Birding Ecotours and COVID-19

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By Chris Lotz

Last updated on 02 October 2020 (latest additions marked in green). This blog was originally posted on 12 March 2020 and has been updated fourteen times since then.

NEW SPECIAL OFFER, VALID UNTIL WE HAVE REACHED 100% OF OUR FUNDRAISING TARGET (ALREADY 65% ON OCT 2, 2020): YOU GET A 5% DISCOUNT ON ANY NEW TOUR YOU BOOK, AND WE DONATE A FURTHER 5% OF THE TOTAL TOUR PRICE TO A LOCAL BIRDING GUIDE WHO DESPERATELY NEEDS HELP RIGHT NOW DURING THE PANDEMIC – please see our blog for details!

 

And we’re also extending the below offer while COVID-19 is still an issue – get a $500 flexible booking certificate for only $250

Birding Ecotours promotionCOVID-19 flexible booking offer – US$500 certificates available for only $250

 

Please also visit the South African government’s Covid-19 portal for further updates on the pandemic in South Africa. Since one of our offices is in South Africa, the South African government requires us to put this link on our website, and we agree it’s a good idea to help spread awareness!

We’ve noticed some other birding tour companies are stating they will “socially distance” while on their trips. We feel we can’t run trips at all while COVID-19 is still a significant risk. If COVID-19 is still very much in evidence, then we don’t believe it’s safe to fly, or to embark on these trips, even if an attempt is made to socially distance, wash hands, etc. So we’re basically “waiting it out” until COVID-19 is no longer a significant risk, rather than trying to run socially distanced trips! It might only be safe enough to resume our bird tours when there is a vaccine or treatment widely available. We’re positive that a vaccine could be widely available even this year (the Oxford vaccine is one of the particularly promising ones, with human trials expected to be complete by October 2020; let’s hope its highly effective once proven safe, which it seems to be so far) to make the world safe from this pandemic again. Of course, none of us know what is going to happen, but we certainly hope to see things improving even without a vaccine. Lockdowns for example have been working. Until it’s safe to travel again we won’t be trying to run trips. We generally do anyway have hand sanitizer available on our standard trips (and we’ve found for decades that many people bring their own anyway), and of course we have always routinely run things with a high level of hygiene in mind, even when COVID-19 had not been a specific problem. And we do usually have empty seats in vehicles (anyway). We do not think any social distancing measures will make tours safe enough (e.g. how can it be safe to all be in the van together for a couple of hours a day, even with masks?), so instead we are postponing trips until it’s safe. We’re currently (as of mid-September 2020) postponing all trips through the end of December 2020 (to the same or similar dates in 2021), and we’re seriously looking at our January through March 2021 tours right now. Please e-mail us at info@birdingecotours.com if you feel you should have heard from us and haven’t yet about your trip. We’ve noticed a couple of e-mails bounce, so kindly be patient with us if you should have heard but haven’t yet. You can see different ways of contacting us.

Covid-19 Birding Ecotours

COVID-19 lockdown! It’s eye-opening to see this deserted street in Norwich, Norfolk, England (home of the British office of Birding Ecotours). It’s even more unusual being on a Saturday right in the middle of a long weekend when the weather is perfect. Usually this is a bustling part of town. The picture was taken April 11, 2020 during a walk from our home (one form of outside exercise per day is permitted here in the UK, less stringent than in South Africa or Peru, but more stringent than in many American states, all countries where we have offices). On 17 May 2020, when this blog was updated, lockdown has been loosened quite a bit as the UK is well past its peak (but needs to avoid a second peak!).

 

The below was written earlier this year but is interesting to retain to see where we were at then!

 

The “current” (although changes daily!) status of the coronavirus pandemic (17 May 2020)

Quite a number of countries relaxed their lockdowns weeks ago and have managed to avoid second waves. Quite a number of European countries saw the success of their lockdowns starting to work by early May 2020 and have been cautiously relaxing them. Bhutan and other countries that put in place severe measures early enough when they had only a handful of cases are OK now. We are very worried about countries that still have tens of thousands of cases and high transmission rates (e.g. the USA and Brazil), and we pray they start turning on COVID-19 soon. We are also worried about many third-world countries which may or may not see the pandemic hitting them hard in the weeks to come; initially it has hit wealthy countries harder. South Africa and other African countries have not yet been too hard hit, and we’re truly hoping they won’t be. Many of these countries imposed lockdowns earlier than European ones.

World Health Organization and government travel advice on the coronavirus outbreak:

The Centers for Disease Control give up-to-date advice for travelers. Please refer to the CDC website; we would be unwise to try and second-guess the advice given there.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is also (of course) a brilliant source of up-to-date travel advice for international travelers with respect to COVID-19, so we strongly recommend reading their website.

And please continue to check your government’s travel advice, which is also regularly updated. For example, here is the US government advice for visitors to Thailand, as just one example.

Is your birding tour in jeopardy?

Until vaccines and/or treatments are available you have to ask yourself the tough question “is it safe to continue with my planned tour, or do I need to postpone it for a year”? The websites above should help you answer that question. That’s if you could actually get to the start point of the trip anyway, and that depends on the travel restrictions imposed by your own country as well as the destination country. Lockdowns are in many cases being relaxed (but usually not all that much yet; waiting for another few weeks should reveal a lot more).

Our cancellation policies, should you wish to cancel

We care deeply about small businesses that depend on ecotourism to survive. Many of these are threatened by the hype around this disease. International companies such as Birding Ecotours should in most cases be resilient to widespread cancellations this year, but as a company one of our policies is to still pay the ground operators/smaller companies and other service providers even if our clients cancel. If local companies in countries such as Uganda, Mozambique, Madagascar, etc., nations so far hardly affected by the coronavirus, go out of business, the local communities there will suffer a huge amount, as will long-term sustainable development. People now employed within the eco-tourism industry will be forced to revert to hunting and cutting down trees to make their livings. Mainly for these reasons we are sticking to our terms and conditions at, largely so that we can pay the local guides and other service providers even if you cancel, but kindly see below at ***.

Basically, the 25% deposit is non-refundable, as is the 75% balance payment, but you only pay the latter two months before departure. We do as always insist on you getting travel insurance in case you opt to cancel, although it’s worth checking the fine print, as “pandemics” may not be covered (and we also understand that it must be very difficult for insurance companies at this time). Many travel insurance policies won’t pay in the case of this pandemic, but sometimes unless the insurance policy was purchased before it became a pandemic.

***One of the main things we’re trying to do is postpone by a year rather than cancel. We are trying to leave enough money with local guides, birding lodges, etc., for them to still be able to buy food for themselves and family (literally) this year (2020) and to cover actual inflation between 2020 and 2021. But within these constraints we are actually trying to be lenient with our terms and conditions when possible. And we are also not imposing a penalty in the unlikely event the trips have to be postponed for a second time (to 2022), except for any inflation that is forced on us (as long as it means local guides and hotel owners and staff are still able to afford food for themselves).

We do feel that it is important to try to minimize the damage already being caused by this global health emergency. People’s lives can be ruined not only by the disease itself but also indirectly by a loss of their livelihood.

Please remember our special offer: 5% discount to you, and 5% of the total tour price to a community birding guide – see here for details.

These are just some of the main points we’ve been thinking about. Please watch this space for updates.

Please stay safe and heed the advice given by WHO, your government, etc.

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