African safaris take a great success Covid-19. Can they recover?

African safaris take a great success Covid-19. Can they recover?
(CNN) – The last Hippo Creek Safari has been cut short – in mid-March the guest of the seasoned tour operator flew out of Botswana several days earlier when news of the impending blockages was announced. She never arrived in Rwanda.

Covid-19 had arrived in Africa, limiting travel within and outside the continent.

The restrictions cause problems for Africa, both its people and its animals, for the bread and butter of safari trips.

Daniel Saperstein, owner of Hippo Creek Safari, said it was a “scramble” that attempted to get the guest out of a flight before the flights filled up. His team worked overnight to facilitate the guest’s departure from the safari.

Meanwhile, Laurie Newman was on safari with a fledgling operator Brave Africa. She ended up on a private safari with Tabona Wina, one of the co-owners of the company. Isolated in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, Newman extended his trip but left the country – and Africa – and returned to the United States before it became impossible to do so.

Conservation efforts in Africa exist to protect the land and animals.

Courtesy of Laurie Newman

“She managed to get home on the last flight outside the country,” said Colorado-based Kelly Vo, who, along with her husband, Patrick Vo, is co-owner of Brave Africa with Wina.

As Covid-19 intensified, reaching South Africa and eventually Botswana and other African nations, safari operators and tour operators focused on reprogramming, postponement, postponement and sometimes reimbursement of most game safaris are planned in part as the industry gets dark almost overnight.

“The coronavirus stopped everything,” says Patrick Vo.

“I haven’t had a new safari reservation since it started,” says Betty Jo L Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited in Atlanta.

Currie, who also consults for luxury travel consultant Virtuoso, finds herself – like the Vos and Saperstein – in a waiting situation, at the mercy of things she can’t control.

Another glorious sunrise over Botawana in the bushes.

Another glorious sunrise over Botawana in the bushes.

Courtesy of Laurie Newman

After several months of a pandemic, with lockout restrictions in place around the world, the safari has literally been canceled. While the virus had spread for months, the pandemic was not officially declared until March 11, creating a kind of panic for those who travel, especially abroad.

It is not clear when the safari trip will return or what it will take for it to recover.

Once travel resumes, and in some parts of the world, it is already starting to become a reality, it is possible that the resumption of safari will lag behind other industries. Patrick Vo says he is concerned about the potentially slow recovery, especially with regard to poaching.

“The longer we do not stay in the wild, the longer the poaching can last without any kind of constraint or opposition, so to speak.”

Stay calm and continue?

Despite the uncertainty, the empty boxes, thefts on the ground and the increased poaching industry leaders express optimism about the future of safari, according to a New York Times report.

Saperstein says that the vast majority of his company’s customers are eager to travel as soon as possible – whether that translates to this summer or fall.

“A few have indicated that they would like to wait until the vaccines are available, which is understandable too, and we have already moved several trips next year to support this (and we have agreements with the camps that will allow new postponements if this is the case “). not yet medically safe for these travelers in particular to be in Africa by then. ”

Laurie Newman found herself alone on safari with Tabona Wina, co-owner of Botswana and Brave Africa, in the photo.

Laurie Newman found herself alone on safari with Tabona Wina, co-owner of Botswana and Brave Africa, in the photo.

Courtesy of Laurie Newman

While safari is no stranger to tragedy and upheaval – the Ebola outbreaks and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, two examples cited by Currie and Saperstein, respectively – the current problems are what Saperstein, a veteran of the industry calls “unprecedented”.

As such, companies like Hippo Creek and Brave Africa are trying to be as flexible as possible as the situation changes.

Wina notes that many Brave Africa guests who were supposed to be on a safari have now chosen to postpone rather than cancel altogether.

April safaris have been moved to September and beyond.

Nicole Robinson, director of marketing for luxury safari company andBeyond, states that they also see postponements instead of cancellations: “Ninety percent of our customers have chosen to postpone their trip instead of canceling.

“We are preparing for a slow recovery. What we hear from our key markets is that local travel is likely to resume first.

“We also hear, something very encouraging for us, that travelers are more likely to be interested in trips to explore nature and to turn to more meaningful and useful travel experiences.”

Patrick Vo says: “If our guests can go to Africa, we can take them on an incredible safari.”

At the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust orphanage in Nairobi, young rescue elephants, rhinos and giraffes are treated and then rehabilitated in the wild

Waiting for takeoff

But until international travel resumes, no one can go on safari, making “the safari as dead as dead,” according to Wina, and emphasizing the industry’s dependence on external factors, to know the flights.

If you can’t bring people to Africa, you can’t take them on safari.

Saperstein considers the first African precautions to be a long way to restart. He is based in the United States and says that the “much stricter lock on Africa” ​​gives him “hope that they can reopen quickly when it is safe to do so.”

Even if there is no date on the calendar that you can consult and say “this is when the safaris will be back in session”, Wina nevertheless encourages the reservation: “You can book for the end this year “with the option to reschedule if you travel to Africa does not resume. But of course, Wina and the other operators are eager to retrieve the safari; it is directly related to their livelihood and the protection of animals.

Still, it may not be surprising that Currie did not have a new Covid-19 safari reservation declared pandemic. For now, she is actively rescheduling and hopes that the demand will be there when it is safe to travel again.

The safaris are often planned well in advance because the lodges, especially in the luxury category, are small and fill up quickly; Brave Africa has requests for safaris in 2021 and 2022.

Botawana's elephants are part of what drove Patrick and Kelly Vo to launch Brave Africa.

Botawana’s elephants are part of what drove Patrick and Kelly Vo to launch Brave Africa.

Courtesy of Laurie Newman

Currie trusts potential safari enthusiasts: “And if you care about conservation and sustainability and the wildlife and culture and communities, then this repository will clearly go to that effort.”

