11:00am 22/05/2022
[Isshōkenmei] In the face of the virus, learn to survive in desperation (42)
By:Lee San

The tourist industry has been taking the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak. Impacted by this utterly disastrous event, we in the travel industry fear that our core operations could get thoroughly paralyzed, and staging a comeback would be very difficult.

Obviously, the virus has been around for way too long, causing way too much destruction to our world. As of April 2022, countless well-established businesses and brands across all trades have succumbed to the virus globally. Many businesses that have taken decades to build up are wiped out overnight, forcing their devastated owners to take down their time-honored signs in utter grief and look for alternative ways to go on living. No doubt, business owners are the hardest hit these years.

As if that’s not enough, a friend of mine in marketing moaned tearfully: More than 50 of my suppliers and customers have been killed by the virus. It’s outright disheartening!

For the past two years, Covid-19 has not only destroyed businesses that have taken years of tears and sweat to build, but also social harmony and many otherwise happy and blessed families. Even our planet has become totally different now!

That said, some businesses are fortunate to have been spared by the destructive forces of the virus, while some have actually benefited from it! Now back to the most fundamental question: what does the virus intend to warn us about? Or perhaps has it taught us anything?

To me, to be able to stay alive is itself a big blessing, because despite the crisis we have picked up our courage to continue fighting!

March 18, 2020, a group of Malaysian travel buddies and I were drifting on the Atlantic awaiting the notice for disembarkation. On the same day, I received a message from my family some 15,798 km away, informing me of the lockdown in Malaysia as a result of the deteriorating virus outbreak.

Even though I was physically at the other end of the world, I could feel the very unusual atmosphere back home, as if to tell me the virus has taken down my home country and is now ferociously waging a war on all of humanity.

Tourists and crew from more than 20 countries aboard the cruise ship began to get agitated. Everyone began to feel nervous as one after another country was claimed by the virus. Many were fearful they couldn’t even get to go back to their homes again!

I sank into deep thoughts. I couldn’t control myself and friends around me could easily spot my restlessness.

Early morning April 1, 2022, I took a group on our first ever overseas tour after 736 days of “confinement”.

I was then thinking how to make sure 16 of us could go back safely to be with our families in Malaysia. Also, in the face of this disastrous event of a global proportion, the tourist business has to be abruptly halted, and that would mean we in the travel business would completely lose our source of income. I was thinking about the Apple Vacations Group, including our offices in Japan, Singapore and Indonesia, along with the travel agencies in KL, F&B outlets, hotels, etc. altogether about 350 of us… what’s the next step that I should take?

I thought of many, many different things, from things as small as the worst-case scenario for our company’s cash flow position to the more macroscopic aspect of fighting our way for survival despite the difficulty. I concluded that I would keep on fighting until the war was won!

Stranded aboard the ship, I made up my mind that I would do everything I could to keep Apple alive. But the thing is, this will mean a very hefty price to pay and may not actually go well with logical business strategy. Nevertheless, I remained committed that I would never shutter this business even if I were to empty all my savings to keep Apple going.

This is our Isshōkenmei business philosophy!

From March through December 2020, with zero income, I could only retain our core business and maintain the 165 Apple-nians in our KL headquarters. Sadly, the pandemic worsened and went out of hand in early 2021, but I still managed to keep 96 Apple-nians on our payroll. Soon afterwards, we started the Marketo platform selling seasonal fruits and travel souvenirs from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Most importantly, we have seen the undivided support and encouragement from old and new friends alike. Some international travel bureaus started to see the unrelenting spirit of Apple-nians and handed us some of their promotion campaigns. This has given us a more distinct goal in life, that we must work hand in hand and go through the thick and thin together!

At the same time, the situation continued to worsen. By July, we were left with only 55 to keep on battling, but we still could shout out loudly and proudly that we are the best of the best!

April 2022, Apple Vacations began to bring back the Apple-nians as we embark on our new mission in the post-pandemic world!

More in the Isshōkenmei series

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)


Lee San
Apple Vacations


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