Wild Frontiers Founder Jonny recounts the challenges and opportunities posed by Coronavirus in his latest blog. Follow Jonny on Instagram for news and photos from his latest recces - next stop Central Italy.
Six months on from our initial lock down, I thought it time for me to shed a little light on what life has been like for us at Wild Frontiers, where we’re at right now, and how things look for the future. With the world experiencing what looks like a second wave of Covid-19, you might think this a strange time to air my views. But as a born optimist I actually think there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
As far as the last few months are concerned, it’s been tough; with travel being among the worst hit industries I am sure you can all imagine just how tough. Having scrambled to repatriate clients in March, the team set to work transferring, rescheduling and refunding all those booked that could no longer travel. We managed to rebook around 85% of travellers to depart in 2021, with some even opting to travel in 2022. I’d like to thank both our wonderful travellers for trusting us to move their bookings, and our great team for all their hard work throughout this difficult period.
And then we started to plan.
Planning for the Future
I am a great believer that times of adversity present opportunities. Wild Frontiers was born in the wake of 9/11, when international leisure travel fell by 50%. After the Arab Spring in 2011 and the closing of five of our most popular destinations, we developed tours in other parts of the world that would soon become as popular as the ones we’d lost. Ash clouds and snow storms saw us develop better insurance policies, SARS and terrorist attacks saw us implement more stringent health and safety protocols, and the financial crisis made us more fiscally prudent; something which is holding us in very good stead as we negotiate our way through the current crisis.
But what is critical for any company is that it has products or services people can actually buy and use. If travel in Asia, Latin America and Africa are, at least for the time being, difficult to arrange, why not look to Europe and the wild frontiers of this great continent? We had been looking at developing more tours in Europe for a while anyway, so we’ve been putting the time that this pandemic has provided us with to good use.
On the Road Again
As you may have seen, in August I hosted a trip to the Orkney Islands off the coast of northern Scotland and earlier this month accompanied a new walking tour in Turkey; both were a great success. Next week I am taking a new walking and wine tour in central Italy and in mid-October will be heading to northern Greece for a cultural odyssey along the famous Via Egnatia, the European extension to the old Silk Road.
As well as Turkey, Greece and Scotland, we are really excited about new tours we are developing in Portugal, Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Poland and Slovakia. While we remain firmly committed to adventure travel, to challenging perceptions and inspiring connections in some of the most interesting and remote parts of the world, we feel we can also offer the Wild Frontiers experience in many countries closer to our head office in the UK. The great thing about having a team of passionate travellers at our disposal is that we have a huge wealth of knowledge on which we can draw to develop off-the-beaten track itineraries and authentic experiences in these new destinations. It’s what we live for.
Making Good Use of the Luxury of Time
But that is not all. In addition to this we have also had the time to take a good hard look at our business and reflect on what works and what doesn’t. We’ve therefore mothballed some older destinations and itineraries that were no longer proving popular, and recalibrated the company around a more sustainable business model. We’ve accelerated our efforts to become carbon neutral and through the Wild Frontiers Foundation we have been busy helping communities in our favourite locations adversely affected by the pandemic. And from a technology standpoint we’ve delivered a series of hugely successful webinars, about places as diverse as the Silk Road and Central America which have reached thousands of you all over the world.
Looking on the bright side, 2021 is already very busy. With the double whammy of 2020 bookers transferring to next year, and fresh enquiries and bookings starting to materialise, many group tours, or special lodges and hotels favoured by tailor-made clients are already sold out for key periods; so if you haven’t already got a trip lined up, now really is the time to start planning. With hopes of a vaccine increasing, and cheaper and more widespread testing on the horizon, once winter is over we feel there is a very good chance international travel will start to return in earnest and when it does, spaces will be in high demand.
To help you in this we have decided to maintain our group tour deposit at £25 until the end of the year (rather than the usual £500) and book all private tailor-made journeys at a 10% deposit, rather than the usual 25%. And of course our very popular and industry leading Covid Promise rules apply to all trips booked, as does our Covid Viability Test, meaning if your trip can’t go you will get a refund.
Finally let me sign off by wishing that you all stay safe and well. There may well be some more dark times ahead. But they will pass and one way or another things will recover and travel will start again. And when it does, we will be here to help.
Thanks for your continued support.