Real friendship through hard days – by leesan

The columnist is forever grateful for the travel buddies and partners who have stuck by him and his team during the toughest times of the pandemic.

JUST like that, everything is back to normal again … or at least that’s what it seems like. Our focus now is to slowly but surely restore all the things that we have lost in the past two-and-a-half years. I understand that the environment now is no longer the same as it used to be, and it is therefore not easy for us to talk about those “good old days” when everything was perfect.

That being said, we all know that putting food on the table is no longer a major problem for many of us (at least for the time being) because almost every industry out there is in need of more employees! So, unless you really can’t be bothered to work or are too picky, it is not likely that you would be out of a job in today’s climate.

Anyway, because of the pandemic, we have all learned to look at things differently. Most people now only want a job that will allow them to lead a normal family life, with offers of a good work-life balance. Many are also content with just the simple things in life, so the pursuit of more wealth is no longer valid.

To me, life is akin to a long winding journey that will take us over the mountains and across the seas. In our continuous quest for a better life, we invariably experience plenty of ups and downs, good things and bad – it is all these experiences that spice up our lives.

More importantly, we must always fill our hearts with gratitude and be content with all that we have now, no matter how small or little it is.

Each of us has our own unique stories that are dotted with tears and laughter, but one thing we must not forget is the people we have met along the way, who have motivated us and ignited our fighting spirit.

The governor of Tottori prefecture, Shinji Hirai(right), who is also the president of the National Governors’ Association of Japan, welcoming the columnist, who brought in the first international travel group to Tottori this year.

During the early days of the pandemic, the travel industry was one of the most severely hit. Travel operators and business owners had to curl up in a corner and lick their wounds quietly, struggling to stay alive. They were overwhelmed and bewildered, not knowing how things will end up or even when it will end. This stressful environment nearly pushed some people to the brink.

Despite getting moral support from fellow industry players, travel business owners had to face the harsh reality of seeing their bank accounts quickly dwindling. Most were determined to stay alive, but during the peak of infections and with no end to the pandemic and travel bans in sight, all they could do was just sit and wait. The travel industry had never been so vulnerable before.

Compared to the damage we suffered during the four-month SARS outbreak a few years back, the severity of Covid-19 was immeasurable. Governments across the world found themselves powerless in defeating this microscopic enemy, so how could regular people like you and I survive the calamity? Who would come to our rescue?

It’s a different story today, of course. I would say that my team and I belong to a category of people called “warriors” in the industry. We believed all the hardships we were going through would eventually leave us one day, no matter how bad things got sometimes. We believed that we could still find our way around the disaster. We courageously took up the challenge to cling on to our positions even though other travel agencies in the country started giving up; we were left with only a couple of surviving fighters in the very end.

But we were also well aware of the fact that without any income, the company would still need to dig into its resources to pay staff salaries, rental and other fixed expenses. We were “burning cash” in a gamble that could very well empty our coffers.

Nevertheless, we forged ahead against all odds, and fortunately in the midst of the darkest whirlpool, you (our travel buddies) came to us with a helping hand, giving us a lift and cheering us on. You came and brought a fresh breeze and sunshine, too, as well as hope and kindness.

After more than two years of struggling throught the pandemic, the columnist(centre, in white shirt) and his team are ready to take on the travel world again. – Photos:LEESAN

We were very, very lucky to have you with us during those painful days, giving us the much needed energy to gradually step out of our pit of hopelessness.

Today, records show that more than 623 million people across the planet have been infected with the virus, resulting in over 6.56 million deaths. Meanwhile, some 650,000 infections are still being reported globally on a daily basis. But things are better, for everyone.

We are grateful for all the orders that we used to get from our clients and partners for all the imported products we sold to help sustain the business. Some even helped us to pay for 18 months’ worth of LED advertising fees outside our office building.

We are deeply indebted to thousands of faithful travel buddies who pre-booked our tour packages, even though we weren’t sure when we could actually start travelling again. Your trust helped us through the darkest hours of the pandemic.

Because of you, we have been able to persist and stand strong until this day. You have turned us into a beacon of light in the travel industry so that we can lead the way for fellow travel operators.
My dearest travel buddies, we couldn’t possibly thank you enough – we love you so much! Today, we have emerged stronger in this trade because of you.

Life goes on unceasingly, and along the way we have never lacked all the beautiful and touching moments we have shared together. This is a new beginning for us to come together once again as we continue to explore and experience the many wonderful things of this world.

P/S: After an ultra-long 937-day wait, Japan and Taiwan have now unconditionally opened their borders to all international travellers, marking a perfect end to the dilemma of the travel industry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Once again, let’s conquer the world together!

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 134 countries, seven continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

Published in STAR 2, 3 Dec 2022