Robert Kennedy famously remarked in 1966, in a speech at the University of Cape Town, that ‘like it or not, we live in interesting times.’ Without knowing the rest of the speech, I’ve used it over the years, generally as a means of managing bad news and difficult situations, and of providing a realistic platform for moving forward, whether in my own personal life or in the business of travel, a world in which I have had the good fortune and honour to work for most of my adult life.
An unprecedented level of uncertainty
In many respects, the Coronavirus now a pandemic, we live in times as interesting as those in which Kennedy found himself in 1966. More so, in fact. The level of uncertainty it has produced is unprecedented – at least in the last 100 years. Its reach is global. It has become the source of a great collective anxiety. It is having an enormous impact on our sense of ourselves, our economic wellbeing, and our capacity to cope. While we have had (and still have) AIDS, SARS, MERS, Ebola – nothing compares.
The veritable canary in the mine, the business of travel began to feel the effects of COVID-19 almost as soon as China announced its presence. A novel virus, our knowledge last December as to its origins, incubation period and mortality rate was limited, a fact that – together with the media scrummage that accompanied it – only served to increase uncertainty among would-be travellers, the result an industry-wide dip in enquiries in January, traditionally one of the year’s busiest of months. What followed has been catastrophic – for travel and the wider economy.
This too will pass
Thankfully, our knowledge of COVID-19 is much advanced. It is very contagious, but by no means as dangerous as the likes of MERS or Ebola – or even SARS. It is a pandemic, but it’s not here forever. It will pass. The hope is for the development of a vaccine, one that sends COVID-19 the same way as the likes of smallpox, the most common version of which had, lest we forget, a 30% mortality rate. In the meantime, while it’s extremely important that we do everything to contain and delay COVID-19’s spread, it’s equally important, I believe, that we keep things in perspective, that we follow the science, and that we aim to turn the world upright again – and as soon as is feasibly possible.
In all this, travel has an ongoing and extremely important role to play. Tourism provides for one in 10 of the world’s jobs. It is for many countries a significant contributor to gross national product, and for specific areas serves as the main provider. Done right, travel makes diplomats out of us all, fostering understanding and collaboration between countries, and will be – at least in part – the gel in the international effort to normalise as we open our borders once again. For these and many other reasons, once travel restrictions are lifted, it’s imperative – economically, socially, politically – that travel is allowed to bounce back, and fast.
Keeping the wheels in motion
This is especially true of destinations for whom tourism is both catalyst and support for wider sustainable development. In Africa, the potential long-term impact of the collapse in tourism on its people, wildlife and wildernesses is extremely grave. And yet, despite everything, we are all still in the position to help – and now. Rather than cancel with their tour operators, I urge travellers to postpone trips. And rather than not think about travelling, I urge you to place faith in the fact that the pandemic will pass, to keep planning ahead, and to book for a free-to-travel 2021. In doing so, we keep the wheels in motion, provide the industry with the vital working capital it needs, and ensure that once travel restrictions lift, we are in the position to act.
For our part, we are keeping abreast of how COVID-19 is affecting destinations in Africa. The safety and wellbeing of our clients is our first priority. As well as sharing Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice, we are in touch with partners on the ground daily, and are tracking changes in relation to every single juncture of each one of our clients’ itineraries. In light of the uncertainty, we have adjusted our terms for new and confirmed bookings, allowing for increased flexibility. While the next few months are going to be extraordinarily challenging, we are preparing for the future.
Stay in touch
Like it or not, we live in interesting times. Times, Kennedy went on to say, of ‘danger and uncertainty’, but which would prove ‘the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.’ My feeling is that this is truer for today and tomorrow than it was for even his time. Please do call us. We want to talk.