It was ten months ago that our last guests left the resort to fly back home, before the borders were closed everywhere and international travelling became impossible. Apart from dealing with cancellations and the financial implications of the pandemic for a small resort such as ours, we have since had to make sure – now more than ever – that people don’t forget about us. Of course, all of us never thought that it would take this long for the situation to improve. But even if it didn’t, our fast moving times require a lot of effort to remain in people’s minds.
How do we make sure that people will want to visit us as soon as travelling to Indonesia is possible again? It sounds pretty easy: we just have to make them keep dreaming of our paradise, keep up that longing of our marine life and beautiful Pulau Pef. No big deal, right? Post a few pictures and videos on social media and send out regular newsletters, that should do the trick. Well, almost... First of all, in a crisis like the current one, travelling to Raja Ampat is probably not people’s primary concern. The fear of catching the virus, losing your job or your loved ones getting sick are much more present than your next holiday to a country where you don’t know exactly how they deal with the pandemic.
It may be a little easier with guests who have visited us before. They know us, they know how we function, how we care about our guests and staff and what we do to protect them. For them, we may be far away and currently unreachable, but still close to their heart. And we know that many of them can’t wait to come and stay with us again (the same goes for us, by the way!). And still, we are doing all we can so that they don’t forget us. Our budget is currently very limited, so apart from regular social media posts and monthly newsletters, we try to get free PR coverage on various channels and in different areas of the world. And this blog you are reading right now is also an important channel to stay in touch with guests and friends of the resort. Classic advertising is unfortunately very limited at the moment, until we know when the Indonesian borders will reopen.
The beginning of the year is normally the time we take part in dive exhibitions. It is one of the best ways to present ourselves, tell interested people who we are, what philosophy we represent and what our island and resort look and feel like. Personal contact with repeaters and future guests has always been very important to us. Unfortunately, this year it will not be possible as all physical dive shows have been cancelled at least until March. This is why we were happy when the German dive magazine «Tauchen» announced that they were planning the first digital dive show in the German speaking area (February 5-8). Of course, we wanted to take part in this, because we always like to try out new things. It will never be the same as a traditional exhibition, but special times call for special methods. And we try to make our «booth» look as personal as possible. Check it out, it’s free for visitors! You can find us here as of February 5th.
What are the elements that make people want to come and stay with Raja4Divers? What is it exactly that we need to bring across to our guests to make them book with us? It’s foremost and above all - emotions! There is no such thing as a rational decision in life, it’s all about emotions. If we manage to touch someone’s heart and their feelings, then they will understand what we are all about. It’s our philosophy to give our guests a very personal experience, trying to make them feel like a friend rather than a stranger when they stay with us. And to convey this feeling already before they arrive at our jetty on Pulau Pef – this is the challenge.
During these special times, we also want to share our confidence with future guests and friends and show them what we do to keep the resort a beautiful and safe place. We want them to understand that we believe in the future of Raja4Divers and that we are prepared to do whatever it takes to be ready when Indonesia reopens. On social media as well as in our newsletters, we have been showing not only beautiful footage of nature, but also our efforts to maintain and improve the resort, to take care of the island (at least whatever lies in our power) and last, but not least, to keep our team’s spirits up. Thanks to our open philosophy, our guests get to know many of our staff rather closely, so it feels only natural for us to keep them informed about our employees during lockdown too. And I think, many of our guests and friends really appreciate this. It gives them a feeling of being close to us, and that’s exactly our intention!
We may be physically separated from all of you by thousands of miles, but we still are very close in our hearts!
Working in remote teams was 2020’s buzz activity, for obvious reasons, with so many people working from home. But despite the digital tools that we have available, the fact of not being able to see each other face-to-face is not always easy for everyone. On the other hand, they say that a crisis brings out the best in people and forges bonds between them. I think, that’s definitely true for our team!
When the pandemic started last year, our two booking representatives Caroline and Doris were the ones who felt the impact immediately. As they both work individually from home, they felt quite alone during the first lockdown, having to suddenly face a storm of questions, e-mails and problems. So, they started calling each other on a daily basis to discuss whatever they had on their mind. These calls helped them deal with the helplessness, the anger and the frustration of not being able to answer all of our guests’ questions or do anything against the consequences of the pandemic that our guests had and still have to endure. They kept these calls up for many months, thereby managing to overcome this difficult time of insecurity and the feeling of being cut off from everything. Of course, there were many calls and Skype chats with Maya as well, but due to the time difference and the weak internet on the island, these were not as frequent. I think the solidarity between Caroline and Doris during their daily phone calls was what really kept them going.
Solidarity comes in many forms and across all kinds of borders. Recently, one of our employees lost his father very unexpectedly. He was devastated. So, the whole team started praying for and with him, across religious borders, Muslims, Christians and Hindus together. The team supported him as best they could, and he was very grateful. During normal times, with the resort in full operation, our team might not have had the time to stand by him as much as now.
Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, our team members were very supportive of each other. If one was down or afraid of what the future may bring, the others tried their best to motivate her or him, whether they were together on the island or one of them back home with his or her family. Moral support doesn’t require physical presence. It’s obviously easier to comfort someone in person, maybe even give a hug. But it’s also possible to cheer someone up across borders.
A friend of mine, who’s been working from home since last March, told me that her team started a virtual Friday coffee break last spring. I imagine the idea was to stay connected and keep up an informal exchange, apart from the regular virtual business meetings they have anyway. However, she said that they usually just talk about their plans for the weekend and the weather. Nobody seems to really care how they are doing on a personal level. Shouldn’t this be her manager’s duty? To make sure, his or her colleagues are coping well with the situation? To find out whether they have hidden fears or other problems that he/she might be able to help with? I agree, it’s not easy to get a feeling for someone across a screen, but it’s a challenge we have to deal with and make sure, our employees feel our support and motivation across all kinds of barriers and borders.
With Maya and me currently being in Switzerland, it takes a big effort for us to really stay connected with the team on the island and all over the world. It is not enough to simply call or skype once a week and leave them to themselves for the rest of the time. Luckily, we still have a great management team on Pulau Pef that manages to keep our staff motivated and in good spirit. Their natural lightheartedness probably helps as well. It may be easier to motivate my Indonesian colleagues than a Swiss team for whom the current lockdown situation is a lot more different than their normal life. And yet, some of my Indonesian colleagues are also starting to feel impatient. They miss our guests and the tasks they were hired for, especially the ones with close contact to our guests. But they never seem to doubt that we will one day open and receive guests again. We always tried to give our employees the feeling that giving up is not an option – be it face-to-face or via virtual chat. The aim was to convey that it may take some time, but that someday we will go back to the hustle and bustle of resort life and do what we like best – take care of our guests and show them the beauty of Raja Ampat!
I was supposed to be back on the island last Saturday already, but I’m still sitting in cold and snowy Switzerland due to new Covid-19 regulations to enter Indonesia. As much as I always like to come home, I would honestly prefer to be on Pulau Pef right now. I could do with some warm weather and joy of life by our Pef team. But I have to be patient and take it day by day, just like all of us currently. For now, I don’t know when I will travel and what the conditions will be like. So I wait…
Without guests, my job mainly consists of office work that I can also do remotely with my laptop. Home office, like probably half the world at the moment. Guest relations would be the other part of my job, but that’s rather difficult without guests to relate to... The internet here is obviously much quicker than on the island, but my inspiration for all the beautiful social media posts and blog texts is beginning to fade. Not easy to promote a tropical dive resort while watching the snow fall outside your window.
But I still consider myself lucky. At least I get to scroll through gorgeous pictures every day and post breathtaking videos. In contrast to my colleagues from booking, Caroline and Doris, who are permanently located in Switzerland. They told me that before the pandemic, they would get up every morning very happy to start up their computer and check enquiries, reservations and bookings that came in overnight. Now, they sometimes hesitate to even switch on their laptops because they know that their inbox will be full of cancellations, requests for rebookings and questions about when the resort will reopen. How frustrating – not only for our guests, but also for Caroline and Doris. They have to keep repeating that, unfortunately, they don’t have any info on when the Indonesian borders will reopen. Luckily, they are both very positive people and handle the situation admiringly. They still love their job, but they will need a lot of patience before their inbox will be full of enquiries for new bookings again.
Maybe my Indonesian colleagues are better at being patient than us. Living in our fast-paced world, we are used to planning our lives and controlling every minute of it. And now we are forced to just wait and be patient. So difficult for us! In Indonesia, many things still happen at a slower pace, especially in West Papua. So waiting is part of everyday life and people have less of a problem with it. Patience is a common virtue. I wish I had it too, I was never a very patient person. But I do think I gained a little more patience since I started working in Raja Ampat. After all, I managed to get used to the slow internet on the island and accept the fact that the tasks my job requires me to do take three times as long as in Switzerland. I learnt to adapt to the island rhythm and not expect everything to happen immediately. I think, I even started walking more slowly, which is amazing, because I was always a very quick walker.
Our guests and friends ask us regularly whether we can still keep going and whether we will survive this crisis. We don’t know for sure, but there is no other option for us, really. We believe in the future of Raja4Divers and that the resort will be bustling with energy and guests some time again soon. But will our patience last long enough? If you had asked me last March, I would never have thought that we would manage for such a long time to keep up the good spirit, the patience and the teamwork. But this is a very western approach, I guess. I never had to be patient for such a long time and was almost always able to decide myself how I wanted to proceed in life. I never planned very much in the long term, but the upcoming months were usually more or less laid out. My Indonesian colleagues may have faced challenging situations before, where they just had to be patient and wait for things to happen. This is why they seem to cope better with the current situation.
We can only learn from this and I intend to do just that. I’m sure a little more patience will come in handy for the coming months…
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…