When travel isn't possible. A harsh reality, and what can we do to help?

29th January 2021 | by Nick

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Our hope in sharing this article is to learn what you think about a value that's been core to Selective Asia since we began: our collective responsibility to protect the communities and habitats we travel to.

The key question is: do you feel that more should be done to protect those who are most economically vulnerable in the supply chain, when travel isn’t possible?

Over the past 15 years, we've grown increasingly certain that a focus on genuine community participation is the only way to be sure that tourism truly benefits local people and wildlife in a sustainable way. As a result, we've assembled a dream team of extraordinary people across Asia alongside our team in the UK who each go far beyond the standard travel planning process by putting partnership and empowerment at the heart of their work. Now that the travel industry is in such serious trouble, this entire ecosystem is close to falling apart. Millions of people are slipping back into less progressive forms of employment, if not outright poverty. From our astonishing guides and grassroots entrepreneurs to the conservation projects and street-kid-training restaurants, so much great stuff depends on the income that your holidays generate. Many have suffered greatly, losing their livelihoods overnight. You choose to invest in all this when you book your holiday: we'd like to explore whether there's a way to uphold at least some of that support when holidays are cancelled.

Yes, these people are our friends and colleagues: of course we want to look after our own. But it goes deeper than that. Our core belief is that it's profoundly unfair to expect those lower down the supply chain to take the same level of financial loss as tour operators (and yes, in turn, the travellers) at the top. It's important to keep in mind, when considering all this, that so many of the people in our most loved destinations have none of the state benefits such as furlough support that we have received.

Nevertheless, in the general scramble to recoup money, this is precisely what has been enforced. You may call us old hippies (less of the "old", thank you very much) but we earnestly believe that this is wrong, and are keen to explore more progressive ways of doing business. This would not only require fundamental changes to the law, but also a shift in consumer mindset.

We prefer to be proactive, so we've been speaking with other travel companies in the hope of developing a solution. Ultimately, however, we wouldn't exist without you, so we'd like to understand how you feel about all this. We therefore hope you will join the conversation below. 

Your rights have been heavily tested during the past 12 months. "The Situation" (we're refusing to utter the c-word any more) has highlighted profound disconnection between the UK's assorted travel industry bodies. Consumer confidence has plunged, in many ways deservedly so. However, our industry is incredibly varied. When you pay a responsible travel company, most of your money is passed immediately to their suppliers in order to secure your transport, accommodation, your guides and so forth. In order to ensure that we can refund you if your holiday goes wrong, the remainder is not spent until after you travel

When travel collapses or even just one country shuts down, the money we retain until after you've travelled can easily be returned, but we've discovered that when it comes to monies already paid to suppliers, not everybody in the chain plays fair.

Last year, the airlines went quiet, issuing unlawful credits instead of refunds, often leaving us to foot their bill when clients requested their lawful refund, or simply delaying the return of funds for many months. I'm griping, of course, and there has also been a humbling level of goodwill; many clients have kindly shown us a remarkable amount of faith and patience whilst waiting for the airlines to refund us, and many suppliers overseas who are not covered by EU regulations have issued refunds... but others cannot afford to, or simply don’t.

So what can we do to help?

And what about those closest to the end of the chain? The people who are so committed to making your and our travel experiences so outstanding — the guides, the innovative one-person tour companies, the conservation focused wildlife sanctuary owners — there’s nothing in the entire mechanism that provides financial protection for these people when trips don’t go ahead. This is what we need to change. The potential solutions that we’ve been discussing amongst ourselves are built around protecting a small amount 5%, for instance as an upfront commitment, a non-refundable portion of your holiday to ensure that these individuals and vital projects are at least partially looked after in every eventuality.

If the industry doesn't start doing things differently, we're in grave danger of losing much of what is wonderful and beautifully diverse about travel. Who wants to live in a world where the only available holidays are all branded by the same bland smile?

So once again, the key question is: do you feel that more should be done to protect those who are most economically vulnerable in the supply chain, when travel isn’t possible?