Wildlife Holiday News

Coronavirus update

Andy Tucker
By Andy Tucker
General Manager
25th March 2020 (updated 28th May 2020)
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It was a surreal experience driving home on the evening of Monday 23rd March, on traffic-free roads, in the golden hue of the setting sun and under a clear blue sky. I had just locked up the Naturetrek office, and as I did so a Red Kite drifted overhead, while a Barn Owl quartered our meadow. Along with my 31 colleagues, I was unsure when we might all return to our happy ‘Naturetrek home’. It had been a tumultuous couple of weeks. It was only a short time ago that our sympathies within the travel industry extended to the Far Eastern specialists and the cruise lines. Now, we’re all affected, in all industries and in all walks of life.

Matters escalated for us all at Naturetrek, just before 1pm on Tuesday 17th March, when the Foreign & Commonwealth Office took the unprecedented step of advising against all non-essential travel worldwide. At that moment we had 80 clients, and several staff members, overseas in Indonesia, Botswana, South Africa, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Spain, India, Nepal, La Palma (Canary Islands), Borneo, Chile and Sri Lanka. I am very pleased to report that all are now safely back in the UK.

By the end of that pivotal Tuesday afternoon we had made contact with over 600 of you who were due to travel with us during the remainder of March and April, advising that your holiday was cancelled and offering you a transfer to a future tour or a refund. To those of you who have agreed to transfer your payment to a future departure, we offer our heartfelt thanks; our beleaguered partners around the world, and our staff, are truly grateful. Your action has given them, and us, hope. To those of you who have understandably requested a refund during this time of great uncertainty, please bear with us. We are working through a complex situation and processing paperwork as quickly as we can from our homes. It is soul-destroying work; undoing thousands of arrangements; kicking into touch so many memories not yet made.

Having now cancelled all departures up until the end of June, we will shortly be contacting those of you who are booked to travel with us in July, August and beyond. For as long as we retain a glimmer of hope of operating tours we will not cancel any of them, at least until matters become clearer, closer to each departure date. We are aiming to make final decisions on whether to operate each tour around 3 - 4 weeks or so prior to departure at the absolute latest, though this will vary according to the destination in question, flights, specific ground arrangements and the developing situation both here in the UK and overseas. During this period, please feel free to contact us if you have an urgent query but, otherwise, we ask you to please be patient, bearing in mind these four quick points of reassurance and clarification:

  • Please be assured that if we ultimately have to cancel a tour due to FCO Travel Advice, we will refund you or offer to transfer you to a different departure (although the ‘flight’ part of the refund may come later if the airline in question is slow to refund us).
  • If you choose to cancel your holiday before we officially cancel a tour, our booking conditions will apply, although you may be able to claim back our cancellation charge from your insurer.
  • In a few cases, where we have not yet ticketed any flights or incurred any other expense on your behalf aside from administrational expenses, we are offering a free transfer of monies paid to a future booking ahead of our decision to cancel the tour. At the moment, this applies only to departures in June, July and August and we will contact you if this applies to your tour.
  • If your tour has been cancelled and you are waiting for a refund, please don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you! We have a major task on our hands processing over a thousand transfers and refunds for cancelled tours and we are working methodically through them in the order of the departure date of the tour. The work is made more laborious by the fact that we are all working from home and only able to put one payment run per week through our banking software. Currently, we’ve just finished processing refunds for cancelled tours that were due to depart in late May, and we are moving on to tours that were due to depart in June. Please bear with us! When your refund has been organised, you’ll receive an email from us.

During this time in lockdown, future holidays might be further from our minds than usual, but thoughts of far-off places, national parks, wildlife, guides and lodge owners will keep us going during the weeks ahead. Far from ceasing communication online and in print, we shall continue to work as normal and stay in touch with all of you who would like to hear from us, hoping that your day might be brightened with a beautiful image, or an exciting tale from a tour. Do check our Twitter feedInstagram and Facebook page, for some remarkable sightings enjoyed by groups returning home before the lockdown, and do please sign up to our e-news from the link on our homepage here if you do not already receive it.

While we have been working our way through the cancelled tours, we have been touched by so many messages of solidarity and support from Naturetrek clients and friends. We thank you all so much for your kind and supportive words at this time. These examples are typical:

I would like to thank Naturetrek as a company for the automatic refund of the payment for this year’s trip. I was expecting Naturetrek to hold on to the payment as early settlement for the new booking in order to help company cashflow. At a time of such upheaval within the travel industry as well as to all of our personal lives I think it is an indication of the professionalism and integrity of the company to be returning client money even though we have transferred our booking. I do hope it is also an indication of Naturetrek’s financial stability and resilience to withstand the current situation. We have high regard for the company and for each and every employee we have dealt with, and will certainly try and do a little to help the recovery by booking future trips with you. (Any excuse!)

I would be grateful if you would pass these comments on to your senior team.

IM (Spitsbergen)

 

I have been thinking a lot about you and all your colleagues at Naturetrek in these worrying and very challenging times. You have all worked so hard over so many years to give me and my fellow travellers truly wonderful experiences around the world. I will always be grateful to you all for giving me these holidays of a lifetime. Naturetrek is a great company full of friendly, enthusiastic, and ever-helpful people. You have helped support people, flora and fauna, and their environments worldwide. I’m looking forward to the holidays I’ve booked with Naturetrek and hope to have many more in the future.

RH

 

Thank you for your email and the refund that we have received. We would like to say thank you to all of you at Naturetrek for the way you have handled the cancellation of our holiday (originally China and then rebooked to California!). All the way through, you have kept us informed, given us reasonable timescales, reassured us that we would receive our money and dealt with us in such a calm and friendly manner considering what an awful situation this is for all businesses. We have travelled with Naturetrek for quite a few years now. Occasionally there may have been things that didn't go to plan but we have always thoroughly enjoyed our trips. This experience has certainly left us with a sense that we are dealing with a trustworthy company that cares about being fair to its customers.

RM (China / California)

 

Thank you very much for all the work that you and others have done in clawing back our money for the cancelled trip... needless to say, we appreciate it very much!  Naturetrek is clearly a first-rate firm in every way, and we are already compiling the Naturetrek tours we want to take just as soon as it is once again safe to travel… we are your customers for the duration.

All the very best to you all… stay safe,

DM (India)

 

Many thanks for the refund for our cancelled holiday.  I’d also like to take this opportunity to say thank you for the way you, and Naturetrek, have handled this very difficult situation. There has not been a single point at which we have been worried that you would you would not look after us or treat us fairly and with all the reports in the press that cannot be said of all other travel agents.  It gives us even more confidence in Naturetrek as a company and we very much hope we will be able to travel with you in the future (hopefully this trip). In the meantime we’d like to say THANK YOU and ask that you pass our thanks and best wishes to everyone at Naturetrek.

Best wishes,

JD and AC (Italy)

 

Many of our clients are over 60 in age, either in a vulnerable group, with background health issues, or caring for elderly relatives. Our thoughts are with you all during this time, and with our NHS staff and emergency services, and with all those showing the caring side of humanity during this crisis. We’ll be here for you, privileged as ever to be asked to help with your wildlife travel plans, once this is all over.

With very best wishes from all the team here in Hampshire.

Andy Tucker
General Manager