COVID-19 UPDATE 02ND MARCH 2021

AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE

As the world continues to battle 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 still 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. Speaking to many of them it is clear that their number one priority has been looking after their staff, and through them the communities they live in. Conservation efforts are also integral to most safari operators and they have been hugely impacted across Africa in the last 12 months. 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 at 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. In UK, a road map has been laid out with international travel starting after 17th May at the very earliest, with the aim of minimising all restrictions by 21st June. However, what exactly this all means for travel to Africa remains unclear. As we have done throughout this pandemic, if holidays look like they will be affected we are working with our clients to find solutions – whether that is postponing well in advance of travel, waiting until the last moment to see if travel is possible, or assiting with travel regardless of restrictions, which is a possibility for anyone who is prepared to jump through the necessary hoops.

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 between 14 and 12 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.

Your final payment is required 10 weeks prior to departure and we have a detailed policy on your options at this point. We we will happily provide this policy 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 our terms/package regulations), or cancel early and accept some cancellation charges.

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.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

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, it is now widely possible to purchase travel insurance which includes COVID 19 cover. We obviously recommend all our clients to do this. Although you are covered by our Terms and Conditions if your holiday cannot go ahead, as mentioned above, there may be circumstances where travel insurance is required.

NEW BOOKINGS – BOOK WITH CONFIDENCE & WHAT HAPPENS IF…….

If you are about to make a new booking, it is worth noting that you will be fully protected by our terms and conditions which are based around the industry’s Package Travel Regulations. Should your holiday not be able to go ahead due to UK Government FCDO advice or Red List quarantine requirements, you are entitled to a full refund should you be unable to postpone your holiday. Please note that holidays are only cancelled by us when we are certain they cannot proceed, usually between 4 and 6 weeks in advance of travel.

In addition to our standard terms and conditions which protect you against your holiday not being possible due to Government advice, please note that we are also offering the option for a full refund if your holiday is unable to take place because:

a) Your home area is placed under local lockdown with stay at home legal requirements implemented by the Government

b) It is legally required for you to undertake hotel quarantine either in Africa on arrival or back in the UK when you return home

c) It is legally required for you to take extended quarantine at home on arrival back into UK (more than 3 days)

As mentioned above, travel insurance is required to travel with us, and cancellation, curtailment and medical expenses relating to Covid 19 should be included under your policy. This will cover you in case you are diagnosed with Covid 19 either prior to travel or during travel. Please note that if you are diagnosed with Covid 19 during your holiday, or before flying home, you will need to comply with local legal requirements, and your return to UK might be delayed.

2020 was a challenging year within the industry but a key change through the year has been the extra flexibility progressively offered by suppliers in Africa, and this is ongoing. We understand that if booking a holiday while Covid is still around, you will want to know there is as much flexibility as possible, and common sense regarding cancellation terms. We do not offer mainstream packages and as each of our holidays is individually tailored we will be able to provide that flexibility, and we will certainly be able to give you clear guidance of how and when you are committed to any cancellation charges.

TRAVELLING DURING RESTRICTIONS

We are also getting an increasing number of clients who wish to consider travelling even if advisories and quarantine requirements 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.

SUMMARY

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. We have spent the past 12 months liasing with clients, facilitating safe travel in a few cases, postponing holidays for the vast majority, and offering refunds where necessary. We have not issued any Refund Credit Notes (delayed refunds) and none of our clients who have had to cancel plans are waiting for refunds from us. We remain fully committed to our Terms & Conditions which reflect Package Travel Regulations, and to providing the expert advice and personal service for which we are known.

CONTACT US

As our team are all working from home and the office is temporarily closed due to the outbreak, please contact your individual consultant by email or get in touch via our Contact Us page.