You can’t travel for a year.
Nothing is available to suggest an older person will feel comfortable traveling very far from her home until she’s vaccinated against Covid-19, and Spring 2021 is likely the earliest this will happen. But once that sunrise arrives, you better be well prepared for what the fields will look like.
This is the final in a series of three blogs about managing your travel in the era of Covid-19. To fully understand these recommendations about your future travel, please carefully read first the previous two blogs.
Monday’s blog explained that the huge amounts of nonrefundable deposits for trips that cannot now operate are unlikely to be refunded, even by the airlines or insurance companies.
Tuesday’s blog detailed the studies and theories projecting the length of the virus and when it might be safe to travel, again.
This blog explains how to use whatever investment you have in a trip now that can’t go.
Normally if an airline or tour company cancels your flight and offers you no reasonable alternative, you get a full refund. That’s holding true with America’s air carriers: American, United and Delta. But the European carriers and tour companies across the board will not refund your investment, and travel insurance companies are denying virtually all claims.
If you can get a refund, take it, even if you plan on truly taking that same trip later. But as explained in the first blog there are good reasons why you probably can’t.
The alternatives that airlines and tour companies and hotels and cruises may give you will need skilled attention or a trusted agent’s guidance. It’s something that often changes day to day, so stay alert.
If you have an investment in an airline ticket or trip that you now can’t take, you’ll likely be given the option to cash out or rebook. Using an airline ticket as an example, let’s suppose you had a ticket for a trip in February, 2021. Using my guidelines you ought not take that trip before a year from now, after that.
But most — not all — airlines are currently restricting their no-change fee rebooking policies to no later than December 31, 2020. So you either “cash out” and book something else within that period that has some chance of being OK, like August, 2020, to a remote villa in Normandy, or you rebook to a year from now to take advantage of what the cruise or tour company might be offering you.
If you do that you’ll be using existing rules that will charge you a change fee.
It’s going to be similar for all aspects of your trip, including the actual cruise or tour.
Rebooking fees are as ethical and for the same reasons as the nonrefundable deposits I discussed in my first blog. So it’s likely if you want to duplicate the trip you were scheduled to go on around now, that it’s going to cost you more. Unless you cash out.
Once you know your rebooking costs, stall. Wait until the last minute possible to engage them, because a better deal might come along. But probably it won’t, and the bells will chime, additional funds will have to be doled out, and then you have to decide, is it worth it?
I can speak best about Africa, my bailiwick.
I’ve lived and worked through droughts, famines, ebola epidemics and civil wars. I was guiding intrepid travelers in neighboring Congo when the Rwandan genocide began. I’ve been jailed in Conakry when a client next to me on the plane took a prohibited picture out her window. I was kidnapped in Nigeria on a reccy in Kano. I shepherded weary clients through a year of Kenya’s great strife of 2007/2008 and through the uncertainty at the end of apartheid in South Africa and through many harrowing years in Zimbabwe.
This is different.
Most of the above caused a hurtful pause in African travel. I was vested in a Tanzanian company until the Great Recession hit. The Gulf War, 9/11, the 1987 market collapse, the Balkans wars – all these significant events were followed by weeks and months of interrupted safari travel into sub-Saharan Africa.
Good companies, bad companies big and small disappeared. African travel companies just don’t have capital for a rainy day. Sometimes the better ones closed shop to cut their loses. Sometimes the worst ones stayed open waiting for the first new deposits to come in then folded. Sometimes client arrangements on the books were honored. Sometimes, not.
But this is different. It isn’t just “interruption” of various degrees; it’s a complete stop. And what’s worse is that in the last decade many African hoteliers and safari vendors leveraged their dependence on global markets by successfully catering to their own local and regional markets. Now, that’s stopped, too.
Never before has the sub-Saharan African travel industry come to such a complete and utter halt.
Who in Africa has the capital for security and maintenance of remote camps for an entire year of nonuse? (And while my knowledge is with Africa, I suspect similar concerns apply to all “adventure travel” destinations.)
All I know for sure is that it will be a massacre. I have inklings what might survive, but I’m really not sure. As such the only good advice I can give is to do nothing until the very last moment and be really flexible with your expectations. Think of it more as an “adventure” than a “tour.”
What do I know with greater certainty? Say in the Serengeti? The animals will still be there. The plains will still strike the most magnificent landscape on earth, and every breath you take from atop one of the inimitable kopjes — free of the rancor of our inept governments and the poison of Covid-19 – will be exactly the type of renewal we will all be in desperate need of.
None of the strikingly beautiful kopjes I know so well in those vast lands of the Serengeti charge any rebooking fees.
See you there… “soon.”
Had dropped off your blog and it was great to rejoin. These are excellent, with your trade mark eloquence and always original perspective. Difficult subjects tackled from a place of deep thought and experience. Thank you.
Perhaps one thing to consider is the margins in the boutique end of the lodge industry are close to the 20/30% that has already been held. So that is part of what keeps them going, and the postponed bookings they then operate at cost next year. With a smattering of new bookings to help fill the gaps. Likewise, to the supplier the best bet is a cancellation and no obligation to pay back the deposit.
So the best deal is the postponement, perhaps even for two years out and a lock in for an additional time advance.
Thank you again,
Royal African Safaris