Protecting jobs on the ground

The following is the second in a series of letters from Will Jones to Journeys by Design friends, clients and colleagues following lockdown. This one went out at the end of April. Wild Philanthropy had just set up the African Tourism Crisis Fund, we’re in the middle of lockdown, and everything in the world of travel has ground to a standstill.   

I do hope that this letter finds you safe and well. It’s been a month since I last wrote, and yet it feels both a lifetime ago and just yesterday, such are the times. Thank you everyone for your lovely notes of support. I can’t tell you how much they meant – and continue to mean – to all of us.

While I am gradually getting used to living in a lockdown, I am acutely aware that the longer it goes on, the greater the uncertainty, particularly in Africa, where it is predicted the continent will go into its first recession in 25 years. In countries lacking any kind of support mechanism, where large numbers of people live a hand-to-mouth existence, and where breadwinners support so much more than the immediate family, the fallout from any economic downturn is terrible. A recession spells absolute disaster, especially for those wholly dependent on single revenue streams – like tourism, which has evaporated overnight.

It’s my belief that the travel industry – Journeys by Design, certainly – bears great responsibility for the wellbeing of the Africa-based local partners and communities that are the custodians of the wildernesses that have for all these years served as the most extraordinary destinations. As shared in my last letter, the beginning of that responsibility has been to try to ensure that whatever money is in the pot remains there, now and in the immediate future. For many of you, this has meant deferring rather than cancelling trips – and continuing to book with confidence. I am extremely grateful. Your sacrifice and your care have made a world of difference.

Now, the responsibility is to ensure that this great start is built on. With so little income generated directly from travel, we need – as an industry – to find new ways of making certain that the work crucial to conserving Africa’s wildernesses is protected. Personally, I’ve been – as I’m sure you have – deeply moved by the various job-protection schemes launched across the world. Borrowing from these, we’ve set up the African Tourism Crisis Fund, which is designed to raise money to protect ecotourist jobs. We calculate that $5,000 grants will go an extremely long way to saving ranger, guide and camp jobs in areas where there really is no alternative income. The Fund’s active: we’ve made two grants available – to the Tongwe Trust and to Enonkishu Conservancy – and are doing due diligence on a third.

I know, given the times, that it’s a lot to ask, but we are taking donations for the Fund now. For some of us, given how we have been personally affected by the crisis, it’s a request too far: please excuse my asking. For others, looking to where we can help, it’s perfect timing. If you are in the position to help, please take some time to read both Paul Herbertson’s blog and our explanation on the Wild Philanthropy website. And do get in contact: just as in our own countries, where the speed, simplicity and effectiveness with which job-protection support schemes are rolled out is critical to the survival of business, so time for these organisations – and for the wildlife and habitats they protect – is of the absolute essence.

I think I signed the last letter off with a quote from Robert Kennedy. This month, I hope Roland Purcell – maverick, mentor and great friend – won’t mind me sharing this, a line from an email he wrote me: ‘What is for sure, when the dust settles on the new, possibly unrecognisable, post-COVID world, we will be judged by how we acted at the height of the crisis.’ It’s fast becoming my COVID-19 mantra. I wish you all the best in the coming weeks. Do drop me a line – or give me a call. I’d love to hear from you.

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