The impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Last updated: 20 July 2020
In recent months, the impact of coronavirus and the associated changes to travel have been enormous. The information on this page covers its main impacts on the people we work with – from the people who manage and work in the camps in Africa, to our team and our travellers. As a responsible operator, we regard it as essential reading for all our travellers.
The impact on people and wildlife in Africa
Although this pandemic is bringing major changes to the world of travel – our business and your holidays – we are most concerned not about ourselves, or even our business, but about the impact it has on the ground in Africa. Two personal letters we’ve received illustrate this:
One camp’s story
At the end of March, we received a note from one camp owner with whom we work closely. Her family have built up a pair of great, small camps over the last three decades. They have always worked closely with their community and have been genuinely committed to responsible tourism. They have employed staff locally, helped to build a local school for orphans, sunk boreholes for water, helped teach local women to make and sell crafts, and done a great deal of other helpful work over the years.
Her letter to us was a spontaneous, impassioned plea about the situation in which they now find themselves:
Our situation – and that of the majority of our colleagues – is zero income with many, many mouths to feed, where literally the money we are able to give our staff from our personal savings and the deposits we collect is the difference between life and death. We are not projecting trying to draw a personal salary in the next two years. With 66 staff we’re looking at around 700 people relying on us to put food on the table. There will be no government support here, no food packages and no relief to businesses. It’s us and us only at the front line of responsibility.
The impact of facing a year with no income – the likely scenario in 2020 – is truly frightening for this owner, the camp’s staff and the local community. In Africa, it is estimated that for every person working in tourism, ten others in their extended family depend on their income.
This slump will not only hit people. Without tourists paying park fees, the wildlife in the national parks is very likely to be hit by a wave of subsistence poaching. Local people, understandably, will try to put food on their tables in any way they can. The pandemic poses a very serious threat to conservation work and wildlife numbers.
A guide’s story
As many of our regular travellers will know, we have team members scattered over the globe, including two in Africa. Sabina Hekandjo has worked for us for the past 15 years, 12 years in London, and the last three years in Windhoek, Namibia. She moved back home to marry one of Namibia’s top guides and has continued to work for us there. In April she shared with us what many businesses in Namibia are going through:
Suddenly things are looking very difficult this year, especially for everyone working in the tourism sector. Many tourism businesses are really struggling.
At my husband’s safari company, all the guides have stopped work and been sent home. When the lockdown was first announced, last week, their company dropped their salaries to 75%. Since then, they have dropped further, to just 25% salary. I don’t know what we would do if I worked for a local company instead of Expert Africa.
Many of his colleagues are in very difficult positions. Many were the ‘breadwinners’ for their families, but now they can’t pay their rent. They can’t even leave Windhoek, to stay with relatives in rural areas (where the cost of living is lower) because of the lockdown. Many had good medical aid cover paid by their company; now that’s been reduced to the most basic cover.
This is happening all over. We don’t blame the safari companies: the government’s ‘aid’ is just loans and these companies just can’t afford to take them and stack up debts.
There’s little support here for anyone who loses their job. Even so, many of the lodges have had to just send staff on unpaid leave, or very low salary levels, until the lockdown is over. They just don’t have a choice. It breaks my heart to see all this happen. It’s so sad.
Expert Africa’s response
While the impact of this virus on our travellers’ holidays, our business, and in some cases on our friends and family members, is severe, we are very mindful that the impact on colleagues and friends working in Africa is of a different magnitude.
These countries don’t have the same supports that we have in the UK, Europe or the USA: no unemployment benefits, minimal business support and limited health care. So we’re determined to do all we can to help the companies and their teams.
Wherever possible, therefore, we are deferring our client’s holiday arrangements to 2021, rather than cancelling them. Furthermore, we’re now sending additional deposit payments, immediately when travellers confirm their deferred dates, thus transferring as much funding as we can into Africa this year – to help the guys on the ground now.
This is very tough on Expert Africa’s business – especially at a time when we’re trying to be frugal, but we know that 2020 is going to be even tougher on our many colleagues in Africa.
Our travellers’ responses
Most of our travellers fully understand that the money they pay for a wonderful trip to Africa represents vital income for many people in some of the poorest countries in the world.
A number of our travellers have paid significant chunks of their balances early – to help us send more to the camps in advance.
We are asking all our travellers to help Expert Africa support our African partners in every way we can, together with the countless individuals, small businesses and local communities that depend on them.
