AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE
As the world struggles to cope with this global pandemic, we hope that you are all staying safe and well. Our thoughts are very much with our clients across the world, as well as our suppliers in Africa and their many staff and their families. The tourism industry is intricate and from passionate traveller to attentive tent butler, we are all in this together.
We feel it is important to highlight the challenges being faced by our African colleagues who operate in difficult conditions at the best of times, but who now face a very uncertain and worrying period. Government help in Africa is extremely unlikely to be offered, and the knock on effects of camp closures and job losses are extremely far reaching. In many parts of Africa, one employed local person can be expected to support on average 10 family members. Conservation efforts are also being hugely impacted across Africa. Wildlife conservation is nearly always dependent on tourism income, often in the form of daily park or conservation fees, and without this source of revenue, it becomes almost impossible to maintain vital conservation and anti-poaching efforts.
We have heard from many of our colleagues in Africa over the past year, and the story and situation is always the same. Here are few examples:
Remote Africa Safaris is a longstanding owner-run safari operation based in Zambia’s wildlife honeypot, the Luangwa Valley. Like everyone in the tourism industry, our operation and all the livelihoods connected to it have come under huge threat with the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic and we, like many others, are looking at the daunting prospect of a zero income year for 2020.
Remote Africa Safaris comprises 5 bush camps and employs 100 people, almost all of which are local Zambians from a seasonally isolated community. Most of these employees are the breadwinners of their families and can have up to 10 dependants meaning nearly 1000 people are relying on our wages.
Part of every bednight that we host is contributed towards the wildlife conservation programmes in both the North and South Luangwa National Parks as well as our own community programme, the Tafika Fund. The Tafika Fund supports a number of educational and community upliftment initiatives including: 5 teacher salaries in two different schools in the Mwanya area, 1 clinical assistant salary for Mkasanga Health Clinic, fully inclusive scholarships for 12 pupils and 9 students who otherwise could not afford to further their education. Although schools are currently closed, we anticipate their return to studies in the next month or two. Our annual Football for Wildlife league will have to be cancelled which includes the participation of 16 teams and 8 villages. All participants and match officials in this league would receive match fees.
With the huge number of cancellations and postponements we have faced in the last month, just supporting our own staff for the coming season becomes a great concern let alone filling our commitments to conservation and the wider Mwanya community.
All things considered, we will do our best to keep our mokoro afloat. We remain ever positive and just hope everyone keeps safe and works together to tackle the difficult times we are facing as a global community. Whilst cancellations are sometimes unavoidable, we desperately hope that anyone whose upcoming holiday to our camps is affected will be able to postpone their visit rather than cancel. Operators are passing on deposits to us to help us get through this year, and by postponing we keep the much needed tourism income in the system, even if travel is delayed. It is vital for the entire African tourism industry that as few people as possible cancel their trips entirely.
For over 20 years, Turnstone Tours has been offering specialized guiding across unique ecosystems in Namibia’s coastal desert (from Swakopmund) and in the pristine highland bushveld of Mundulea. Taking our name from the determined little shorebird who forages beyond the obvious to notice what others might miss, we apply the same careful probing to our conservation work as we do to our guiding. For two decades our conservation efforts at Mundulea have focused on ground-breaking, lo-tech initiatives to support the regeneration of a balanced ecosystem across 120 square kilometres of recovering habitat for vitally biodiverse species. It is essential to maintain the momentum of this work, which is supported almost entirely by income from tourism. We are therefore very concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on Namibian tourism and appeal to all guests for whom travel may prove impossible over the next few months, to postpone rather than cancel their visits. Like the Turnstone whose persistence brings sustaining, and sustainable, rewards, your support goes very deep. So please hold true to your travel plans and join us in Namibia as soon as it’s safe to come!
Here at Karisia Walking Safaris everyone that we employ is from the local Laikipia Masai and Samburu Communities. Many of our staff come and go for each safari and we employ up to 50 extra people when we are busy. These families are all now waiting at home with no work. They have already started to ask us for advance pay and food for their families. The staff that we have here at Karisia are on basic pay only and we will have to lay off some of them soon. So we urge people to think about travelling again as soon as they can. This environment is open, airy and the perfect tonic for having been cooped up for so long. The tourism dollar goes a long way to protecting wildlife and helping the communities around here, who in turn protect the wildlife as part of their job.
It is important to remember that tourism is an integral part of conservation be it through the creation of jobs, a mere presence in remote areas, or the direct funding of conservation projects through bed night levies and other contributions. A total collapse of tourism across Africa is leaving gaping holes in conservation efforts and it will take extraordinary efforts to protect our wilderness areas. Organisations such as Musekese Conservation are funded by up to 70% through tourism-related activities and so companies such as Jeffery & McKeith Safaris in Kafue have an extended obligation to not only secure a future for its wonderful staff but to also keep anti-poaching and other interventions going uninterrupted.
Like everyone around the world, the Tanda Tula Family is facing a situation we could never have imagined under the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects on Africa’s wilderness areas and on our communities are potentially devastating, with the inability of our cash strapped governments to provide meaningful support to their people and businesses. We are nonetheless motivated now more than ever to be a crucial link in the chain of survival for our people and our wild animals.
