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COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Policy

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Policy

The impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Last updated: 10 April 2021

Since March 2020, the impact of the coronavirus on the world has been enormous. The information on this page aims to answer some of our travellers’ questions and explain the options for people who have booked trips with us – and to do so in the context of the pandemic’s impacts on our colleagues in Africa and our team.

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

Early in the pandemic, 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 or more with no income was 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 has not only hit people. Without tourists paying park fees, the wildlife in the national parks is more vulnerable to poaching. Local people, understandably, will try to put food on their tables in any way they can. The pandemic poses a 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. Her husband is one of Namibia's top private guides and in April 2020 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, has been very severe, we are very mindful that the impact on colleagues and friends working in Africa has, in some ways, been 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 clients' holiday arrangements, rather than cancelling them. Furthermore, since mid-2020 we have been sending additional deposit payments and 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 things are even tougher for 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 enable us to send more to the camps in advance.

We are asking all our travellers to help Expert Africa to support our African partners, together with the countless individuals, small businesses and local communities that depend on them.

The impact on our travellers

The various responses around the world to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be fast-changing and Expert Africa's own responses are continually evolving and adapting.

At Expert Africa we have successfully weathered many global shocks over the last 25 years, and we monitor 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 able to steer the best possible course through the current choppy waters.

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 of Expert Africa's 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 answer some common questions and explain how we are responding to our travellers.

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 in the USA and the NHS in the UK, are both good places to start your research if you have questions.

When considering the safety of our destinations in Africa, look up the data. You’ll find that many of our destinations have had relatively low Covid infections and, in some cases, less deaths in the first year of the pandemic than many European countries have seen on some single days.

For many years Expert Africa has followed the advice of the UK government's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on our destinations. Where issues of illness and infection are concerned, the FCDO usually mirrors the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

If the FCDO advised against 'all but essential travel' to a particular destination, it was because they did not consider that area safe enough to visit. Hence we would always respond swiftly to travellers who were imminently affected. On the rare occasions we had travellers in such areas, we would move them. Travellers who had trips that were due to traverse or stay in those areas would be re-routed or deferred. Over 25 years, the FCDO’s advice became a ‘gold standard’ for everyone to follow, even though it very rarely impacted on our travellers’ trips.

However, on 17 March 2020 this system of carefully assessed, country-by-country advice was superseded by the FCDO's 'COVID-19 Exceptional Travel Advisory Notice' advising against non-essential travel anywhere in the world. Since then there have been many changes, not only in the advice, but also in the way it has been given (remember ‘travel corridors’?).

The biggest change in the FCDO advice has been its move away from advice about the safety of particular countries and areas to blanket advice to UK residents, based at least in part on concerns for infections that might be brought into the UK.

We always take the FCDO’s travel advice into account as we advise our travellers. Just as we always urge our travellers to read the advice themselves and be aware of the issues raised that are relevant for their trip. (Find the current FCDO travel advice for your destinations here.)

We are clear that the FCDO’s travel advice, and that of similar governmental bodies around the world, is simply advice. 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 to make a final decision. 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 has changed 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 FCDO advice about the particular destination, our own knowledge of the destination, and the advice of our trusted partners on the ground.

Travelling in 'pandemic season'

Despite the odd logistical hurdle, our travellers started going back to Africa in August 2020. Repeat safari-goers and first-time visitors alike have taken advantage of special offers and low visitor numbers to enjoy unique opportunities. They have come from around the world and have had some amazing trips, and have often kindly shared their stories with us here: read about our traveller’s experiences in Africa.

Mask-wearing and standard COVID protocols are the norm on airlines and in enclosed spaces, and camps have put in place anti-transmission protocols to reduce the risk of Covid transmission. Of course, once you are out on safari in the bush, the usually warm and often dry open-air environment is naturally non-conducive to virus transmission. From a Covid-19 perspective, the safari experience seems to be much safer than enclosed living in a cooler, damper climate.

Some countries require visitors to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test just before leaving home. Our travellers need to make provision for this, usually at a private clinic, and as you’d expect we’ve assisted with advice on logistics and what is needed. Equally, it is sometimes necessary to take a COVID-19 test shortly before finishing your trip to fly home. Again, we’ve been working with our partners to make that a simple process that will not interfere with your trip.