The impact on our travellers
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the various responses to it around the world, continues to be a very fast-changing situation – and Expert Africa’s response to it is also continually evolving and adapting.
At Expert Africa we have successfully weathered many global shocks over the last 25 years, and we are monitoring the news and official advice on COVID-19 closely. We are not epidemiologists, but we do consider ourselves to be experts in our field, and we have well-proven response measures in place.
Regardless of what happens in the coming months, all our travellers can rest assured that any money paid to us for trips is completely protected. That is the case now, has always been the case and will always be so in the future. All our trips are covered by 100% financial protection: see the full information on the 100% financial guarantee that applies to all our holidays.
In very uncertain times like these, your money is completely protected.
In the sections below, we will explain how we’re responding to our travellers, and answer some common questions.
Our guidance: government advice
It has always been a condition of booking that all our travellers have valid insurance, including health insurance, when they travel. This remains as important as ever.
For health advice, the COVID-19 page of the CDC is a good source of information if you have questions.
When considering the safety of our destinations in Africa, Expert Africa has always followed the advice of the UK government's Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) on these destinations. The FCO’s advice is frequently modified and adapted. Where issues of illness and infection are concerned, the FCO usually mirrors the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Then, if the FCO has advised against “all but essential travel” to a particular destination, because that area is not considered safe enough to visit, we have responded swiftly and individually to travellers who are about to be imminently affected. If we have travellers in these areas, we immediately move them to an unaffected area. Travellers who have trips that are due to traverse or stay in these areas will be re-routed or have their trips deferred. Over 25 years, the number of occasions when this has happened as been in single figures.
The government’s country-by-country travel advice was superseded on 17 March 2020 by the FCO’s ‘COVID-19 Exceptional Travel Advisory Notice’ advising against non-essential travel anywhere in the world. On 5 April the validity of this advisory was effectively made indefinite. While the advisory will not last forever, we do not know when it will end. This unprecedented advice from the FCO is not advice about the safety of any particular country or area. It is blanket advice to UK residents, because of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
If there is any question about the safety of operating a particular itinerary, then we will usually wait until around 14 days before the arrangements with us are due to begin. This time-frame is recognised by the travel industry, the insurance industry and the UK government. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the news about travel changes daily, so making a decision to cancel a trip earlier than 14 days before departure would be jumping the gun. We base that judgment on the FCO advice about the particular destination, our own knowledge of the destination, and the advice of our trusted partners on the ground.
The current COVID-19 situation
According to the World Health Organisation’s latest update on COVID-19 (latest WHO situation reports are here), Eastern and Southern Africa continue to have much lower infection rates than the USA, the UK and most European countries. However, many countries have effectively closed their borders to non-essential travel, including the UK, USA and many African countries.
Frequently Asked Questions
Please bear with us as at the current time if our replies are slow. We are dealing with a lot of similar questions from our travellers and our team are very busy indeed. They are prioritising the replies which are most urgent, always keeping in mind the unique circumstances of each of our travellers.
Please also remember that in a fast-changing situation like this, we may not have clear answers to every question. But we will always do our best to tell you clearly what we know, and what we don’t know.
Below we answer some of the most frequent questions about Expert Africa’s policy on changes and cancellations:
Q: I’m due to travel in more than 14 weeks: what are my options?
We are in a fast-changing situation regarding what is known about the spread of COVID-19 and its effects.
We ask you not to request any changes to your booking until 14 weeks or less before you are due to travel with us, as the circumstances may well change between now and that date.
We suggest you carefully read your travel insurance policy to check if you have ‘cancellation’ or ‘travel disruption’ cover. (If you wish to make a claim, then you should follow the insurers’ claims procedure to the letter if you wish to be successful. Documenting everything in writing is always wise.)
If you wish to cancel your trip earlier than 14 weeks in advance of travel, then please see our standard booking conditions.
Q: I’m due to travel in 10-14 weeks time: Can I delay paying the balance?
The balance of your trip is due 70 days (10 weeks) before travel.
If you plan to travel on the dates you originally booked, then we cannot delay the balance payment date. We have financial obligations to our suppliers in Africa which increase as time passes. Hence we suggest that you:
- Pay your balance on time and travel as planned; or
- Ask us about the possibility of delaying your trip, as explained below; or
- Cancel your trip, accepting you will lose the deposit you have paid us.
Q: I’m due to travel within 14 weeks: Can I cancel or defer my trip?
