Travel less, travel with purpose

The following is the third in a series of letters from Will Jones to Journeys by Design friends, clients and colleagues following lockdown. This one went out at mid-June. Social distancing is taking its toll, the African Tourism Crisis Fund is up and running, and the crisis offers the opportunity for a reset post-vaccination.

I hope all is well with you and your family. As per my last letter, a huge thank you to everyone for your ongoing support. Whether the quality of conversation had with those of you preparing to travel in a much more amenable future, the job-protection donations made through the African Tourism Crisis Fund, or the many messages from friends, colleagues and ex-clients, it’s been an extraordinarily humbling experience.

Equally, I’ve been struck by how much – in life before lockdown – I took the simplest things for granted. You will have your examples, I’m sure, but mine has been the deep significance of everyday touch. Rooting through files of film footage taken over the decades I’ve travelled through Africa, I chanced upon a short clip of an infant gorilla and its family, which lies en-mass in the green of a mountainside in Uganda, and over which the youngster happily clambers. It’s beautiful and lovely and instantly reminded me of our own loss in this time of social distancing. Denied handshakes, hugs, and kisses, we are denied a way of knowing. Touch is social. It has meaning. It’s how we learn to love and be loved. It’s essential, in the truest sense of the word – as my long-forgotten film more than demonstrates. I’ve shared this and the clip elsewhere, so do excuse me repeating myself.

Travel is not as fundamental as touch. Still, the restrictions placed on it remind us all of that which we once had: freedom, choice, movement. The concern, of course, has been how the crisis will affect our willingness to travel once restrictions begin to lift. On that front, if the growing number of enquiries reported by colleagues – and certainly experienced by ourselves – is anything to go by, then I have to say that it has failed to deter a significant number of travellers. In fact, they’re raring to go, with many confident that they are ready to travel within the next nine months, and certainly by Easter. Indeed, some of us have our bags packed, such is the pent up demand.

This is excellent news. Unfortunately, as restrictions are lifted, things will continue to remain uncertain – understandably so, given the inherent fluidity of the crisis. We are all, of course, hoping for a vaccine. It is only with a vaccine – or a similarly effective remedy – that we can genuinely return to how things once were. Which is not to say, however, that there will be no travel without certainty. We all have different levels of tolerance for risk, and for those, open borders permitting, happy to travel pre-vaccine, then Africa, which continues to defy predictions, looks to being one of the safer destinations, particularly when you factor in the types of trips – remote, private – championed by the likes of Journeys by Design.

Suffice to say, as everyone in the industry knows, such travel means higher insurance premiums. However, if pre-vaccine travellers lose by way of paying more for health cover, they will most certainly gain by way of much more flexible terms and conditions of travel. For the part of the tour operator, this means increased flexibility vis-à-vis refund timescales, cancellations, and opportunities to postpone. For the part of the ground operator, it will see similar levels of flexibility, with bookings for camps and lodges being held for as long as there are no competing enquiries. It will be – and for the foreseeable future – an extremely good time in which to be a traveller.

For me, one of the silver linings in all this is the fact that the crises has supercharged the sounding of a clarion call for travelling less, for longer deep-dive itineraries, and for what some are calling radical transparency. It’s making us think much more about why we travel, and so about the long-term impact that travel has on destinations and their communities. It’s seeing travellers ask for a much better understanding of how their money is being used, and rightly so. Lest we forget, the reason why we’re in this particular boat can be traced directly to the destruction of the environment. Travel has played a less than enviable role in that destruction. Equally, the right kind of travel does exactly the opposite, and is in many cases the only thing between survival and destruction. Let’s keep sounding that clarion.

In ending previous letters with a quote, I realise that I’ve got myself into a bit of pickle. Do I or don’t I? There’s only one answer. Today’s quote comes from Paul Theroux: ‘Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travellers don’t know where they’re going.’ I love this, and for all the reasons why I continue to love – and work in – the travel industry. I look forward to hearing from you.

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