  4. Determine the interventions your initiative will fulfil to achieve your goals.
  5. Come up with indicators to evaluate the performance of your initiative.
  6. Write an explanation of the logic behind your initiative.

Strategic planning and responding to the COVID-19 crisis  

The global pandemic is forcing the travel and tourism industry to adapt rapidly to provide continuity for businesses, employees, stakeholders, and customers. This is a temporary situation but its effects will be long-term and the travel and tourism industry in particular will have to adopt long-standing strategic adaptations. How you manage your business now can make all the difference as you adapt to “the new normal” and build resilience into your business. 

A number of strategic considerations should be top-of-mind:

  1. Put people first: You may find there are multiple competing priorities as you attempt to adapt your business model in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Employees and customers should be at the centre of all initial decision-making.
  2. Manage concerns: Your employees and customers are feeling a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. Be open to their questions and concerns and ensure that you are open to engagement, provide reassurance where possible.
  3. Make rational decisions: During a crisis, businesses can be tempted to make knee-jerk decisions motivated by a “fight-or-flight” response. This can hinder good decision-making. Try to contextualize the COVID-19 crisis as a temporary situation but one that will require a degree of well-thought long-term systemic change. What can you do to calmly and logically carry your business during the disruption so you can recover and adapt when the crisis subsides and operations resume?
  4. Keep your employees safe: The safety of your employees is a must. Government regulations vary within the provinces/territories but there are clear safety concerns for the travel and tourism industry. Here are some ways to keep your employees safe:
    1. Allow and accommodate work-from-home options, when possible.
    2. Mandate and communicate good hygiene, including hand-washing.
    3. Create workspaces that allow for physical distancing, as per guidelines.
    4. Employees who must work in close proximity to one another, or in essential services, that require interactions with customers should have access to industry-recommended personal protection equipment (PPE), where applicable.
    5. Encourage sick employees or those who have risked exposure to COVID-19 to remain at home.
  5. Nurture your brand: How your business communicates the management of people—employees and customers—during a crisis is critical to your brand and reputation. Consider the case of airlines that were quick to adapt cancellation policies or companies that were leaders in installing Plexiglas shields at checkouts. People are looking to companies like yours to show common sense and compassion during this crisis and a people-first mindset will help you and your team make decisions that nurture a positive brand image.
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