Outpost/November 17, 2020
As we’re now in the final quarter to 2020, and there’s promising news about an effective COVID-19 vaccine**—even as we must continue to flatten that still-existing COVID curve—we’d like to thank all those who did their part (those incredible healthcare workers, worldwide!), and to express sincerest condolences to all who’ve lost loved ones.
At Outpost, we believe good travel is essential to human inter-connectedness and to a more peaceful world. As travel restrictions evolve or lessen and we reconsider how to travel, we asked a few top travel companies how the COVID pandemic has reshaped their operations, and where they stand now.
Here’s Matt Berna, Managing Director of North America for Intrepid Travel:
Question #1 | Are you (re)focusing or redirecting tours to specific destinations, regions or types of experience due to COVID-19?
Matt Berna/Intrepid Travel: This year, COVID-19 brought the world — and the travel industry — to a halt. Due to its impacts, we at Intrepid Travel had to suspend our global operations for the first time in our 31-year history on March 14. After getting the 3,000 travellers we had on-the-ground home safely, and handling the 50,000+ bookings we had scheduled over the course of the year, we made the decision to use this unprecedented time as a force for good, shifting our focus to rebuilding the tourism industry more responsibly, and advocating for a more sustainable and ethical future post-pandemic.
We also know we had to address our own product offerings for our travellers and suppliers in the new post-COVID world to ensure our own operations will continue to aid in the responsible rebuild of the tourism industry.
This is why Intrepid has worked hard to create, develop and launch a new tour range called Intrepid Retreats, a first for Intrepid, in which groups immerse themselves in one location in handpicked accommodations with nearby experiences. The new trips celebrate “slow travel“ and allow adventurers to engage with the surrounding communities away from the crowds and in a more controlled setting with enhanced safety protocols, ideal for travel during and post-pandemic.
The new itineraries are based in lesser known and visited locales, as to not contribute to the issue of overtourism, and—most importantly—have been designed to benefit and support local communities affected by the pandemic, while also providing enriching activities for travellers who have spent the majority of 2020 indoors.
For example, on a retreat in Syros, Greece, travellers visit a local family-owned business to see how loukoumia (a Greek version of a Turkish delight) is made; while on a Family Retreat in Turkey, travellers visit a sea turtle rescue centre to learn about conservation efforts. [See Intrepid’s “How to go in 2021” here.]
#2 | What, if any, new health and safety protocols/programs have you implemented in light of COVID-19?
MB | As we start planning our return to running trips regularly, the safety and wellbeing of our travellers, leaders, crew, staff and suppliers will remain our priority, and our return to operations will be done in a safe and responsible way.
Before we resume trips in any destination, our itineraries will undergo a comprehensive risk assessment and audit, while suppliers will complete COVID-19 health and safety training.
Every tour from Intrepid Travel will now operate under Intrepid’s new Safe Travels health protocols, which were developed in partnership with the World Travel and Tourism Council. All travellers will complete a health screening at the start of the trip, and be required to wear masks in certain settings, in line with local laws and regulations.
Groups are accompanied by a local tour leader who has received specific COVID-19 training, which covers hygiene, sanitation, physical distancing, PPE, as well as supplier monitoring.
#3 | Does your protocol include a new plan for consumers who get sick when travelling? What aid can consumers expect if they become ill?
MB | If you or someone else on your trip has symptoms of COVID-19 while travelling with us, we will assist you to access appropriate medical care as quickly as possible. We will follow the advice of local health authorities on whether a COVID-19 test is required, whether there is a need to self-isolate or quarantine, or whether there is a risk to other travellers in the group.
We will help contact family and friends if needed, as well as support with translation services at hospitals or medical centers and in contacting insurance companies, travel agents and airlines to make arrangements to return home if required.
Should COVID-19 be confirmed, our full health and safety protocols will be enacted, including informing local health authorities, informing the group of the potential exposure, and sanitation protocols such as deep cleaning and disinfecting of accommodation and transport.
#4 | Are you offering any travel deals at present, or planning on doing so in future?
Yes, periodically we are and will continue to offer travel deals to our customers. Travellers should keep an eye out for our annual Cyber Sale coming up!
#5 | As the COVID-19 situation remains (somewhat) unpredictable, especially in certain countries or regions, and as a vaccine isn’t yet available,** what do you say to consumers who are “doing their research now” for future travel but unsure if it’s smart to buy presently?
It’s an incredibly uncertain time to book travel right now—particularly international travel—as the COVID situation continues to evolve and change in locations around the world.
That is why Intrepid recently introduced a new Flexible Bookings policy to make our customers feel at ease when booking their holidays, which permits changes to travel plans 21 days before a scheduled departure, allowing for new travel dates or an entirely different trip with no change fees.
Travellers should check with companies they plan to book with to see if they have implemented new flexible booking policies, so they can ensure they’re protected should the COVID situation change for the worse as the departure date draws closer.
#6 | Given the recent COVID-19 driven complications surrounding return, credit and cancellation policies, how are you addressing concerns around presale deposits for 2021/2022?
MB | Under Intrepid’s new Flexible Bookings policy, deposits are the only cost travellers will pay until 21 days before departure, and if plans change, that deposit will be transferred toward another trip. Travellers can also reserve a trip without payment for up to five days.
#7 | What would be, if any, the advantage a consumer would have to book a trip now with your company? Is “giving the gift of travel” something you will encourage this holiday season?
MB | After a year spent largely indoors due to lockdowns and quarantines, planning a trip for the future, or giving the gift of travel, is a great idea, as it gives you something to look forward to, while also helping to benefit the local communities around the world who have been deeply affected by the lack of tourists visiting.
** EDITOR’S NOTE/Nov17-2020: Hope may be on the horizon, as COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials are showing encouraging results, and if deemed safe and effective, will be at the manufacturing phase soon. In the meantime, we all need to remain vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing, and following the guidelines of local health authorities. The more we all do our part, the more we can lessen COVID’s destructive impact before a vaccine becomes widespread. As COVID-19 has proven a serious, highly-contagious and deadly disease, and the necessary worldwide lockdowns have devastated economies, the drive to vaccinate all the world’s people will, hopefully, take priority.