Of course, our requirement that all our travellers have comprehensive travel insurance remains unaltered. In general, the travel insurance industry has not been fast to respond to a world with Covid-19 and (for UK travellers) the changed approach of FCDO advice. However, increasing numbers of insurers are now offering policies which include cover for Covid issues and where the FCDO advises against 'all but essential' international travel.

Expert Africa does not sell travel insurance or offer advice about specific policies, but see our page on travel insurance information for some general tips; the second half of this page covers Covid issues and includes a list of insurance providers from around the globe that our travellers have used successfully.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve been in a fast-changing situation since the pandemic started, so we may not have worked out clear answers to every question. However, we will tell you clearly what we know and what we don't know.

Below are answers to some questions which we are most frequent asked about bookings which are, or may be, affected by the pandemic:

Q: I'm due to travel in more than 12 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 to defer your booking until about 12 weeks or less before you are due to travel with us, as the circumstances may well change between now and that date.

If you wish to cancel your trip earlier than 12 weeks in advance of travel, then please see our standard booking conditions. In this case, we suggest you carefully read your travel insurance policy to check if you have 'Cancel For Any Reason' 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.

Q: I'm due to travel in 10-12 weeks time: Can I delay paying the balance?

The balance of your trip is due 70 days (10 weeks) before the first day of your arrangements booked with Expert Africa.

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
  • Discuss with us your situation with us, so we can understand your concerns about travelling; or
  • Cancel your trip, accepting you will lose the deposit you have paid us.

Q: I'm due to travel within 12 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.

In general, most of our destinations in Africa are open to travellers. Our camps and lodges are prepared and desperately keen to welcome visitors. So we are working on the basis that most travellers should be able to participate in the itineraries we have booked for them.

If you are due to travel within 12 weeks and are concerned about travelling because of changes in circumstances due to Covid, then please call us. We deal with each traveller as an individual, so we’ll discuss your trip with you to understand the concerns you have.

We fully understand that some countries have regulations in place which outlaw travel, or which add onerous, hotel-based quarantines when travellers return. In these cases, we’ll be as sympathetic as possible and can often offer such travellers the additional option to defer their trip to later in 2021.

We will look at this on a case-by-case basis, and we will try hard to use our longstanding relationships with our partners in Africa to move your trip to new dates at minimal extra cost.

If there are any increased costs, for example because of 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 will have to pass on any 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 about two 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.

Your remaining balance 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.

Since this pandemic began, 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 your Expert Africa specialist advisor (our team page is here) for 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 if they cancel before the date of travel:

DaysCancellation cost
70 days or moreDeposit only
69 - 60 days50% of holiday price
59 - 45 days60% of holiday price
44 - 30 days75% of holiday price
29 - 15 days90% of holiday price
14 days or less100% of holiday price

For example:
  • Your trip is due to depart on 1 June 2021.
  • On 18 March 2021 (75 days before you are due to depart), you confirm you wish to defer the start of your trip to 18 October 2021.
  • Your cancellation charge will remain limited to your deposit until your revised balance date of 9 August 2021.

Q: Who is responsible if flights stop or borders close?

The short answer is that each traveller and every itinerary is different, so we’ll always look at each case on its own merits.

As a general principle, Expert Africa is fully responsible for what we have booked for you in an itinerary and we take that responsibility very seriously. However, Expert Africa is not responsible for parts of a holiday that have not been arranged by us.

Most commonly, this applies to flights: so where Expert Africa has organised your flights to and from Africa, we are responsible for getting you to Africa and back. So if borders are closed, or flights stopped, it’s usually our responsibility to make alternative arrangements for you.

Conversely, where you have organised your own flights to and from Africa, you have taken responsibility for getting to Africa and back. So if borders are closed, or flights are stopped, then it’s usually your responsibility to make alternative arrangements to get yourself to Africa to meet with the ground arrangements that we have made for you.

Of course, if one of our travellers needs help then we’ll always do our best to assist, even if we’re not responsible for the arrangements which have problems.

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 your 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 keep us informed of the situation if your trip is imminent.

Q: What if ...?

We understand the uncertainty that many people feel about the pandemic – 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 about hypothetical situations unlike any that have occurred before. Everything has changed fast over the last year and the pace continues, 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.

You can, however, rely on us to strain every sinew as we face each challenge arising from the pandemic as we do our very best to help and support each and every one of our travellers.

Last updated: 10 April 2021

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