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Corona Virus: A Tour Operator's View

5th March 2020

Over the course of the past 20 years I have had to help steer Wild Frontiers through some seismic events. Born off the back of 9/11, we’ve had to deal with SARS, a world financial crisis, a Russian invasion of the Caucasus, the Icelandic ash cloud, the Arab Spring and Brexit, to name a few.

But I have to say, sitting where I am now, the coronavirus seems like something else entirely. And by that I don’t necessarily mean in the long-term scale of the issue, but more in the uncertain nature of what it all means in the here and now and how therefore to deal with it. So, I thought I’d jot down here a few thoughts on what it’s like trying to run a travel company right now.

Of course, it goes without saying we exist for our clients; without them we are nothing, and we are doing all we can to help them. On that note, you can read our FAQs on travelling and coronavirus here.

While the rest of the world is now starting to feel the coronavirus close to home, as part of our business specialises in Southeast Asia, we’ve been talking corona for over 6 weeks. Immediately after the news broke in China, we as a company cancelled all our imminent departures to that country, but as the virus spread to Southeast Asia, we realized it wasn’t going to stop there. Our teams on the ground were reporting that despite a lot of people wearing face masks, life in Southeast Asia continued as normal. So, we discussed, contemplated and discussed some more. We talked to our travellers, we talked to our teams on the ground and we talked among ourselves. The consensus was that with the FCO, CDC, WHO and the State Department in the US not putting travel warnings out, and our teams on the ground giving us positive feedback, we felt it was safe for travellers to go. 

John Brown, who travelled with his wife Claudia to Vietnam and Cambodia in February (see photo below) said, “Whilst we were initially a little apprehensive, once there we realized that there was a very low risk and we felt reassured by the Wild Frontiers team who kept us informed of the situation the whole time. I would go again in a heartbeat, it was an amazing trip!” 

And John and Claudia weren't  the only ones who enjoyed Asia without the crowds - read Brigid Delaney writing about travelling around Asia during the coronavirus for The Guardian here

John and Claudia in Vietnam

With hundreds more travelers booked to travel in the first few months of the year you can imagine how busy we have been, reassuring, supporting and where necessary rebooking. Interestingly the feedback we are getting most of the time isn’t that our travellers are afraid of catching the virus itself, but rather they are concerned about any quarantine rules they might be subjected to and being stuck either overseas or on their return home. Wherever the situation requires we are working tirelessly to move bookings either to later this year or early next year. But there are also plenty of people wanting to go ahead and travel right now and book trips for the future, and we are here to help them.

We are also very aware of our partners on the ground. Cambodia alone suffered a 65% drop in arrivals in February and many hotels are reporting record low occupancy rates. It’s hard to see our guides, drivers and hotel teams, that are usually busy this time of year, so quiet. As a tour company we have to worry about them as well and make sure that they can support their families as we go through these difficult times.

And then finally there are our own employees. With offices in three countries – the UK, US and Cambodia – employing around 60 staff, we are all both working hard and coming up with novel ideas to ease the financial burden and make sure we come through this as one. 

We are a resilient company that has had to face challenges before. We know our countries well and are in the ideal position to help travellers navigate what is and isn’t safe and offer the best advice on when and where to travel. We can also see the silver lining. Christian DeBoer, visiting Angkor Wat today relayed, “With many foreign nationals not able to travel to Cambodia, I watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat almost by myself this morning; a rare pleasure indeed!

So if you have any questions about travelling, now or in the future, to any of our destinations, do please give us a call and one of our specialists will be happy to advise.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and carry on.

Read our FAQs on travelling and coronavirus.

Jonny Bealby

Rock singer, writer and travel entrepreneur, Jonny Bealby has streetwise savvy and miles of travel under his belt. His experiences have given him the …

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