The wildlife reserves desperately need the money which we, as safari operators in these areas, provide in order to fund their security, ecological, veterinary and operational costs. Moreover, our own family of staff members deserve our support and we are committed to not let them down through this crisis. We support 64 staff members (each supporting on average 10 people in the local communities), we fund 7 children on scholarships, and 2 university students – we do not wish to lose this direct impact on some 650 local community members.
In order for us to continue to provide the vital support to our local communities and to our wildlife reserves, where we operate, we need the support of our guests and trade partners. We would encourage anyone forced to be unable to travel at this time to give us the opportunity to offer a “no extra cost” postponement, so that we can keep the vital resources flowing to those who so desperately need them. Our policies on postponements are extremely flexible, and we do not require any decisions on alternative dates yet. Please consider the wildlife and the communities of Africa when making a decision on how to mitigate the obviously frustrating and disappointing travel restrictions we are all faced with during this time.
The Corona pandemic has caused much of the world to come to a grinding halt in order to deal with this global crisis. Here in Kenya we are one of the cogs in the machine and as we grind to a halt one thing foremost in our minds is that #natureneverstops. We have spent the past 13 years building up Community Wildlife Conservancies and these beautifully sustainable creations are under threat like never before. We are working hard with our communities to keep the faith, for their own future and that of our wildlife. We are working hard to remain united, waiting for this dark shadow to pass, awaiting tourism revenue, the lifeblood we rely upon, to return and keep our model afloat.
POSTPONING YOUR TRIP IS THE WAY FORWARD
We are very fortunate to often work with very experienced Africa travellers, and a high number of our clients are extremely passionate about African wildlife. So where Coronavirus upsets plans for a safari, as it has done recently, most of our clients are happy to postpone their trip to a later date. This is what the industry and our suppliers in Africa desperately need. Although the holiday is delayed, the income stream stays intact and although this period will still be difficult for companies in Africa, they are far better off than if people simply ‘cancel’. As a result we have found it relatively straight-forward to postpone holidays, usually, but not always, with little or no extra cost. We appreciate that there are some circumstances where cancelling is the only practical thing to do, however we would like to ask our clients to make this their very last option.
OUR POLICY & YOUR OPTIONS
As this situation is very fast-moving, it is impossible to predict what may happen over the next few months. We were thrilled in October and November when Rwanda, Namibia and then Botswana were taken off the FCDO non-essential travel advisory, and we hoped that other African countries would follow in due course. Sadly the pandemic sent another crushing wave and January 2021 has been about as bad as the pandemic has been. So right now things don’t feel too positive. However, vaccines are being rolled out, and within a couple of months many vulnerable people will be vaccinated across the world. Some countries will take longer to reach this stage, including many African nations, though there are huge efforts afoot to ensure that all countries get access to vaccines as soon as possible. At this stage it looks unlikely that travel will be possible within the next couple of months, thereafter we are hoping the situation will improve dramatically.
Please feel free to contact us at any stage to discuss your holiday and the options you have. In general however we would say that if you are travelling more than 14 weeks in the future, you should sit tight for the moment and see what develops. We will contact you around 14 weeks prior to departure to see what your thoughts are, though this timescale is flexible depending on developments with the pandemic. If you would prefer to postpone at any stage, then we will be supportive and speak to suppliers as required.
However, as your final payment is required 10 weeks prior to departure, we would suggest that between 14 and 11 weeks is the time when you need to make your initial decision about how you wish to proceed. We have a detailed policy on your options, which we will happily provide if you are in this position, but broadly speaking you can either postpone your trip, pay in full and hope to travel as planned (with the knowledge you are covered by package regulations), or cancel early and lose your deposit.
As with planning your trip, it is always best for you to speak to us directly about your options and we will try and help us much as possible.
It is a condition of booking with us that all our clients take out adequate travel insurance, and whilst we are aware that not all insurance policies cover all eventualities, we would suggest and request that anyone who feels like cancellation will be their only option (if travel is not possible) should read their policy documents and speak to their insurers to confirm whether they have ‘Travel Disruption Cover’ or equivalent that they could claim on. Unsurprisingly, travel insurance companies will do anything to avoid accepting responsibility for a claim, including sending you straight back to us for a refund. However, as per the ABI website, travel insurers need to be more accountable and we will ask any client needing to cancel their trip due to FCO advice to pursue travel insurance prior to requesting a refund from us.
LOOKING AHEAD & NEW BOOKINGS
As most of our 2020 bookings have postponed to travel in 2021, it raises the obvious thought that availability in Africa may be more of a challenge than usual in 2021. We would therefore suggest that anyone considering a trip to Africa in 2021 should be acting now. It may seem like holiday planning should be the last thing on your mind at the moment, but Africa needs your business now more than ever, and if you are sure you wish to travel in 2021 then we would recommend getting in contact with us as soon as possible.
We are also getting an increasing number of clients who wish to consider travelling even if the FCDO advisories remain in place. This is entirely possible, though there are a few key considerations to take into account, which we cover in our Travelling During Covid page.
We are here to help all of our clients as much as is needed, so please talk to us if you have concerns. We hope that travel to Africa gets back to normal as soon as possible, but we will of course adapt as required. If your holiday looks like it may be affected, please consider postponing as your main option, with cancellation only an absolute last resort, as the knock on effects for conservation and communities in Africa are substantial. And if you are thinking about booking a new safari for 2021, be aware of possible availability difficulties created by 2020 postponements and make contact with your specialist as early as possible!