If any high-traffic operator gets through this Covid riddled times successfully, it will be by throwing everything it has at renewed partnership relations. The choice high-traffic businesses have is either pushing the collective power of all stakeholders together to form a truly diamond business model – or be crushed by the earthshattering consequences of an unprecedented pandemic.

Sense of urgency is back on the agenda

Covid may prove to be a blessing in disguise. A crude one, but still. There is nothing like a deep crisis to put an end to any level of complacency that will always be seeping inside any kind of partnership model. That is particularly suitable right now for the high-traffic sector by nature is a world of partnerships and co-creation. Take an airport, for instance, and you’ll find it’s a vast web of close-knit partnership relations. Operator companies are dependent on a large variety of co-creators, e.g. airlines, catering companies, fuel companies, conference organizers, retailers and such.

The over-all vision is: connect to the best-of-the-best and let them perform. Often it is a ‘laissez faire partnership’ built on trust in each other’s will to contribute its best efforts to collective success. The thing is there is always the serious chance that relationships will dilute and will receive less “investment”, because commitments between parties are contractually long-term. We call it ‘the silent partnership killer’, as it eats away at the overall level of performance. Well, no better incentive to stamp out that attitude than the current pandemic.

Breaking through the complacency

In many cases the rot starts at the very beginning of partnerships. The common practice of Request for Proposals, for instance, is one example of how easy it is to deviate from the initial ambitions to reach for the stars. In many cases it just comes down to price as the main driver for selection, instead of the ambitioned and communicated quality or sustainability or innovation. The lack of clarity of the questions is an early spiral heading down instead of up. And as partnership relations go, based on human interaction and trust and promises, many somehow feel it inappropriate to criticize each other or otherwise act on keeping everyone sharp. This is what makes partnerships flawed. It’s never one or two who suffer from it; everyone involved bears the brunt.

With Covid around, there is no time to leave difficult questions for another time. All of any partnership relationship will see there is no time to lose to gather around and start banging heads together to bring back the potential power of their collective partnerships. This is re-energizing time, revision time, renegotiating time, re-anything time. For the operator especially there are now, first and foremost, three crucial questions to answer:


1. Who do you want to be?

2. Who do you want to be with?

3. How do you work together?

1. Who do you want to be?

Astonishing as it is, the very reason why a high-traffic location operator develops it strategy, the purpose is often faded away. First thing is to redefine or refresh that purpose, the dot on the horizon. Is that still the same? Does it need to change now everything has shifted? The sharper defined the objective, the clearer it becomes to see how to set off for it and start asking question number 2: who with?

2. Who do we want to be with?

It could be that (some of the) current partners could still be of value if they would sharpen up and get into a kickass mode again. Who would that be? Who could you rely on being able to do that?  Whose resilience do you doubt? Potential new partners, what are their values, what’s their purpose, do they reflect yours or complement them? Assess and act. You depend on your partners qualities to implement a certain strategy; so why not use those same qualities to determine better quality solutions and strategies. Involve them in determining scenarios that will get you on your way to reach your goal and theirs in the process.

3. How do we work together?

Research within Google (project Aristotle) has shown that successful teams are mainly successful because of the way they interact with each other. So how persons within a team interact is more important then who is on the team. We argue that this holds true to a large extent for partnerships between organizations.

So if you want to have a successful cooperation with your partners, take care of two conditions:

1. Everyone feels their opinion matters.
2. Everyone is considerate of the other persons stakes and feelings.

That is when people will start to speak up and lean in. A few tips to put this into practice:

  • Everything starts with an intention, but intention alone is not enough to build strong partnerships. It is your daily behaviour – and how your partners will experience that – that will determine your success. So, think: What partnership do I wish for and how is that visible in my behaviour. Keep it simple and as concrete as possible.
  • Everyone has their own crisis moments. E.g. You should stay calm and respectful, but you get angry and shout. Think upfront what your crisis moments are and how you can prevent falling into your own traps.
  • Make it a habit with your partners to discuss regularly the quality of the partnership, what goes well and what should be changed. If you save it up for once a year, you also save up the tension.

This is the time to form newfound, rebuild, re-energized partnership relations that won’t start showing tiny little cracks anytime soon. Partnerships that are bonded together more trusting, more involved, more engaged, more proud and more determined to perform as dazzling as they can be expected to as a collective power. Covid is handing high-traffic locations and operations a unique chance to turn the pressure of this crisis into something that has the strength to last forever. Something, indeed, not unlike a diamond.


Rianne Oswald

Associate Director – Organizational & Individual development, Kinetic Consultancy.

With her decades of experience in management, commercial development and coaching, she has an eye for potential and for people’s motives and needs.

Rianne combines a sharp, expert eye with focus on results. She is at her best working with multidisciplinary and multicultural teams engaging in change processes.

Martijn Steur

Business Architect and Managing Director, Kinetic Consultancy.

Martijn is the founder and managing director of Kinetic Consultancy. He has an extensive international track record as a commercial director, consultant and entrepreneur. 

He is specialised in strategy development and execution. With a 20+ year background in developing airports and other high-traffic locations a-like in 15+ he has established a true global view.

Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
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