However, the cost combined with deep uncertainty as to whether this planned flight will go as planned (among a myriad of other concerns) could deter some people from booking a safari, often considered a trip through the list due to its high price.

Budget, DIY safaris exist, but customers have less protection and assistance if they choose to follow this route.

Newman, after going through a safari operator, was able to help get out of the country and the continent.

“There is an eight-hour time difference between Botswana and Colorado, so Patrick and I would be on the phone at 2 am to update on the progress of the pandemic and to ensure that Laurie could make decisions informed on how to continue his journey in Africa after the end of his Brave Africa safari or to start returning to the United States, “explains Kelly Vo.

As for future safari trips? Currie believes that if you can afford it, you should want to go on a safari.

The Vos loved their first safari so much that they made another one. It was during the second safari that they developed a plan to start a business with their guide at the time, Wina.

Cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos and lions: Patrick and Kelly were hooked after watching wild animals interact with each other.

The problem of poaching

Add the increase in poaching to the devastating list of side effects of Covid-19, and you can see why the safari is in a different kind of danger.

This is most certainly a concern, say many industry experts. With the countries locked out and home maintenance orders in effect in much of Africa, formal efforts to combat poaching have been largely abandoned.

In some South African lodges, where safari guides live locally, there is a continuous search for illegal activities.

Namely: Michel Girardin, director general of Djuma Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa, says that there has been no “major increase” in poaching and that he has heard of ‘a decrease in poaching incidents’. being reported. ”

However, a lack of reporting and a lack of poaching are two different things.

Generally, Kelly Vo explains, guests and safari staff can be counted for reporting bad or illegal behavior.

In the bush of Botswana, much more distant and difficult to access than Sabi Sands, no one is there to enforce anti-poaching laws, according to Patrick Vo.

Map Ives, director of Rhino Conservation Botswana disputes the claim that anti-poaching efforts have stopped; in fact, Ives says his organization has significantly increased its air presence.

Elephants roam around Xakanaxa in the Moremi game reserve.

Elephants roam around Xakanaxa in the Moremi game reserve.

Courtesy of Laurie Newman

Wina, however, talks about what he sees as a decrease in vehicle surveillance: “When everything is up and running, you have so many vehicles running there. You have camps, you have guests all the time and you drive these guys. ” the park in an exit and it keeps poaching very low. ”

“The challenge, however, is a drop in the bucket,” says Patrick Vo of the efforts of some South African lodges, adding that in the past two weeks in “the northwest corner of Africa from the South, already nine rhinos were poached last week. “

Poaching is “a big, big, big business,” says Currie.

“Killing the rhinos is being pushed by big unions in Asia and perhaps other places,” she adds.

But will severe travel restrictions affect poachers’ supply routes? If they cannot get out of illicit goods from Africa, is there a chance that poaching will become less lucrative, less a lifeline for the sellers?

It can slow things down, says Kelly Vo, but ultimately, “We have no idea.”

“Africans in Africa, they have no use for ivory,” adds Patrick Vo.

Safari on sale?

Travelers are unlikely to see a significant decrease in the cost of a safari, which varies widely but is rarely considered cheap.

A 10-day budget safari, not including flights to or within Africa or a host of other amenities, can start at around $ 3,000 per person, according to Currie. But for this relatively inexpensive safari, the conservation element may be missing, says Currie, and the guides may not be as exceptional as those on a more expensive trip.

But a five-star luxury safari can cost well over $ 10,000 per person, with extras such as massages and premium alcohol at a high price.

Tips, from $ 25 to $ 50 per day, are another additional expense.

A remote safari in Botswana, now closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A remote safari in Botswana, now closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Courtesy of Laurie Newman

A fraction of the cost of the accommodation, ranging from the rustic tent raised in the remote brushwood to the high-end enclosed lodges with private butler service, often goes to conservation efforts.

Brave Africa, for example, donates $ 5 per night per guest to conservation funds, according to Kelly Vo, and points out that many, if not most, safari companies do this.

Of course, there are many conservation efforts that individuals who wish to protect animals can contribute at the moment. Brave Africa, for example, in partnership with the Victoria Falls anti-poaching unit, has set up a GoFundMe contribute to wildlife protection efforts;

Currie also thanks the philanthropists for helping and explains the mission of many luxury operators: “This is part of the larger intention of these companies to protect wildlife, protect sustainability, the local community, land conservation and all of that will continue to happen – regardless of this virus, at least for the foreseeable future. “

These protection efforts, as well as the salaries of safari staff – especially those in the field – come at a cost.

Jeeps are the way to get around Botswana for safaris.

Jeeps are the way to get around Botswana for safaris.

Courtesy of Laurie Newman

Botswana staff from Brave Africa agreed to a voluntary salary cut, explains Patrick Vo, realizing 50% of what they did when the safaris were in progress.

“The truth is that this team cares so much about each other that everyone steps in to make sure no one is left behind,” says Patrick Vo. Kelly adds, “Well, if you care about animals too, you have to to care about people. ”

Although Currie does not expect a sharp increase in all-inclusive accommodation in the 2022 rates (which will not be published for another year), it also does not expect prices to drop.

Saperstein agrees, although he says you may see a special here or there (book five nights for the price of four or along these lines).

If what Robinson and Beey’s mean is correct – “travelers are more likely to be interested in nature exploration trips and more meaningful and useful travel experiences” once they are free to travel – the safari can rebound as quickly as any other niche industry trip.

“Africa”, explains Patrick Vo, “is the least scripted”.

“You wake up every morning, you have no idea what you’re going to see. You don’t really need a plan. You just go over there and see what nature is going to show today . ”


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