Coronavirus/COVID-19 UPDATE

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Update

Updated 20 March 2020

We Are Travelers

Taking precautions now so we can get back on the road again.

COVID-19 is posing challenges that few of us could even imagine. My update written last week, and the week before have already become inadequate or obsolete. Today I want to reassure you that in crisis as a company and as individuals, we remain true to our core values of honesty and integrity and we will get through this. We want to be fair to all who we work with, through every step of the process. Across society, all of us are reaching for the tools by which to cope. We ask your patience as we work to retain the best value possible for our clients who have lost their tours. We also have deep concern for our lodges, and all the people out of work to whom our visits meant a livelihood.

At Naturalist Journeys, we retain a strong network of experienced suppliers in the field and we lean on our very good relations with them as we look for solutions. We are monitoring daily news updates, using professional consultants, and watching State Department and other government guidelines that affect travel. These have been coming at warp speed and may close out options we had kept open, some quickly and without notice.

Our client’s health and safety are our main concern, and that of our colleagues that provide us services. Our office is working from home, so email is the best way to reach us. We do monitor phones and will get back to you. Those due to travel in the next two months have all been contacted, and will be again this week as this situation dictates our decisions.

Peg Abbott, our owner, is in the office daily, and is personally contacting each person, in order of their tour start date. Other staff work from home, and may be answering phones and emails. To some of tours May 1 through June, and onward, we are in a holding pattern for decisions. It is simply too soon to make sound decisions, with a few exceptions. International destinations have longer decision parameters than domestic, so we are working on these first. This last week several events precluded some of our early wait-and-see plans. On March 14, many of the world’s airports became closed or were put on notice to close as nations grappled one by one issued travel bans. On March 19, the US issued unprecedented Level 4 State Department warnings for travel to all countries outside the U.S. These two criteria, airport closures and Level 4 State Department warnings, were factors in our risk management assessment and dictate that we cannot operate tours once these are in place. We hope that these will be lifted as the situation improves, and we will work with providers on contingency plans and rescheduling options if they are extended.

Travel in the USA also needs careful evaluation even with these two criteria still open. As many communities have shut down services it is difficult for us to get answers, and we realize some of our clients have been asked or are required to shelter in place. To be prudent we have made the decision that we need to reschedule all April tours. We will make decisions on the first half of May tours, on a tour by tour basis, sensitive to the fact that some of our travelers may not be able to leave their home area to get to these destinations. We need a bit more time on decisions for May, but will be in touch with all participants.

For travel in June and onward, our message is: be patient please. We are at work with operators for their input, and we are crafting contingency plans, but it is too early to make well-informed decisions. We will start to make decisions on these by early May for June and July departures. For those beyond, we have time, and we have hope. We will also extend final payment deadlines where helpful to allow a good decision for all.

We have had many supportive, wonderful notes from travelers, urging us to hang in there and be strong. We are a small, specialized, “boutique” company in the true sense, so our solutions may not mirror the giants of our industry. We are working with diligence to reschedule tours and to give our travelers options. We are in contact with our partners and colleagues that have similar values, reputations, and goals. We treasure more than ever, our personal (and for the most part patient!) client base as we try to keep up with needs on both sides of the tour equation. We recognize we may not make everyone happy but we trust that all recognize the complexity of the situation.

We hear that amid all the chaos our clients want resolution about what will happen with their lost journeys. We share your disappointment and frustration. Tours most affected are those that depart 90 days after the State Department warning was released. I want to share with this update, a perspective that may not be considered before you call to insist on a refund. We do not have products that we can simply reshelf. Each tour is carefully-crafted and in the period of 90 days to departure, many details are attended to so that logistics run smoothly. All of this takes time, that time is paid to our staff and suppliers, and these are non-recoverable costs to us. From the start, each tour has time from copy writers, editors, graphic designers, logistics coordinators, and our sales team. We have permits to apply for, services subject to contracts, and advance payments. Many of our tours use specialty, small hotels that we pay well in advance. We can ask them to generously move those payments forward, but to keep the very foundation on which our tours are built, we cannot ask them to give that back. We are taking the time to ask all parts of 16+ tours that have been rescheduled, that the boat trips, blind reservations, activities with local guides, and hotel deposits required can roll forward; on short notice we cannot draw those payments back. We care very much that these people stay in business, so we can return in time. We are travelers, and we aim to continue.

Are we optimistic? Yes, we are travelers. Whatever the new “normal” is, we will find a way to do what we love to do best. Thank you to all who have sheltered in now so that we can begin and once again get back on the road. We do not make phone calls to unknown faces at corporations to request to postpone services, we call friends, colleagues, and allies. This is hard on all of us, and we know it’s hard on you. Any other assessment would not be transparent.

We will let each of our tours from mid-March through April know what the set of options is for rebooking or refunding their investment. Rebooking carries the highest value to you at this time, but we recognize that is not an option for all. Our European tours especially will take time to get answers—please bear with us and know we are doing all that we can.

Please keep your eye on the horizon, as I know you want to get to your destination. As you prune those travel urges for now to stay healthy, please know that your communications of support have meant a lot to all of us, give us pause to reflect on who we are and why we do this. For some, travel is a luxury to be immediately pruned. For us it is one of the greatest joys of life. We know that our joy brings vibrancy to local communities that in turn secure a healthy and protected place on the planet for wildlife. We all stand to lose a lot in this chaotic time, but perhaps the natural world is at greatest risk if we halt our desire to be in Earth’s wild places.
Nature right now is just what we need! Even a short walk as spring approaches does wonders. Share your stories—we are sharing ours on Facebook and through eNews—keeping our optimism alive.

Hang in there, we are intent on doing so as well, and we will keep communication open through this time.
— Peg Abbott, and the team at Naturalist Journeys

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