Coronavirus and the effect on our local partners
By Huw Owen
Covid-19 has united the world. When we once again travel and meet people from other parts of the globe, even in the remotest corners, we will all have something in common beyond our humanity. I wish it was something else that had achieved this, but “we are where we are” - let’s make sure some good comes of it.
I spoke to some of our local partners to see how they have coped with the pandemic and the effect it has had on their countries.
“As Kenyans we are proud of the way our government has handled this global pandemic - we went into lockdown one week after the first case was discovered on our shores.
Of course business is a struggle - Kenya’s annual income from tourism is $1.5 billion, of which 80% goes indirectly to Kenyan people working in the sector (hotel owners and staff, transportation companies, activity companies, wood carvers, builders, Maasai beaders, dancers, flower growers and the food sectors that supply tourism accommodations). But there is no “furlough” here.
My team are getting involved and helping where we can - for example one of our drivers, Andrew, is delivering food to people who are unable to access shops. My team has been amazing, they have pulled together in difficult times.
The other 20% of that annual tourism income supports our incredible wilderness, and the wildlife that lives there - protecting it from poaching in particular. When you do return to Kenya your trip will directly support the rangers and vets that preserve our beautiful country. We look forward to welcoming you all again soon!”
Chania and her team can cover all of East Africa for TravelLocal. Chania is one of the most well connected people in the African safari industry - there is nothing she doesn’t know about how it all works. I remember when we first selected her company - it was a very easy decision.
If you're thinking about planning a trip to Kenya, get in touch with Chania and her team by sending them an enquiry.
“Japan itself has had a mixed response to the pandemic. Until early March life carried on very much as usual here - restaurants, museums etc. were open. Public transportation was fully operational and, whilst more people were wearing masks as a precautionary measure, spring is also hay fever season - so you would expect to see that.
What happened next? Well, Japan took what is a very dramatic step within the country, declaring a state of emergency, and 'rebranding' Golden Week - which is a time when the Japanese travel extensively due to a series of public holidays - into 'stay at home week'. Doing so may well have helped to limit the growth in new cases.
We seem to have had a comparatively low number of cases and fewer deaths as a result of COVID-19. We are now in the midst of a carefully monitored phased reopening of the whole country. We don't yet know when that might be complete, but we continue to monitor developments closely to see when we will be able to welcome back visitors.
Travel to Japan is down by over 90% so times are difficult. We care very much about all the people that these statistics are describing - our team that gets to know our clients and creates the perfect tour for them; the families that run minshuku (small guesthouses) or ryokan (Japanese inns) on the Kumano Kodo Trail; innkeepers we have known and worked with for years - they are at the heart of what we do.
We think also of our friends on the Nakasendo Trail and in the Kiso Valley - people, and communities that we have worked with for many years - we were pioneers of walking tours in Japan, so our roots go deep in these more remote locations.
We know that the decision to travel is a very personal one at this time. If you aren't ready to travel right now, we will be here when you are. If you are ready to begin making your plans, now is the time to do so. A lot of travellers who were booked for spring and summer 2020 have postponed to 2021, or are in the process of rescheduling their tours. Space will be at a premium.”
Kathie’s company is one of the most renowned tour operators in Japan, with a reputation built on the back of their tremendous knowledge of some of the country’s lesser-visited regions. They are pioneers of walking and hiking tours in Japan (and are known all over the world for that expertise). I lived in Japan for two years as a teacher after university - the mountainous interior is under-visited and hugely under-rated.
If you're thinking about planning a trip to Japan, get in touch with Kathie and her team by sending them an enquiry.
“Overall, those on our team are very fortunate to have support - both financial and emotional - from their families, and as a business, we've done everything to give them some income stream. Otherwise, we've been working on alternative forms of income and learning new skills we can apply. I've been promoting our new book (see https://www.viaretravel.com/en/brazil-cookbook) and taking some time to work with some community-based initiatives that we work with, as well as new ones, to make sure they have support once travel opens up again.
In Brazil it is tourism that protects our forests and fauna, so the effect of the pandemic will reach all the way into the Amazon rainforest, far from human habitation. That said local leadership has stepped up, and so have individual industries and businesses. We're seeing a lot of solidarity - the travel industry has come together to work out solutions for the reopening of tourism which has been very encouraging.
We had one TravelLocal client on the ground when the pandemic hit Brazil, but fortunately he was in a more remote location and, in the end, opted to stay and ride it out. We just spoke to him last week and he's loving his isolation on a cacao farm, making friends with the locals!
Other than that being on the ground has helped immensely with postponements. It was our relationship with local Brazilian providers that really helped us keep postponed trips at no additional cost to clients, and renegotiating payments. We have had some clients who only partially booked their trip with us and have confessed they regretted not booking the whole trip because they're having a hard time postponing or cancelling other experiences and accommodations with international travel companies. Local means flexible and human - the two things you most need in a crisis!”
We searched for two years to find the right partner in Brazil - and Poly and her team are the result. Their knowledge is encyclopedic, but perhaps more importantly they have a fresh outlook on the country’s main sights as well - a sense of creativity and flair missing from Brazil’s travel industry for a long time.
If you're thinking about planning a trip to Brazil, get in touch with Poly and her team by sending them an enquiry.
“Covid-19 has killed hundreds of thousands worldwide, brought out words like ‘quarantine’ from the deepest corners of airports and dockyards into people’s homes, and has made the fatality rate the newest measure for world leaders to compare one another on. (Ravi loves talking about politics!)
The virus is devastating for human health globally. However for poor countries the virus may not be the biggest killer of the pandemic - I think that will be the economic damage. Locking down a pivotal trade like tourism (and all the other sectors affected) will push millions into poverty, and the gains of the last couple of decades may be lost - I hope not.
Worldwide it is estimated that each tourist in a low-income country generates six jobs for each day’s stay in the country - food for thought when planning your next trip, and a great reason to book with local companies. The connection to livelihoods has never been clearer.
Of course now is not the best time to travel. We must work together globally to control the virus in some way. However I think it is a great time to start planning a future trip.”
Ravi has worked with us at TravelLocal for many years - indeed he was one of the first partners we signed up. He is a bibliophile and enjoys a debate (politics and history to the fore!). He is one of the most experienced operators in the Indian travel sector, and has helped us shape TravelLocal over the years. His knowledge and wisdom about travel in India is reassuringly deep.
If you're thinking about planning a trip to India, get in touch with Ravi and his team by sending them an enquiry.