If you wish to cancel your trip, then please see our standard booking conditions. Please check with your travel insurance company to see if they will cover your loss.
If you are due to travel within 14 weeks and you want to defer your trip, then we will do our very best to make this possible for you.
Realistically, a revised date of departure needs to be a much later date, when we expect the context of the coronavirus outbreak and its risks will be much better understood. We will look at this on a case-by-case basis, but for most of our travellers we suggest a 12-month delay to around the same dates in 2021.
We will try hard to use our long-standing relationships with our suppliers in Africa to move your trip to these new dates at minimal extra cost.
If any increased charges are levied by our suppliers, whether because of increased annual rates, or a change of your season of travel, then we will discuss these variations with you. If you still wish to move your trip, then we may have to pass on the small extra costs to you.
It usually takes some time to put everything in place to defer any trip. So please talk to us about deferring your trip 3 to 4 weeks before the date your balance is due on your original booking. Then we have enough time to confirm your new itinerary before the balance was due on your original itinerary.
1) you have confirmed to us that you wish to defer your trip, and
2) we have confirmed the revised arrangements with you …
then we will ask you for a further 10% deposit.
This brings your total deposit to 30%. Your remaining balance of 70% will be payable 10 weeks before your new departure date.
We are asking for an additional deposit so we can pass on more of the deposit to our partners in Africa to help with their cash flow in this exceptionally difficult year. We are very mindful that the financial impact of multiple cancellations for small African businesses can be very severe. Many of our partners depend on travellers from overseas for the majority of their business. So even delaying a trip effectively asks them to forego their revenue for an empty room on your original dates, which can be a very big financial sacrifice for them.
In recent weeks we have been humbled by the support that we, and our travellers, have received from the vast majority of our partners at camps and lodges in Africa – and equally by the support which the vast majority of our travellers have shown for us, and those same small African businesses. A number of our travellers have asked if Expert Africa can facilitate donations to small African charities that they know from previous trips – and even pay additional advance payments on their trips to help the small, owner-run camps that we deal with. Please ask for the latest issue of our newsletter for some ideas about how you may wish to help directly.
Q: What happens to Expert Africa’s cancellation conditions if I defer my trip?
Under Expert Africa’s standard cancellation conditions, our travellers are liable to pay the following charges to cancel before the date of travel:
|75 days or more||Deposit only|
|74 days – 60 days||50% of holiday price|
|59 days – 45 days||60% of holiday price|
|44 days – 30 days||75% of holiday price|
|29 days – 15 days||90% of holiday price|
|14 days or less||100% of holiday price|
- Your trip is due to depart on 30 September 2020.
- On 17 July 2020 (75 days before you are due to depart) you confirm you wish to defer the start of your trip to 30 September 2021.
- Your cancellation charge will remain at 20% of your holiday price (ie your original deposit) from 17 July 2020 until your revised balance date of 21 July 2021.
Please note, we always reserve the right to pass on any cancellation charges imposed by our suppliers which are in excess of the cancellation charges set out here.
Q: What happens if I’m ill and I can’t travel?
If you are too ill to travel, or there is another medical reason for not travelling (for example you have been asked to self-isolate) then all good travel insurance policies should fully refund what you have paid. Please read your policy and call your insurer if you are not sure – and please also keep us informed of the situation if your trip is imminent.
Q: What if…
We understand the uncertainty that many people feel about this outbreak – if and how it will affect them and their travel plans.
We have had a number of travellers asking us “What if …?”, posing possible scenarios for the future and asking what would then happen. Some of these are answered above. Others may be similar to situations we have faced in previous decades, in which case can give clear answers based on experience.
However, COVID-19 has raised a few questions of hypothetical situations unlike any that have occurred before. Everything is also changing exceedingly fast at the moment, which makes the current situation a poor guide to the future. For all these questions, we ask your understanding if we say we don’t yet know how we would tackle them.
We can say with confidence that when we have been faced with difficult situations in the past where our travellers have needed our help, we are very proud of how we have risen to these challenges. As many of our repeat travellers can attest, we frequently go above and beyond what they would expect from a travel provider.
We are extremely sympathetic to the problems being caused to our travellers, but we cannot give definitive answers to every hypothetical “What if…?” question.
However, you can rely on us to strain every sinew as we face each challenge arising from this outbreak as we do our very best to help and support each and every one of our travellers.
Expert Africa: 20 July 2020