We are a little over a year in since global travel shut down. Many places still have closed borders, and though more privileged nations, such as here in the United States, are feeling a little relief – for the most part, there are still some pockets not progressing as quickly as others – there are still countries (such as India and Brazil), that are really suffering and others who do not yet have reliable access to vaccines (i.e., many Caribbean nations). Nonetheless, people are planning their trips.

But the pandemic has changed us. And by us, I don’t mean everyone, but a lot of us. We can see it in people’s lack of response to the callbacks to work and offices. People have genuinely had a moment of self-reflection and awakening and in many cases have chosen a path that they believe is better for them and far more fulfilling than when this whole thing started.

We are seeing this shift the most in the service industry. Restaurants and other hospitality-driven businesses are struggling with low applications. That’s not to say that the people who would have chosen to work as servers, or cooks, or wait staff, etc., are not working at all. It means they have chosen to no longer work in environments where they are overworked, underpaid, taken for granted, and unappreciated – not just by their employers, but by us, the consumer.

A lot of this sentiment came about in many ways during the pandemic itself while restaurants and bars and others tried to balance mask mandates and maintaining the comfort and happiness of their customers. While management and owners did the right thing in implementing safety mandates, they also have left the burden of enforcing these mandates to their minimum-waged, overworked staffs, many of whom deal with belligerent, abusive, and in many cases dangerous customers – an incredible ask, often with very little support from the higher-ups.

And for some, it has gotten to the point where they don’t see that path being worth it anymore. And now business owners are left at a loss, though truthfully, it is a loss for all of us.

There is no doubt that this is an opportunity for corporate heads and managers and business owners, large and small, to really take a hard look at the business model standards and leadership examples they have set and the ways in which they have failed their teams.

A person’s dignity, self-worth, and entitlement to respect are not included in the price of your steak special or airline ticket.

But it is also incumbent upon us to listen and reconsider the ways in which we treat those invisible and not so invisible workers who truly complement our hospitality experiences, whether we are dining out for brunch, or wine tasting for the afternoon or traveling on a plane. Local voices matter. We as travelers and as consumers have to also rethink – and maybe for some of you, relearn – what it means to be a customer, what we are entitled to, and what our money really affords us, and start to understand that a person’s dignity, self-worth, and entitlement to respect is not included in the price of our steak special or airline ticket. These things are not negotiable or dependent on our mood.

Personally, as someone with Caribbean roots, who grew up seeing abusive, entitled, and over-privileged foreigners freely take from and mistreat members of my community whose job has been to cater to them during their vacation, I am truly delighted in seeing the industry workers speak up and demand better. I am proud of those who have spoken up in their own countries against governments who have been too lenient with travel restrictions and tourists’ bad behavior.

If this pandemic has taught us anything is that we all should be better and kinder, not just with ourselves, but with others around us.

We are not entitled to our trips or our vacations, especially to destinations whose communities are still struggling to recover, but as travel opens up and more of you return out into the world – whether it is on a road trip or to a tropical beach, use this opportunity to see the humanity in anyone and everyone who works to make that trip a pleasant one for you and yours. Be respectful of the rules in place, whatever mandates are still being followed, and of the fact that these people have left their own families and home to make your travel experiences a comfortable and pleasant one – sometimes at the risk of their own health.

It is time to go back into the world with the goal of being better humans, or face accountability when you are not. It is time to reimagine hospitality and give power to the voices of those who are the backbone of the industry. Because while it may feel like we are slowly going back to normal, there is no going back to the ways things were. And for that, we should all be grateful.

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