Katie McGonagle speaks to six tour leaders, accommodation providers and operator representatives in destinations from Australia to Peru
It’s not just the UK travel industry that’s in crisis. Tourism businesses globally are suffering a near-total collapse of income, with the WTTC recently warning that 100 million jobs in the sector around the world are at risk.
Johani Mamid, 36
Owner of Mabu Buru Tours in Broome, Western Australia
“I was a ranger on my family’s tribal land for four years but I took a leap from that into two part-time jobs. For the past year, I’ve been conducting my own tours, and in March, I started at Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park as a tour guide.
“I decided at the start of this year to put everything into my business and ramp it up. I had big expectations for financial development, and that’s all stopped, but I still have insurance and a vehicle that I have to pay for.
“At the wildlife park I was only just being signed up, so I’m not eligible for [a government furlough scheme], which means I can’t stay on as an employee but I’m working as a volunteer.
“I have created a YouTube channel to make videos of Yawuru lifestyle and activities, to show my guests what I’m talking about on tours. I’m hoping that could be an additional revenue stream, because it seems you can’t rely on tourism all the time.”
Andrew O’Brien, 48
Owner of Cobra Tours & Yacht Services, and Indian River Tours, Dominica
“We offer yacht services and island tours, and are the main provider of tours of Indian River [a Pirates of the Caribbean filming location] for cruise lines including Princess Cruises, Star Clippers, Carnival and Holland America Line.
“By the end of February, no cruise lines were coming to the Indian River, and a lot of our yacht bookings started being cancelled. This came just as the season was climbing to its peak, so we have had the hardest blow.
“It’s been rough. We’ve had to lay off our [nine] staff because we don’t have any money coming in. For Dominica and the Caribbean, tourism is our main industry. There are 30 to 40 tour guides in Prince Rupert Bay, plus the restaurants, bus and taxi drivers, hotels – and it branches out to their families, to the people they would employ in their garden or farm. We say in Dominica, ‘tourism is everybody’s business’.”
Dr Nathaniel Dunigan, 46
Chief executive of AidChild Leadership Institute, a Planeterra-supported enterprise helping people with HIV & Aids in Uganda
“In 2002, we started our first business, an art gallery and cafe, right on the equator line in Uganda and it brought electricity and water to the village. Now, on a typical day, we get 80-90 people here, including G Adventures groups.
“We had several days of zero customers, zero dollars, which made it pretty obvious what we had to do. The sad part is there’s nothing else for people to make money from in that location, other than tourism.
“We haven’t laid anyone off yet. We actually paid three days early so our staff could keep going, thanks to Planeterra’s support. But this is not sustainable – it’s costing us money from other budgets just to keep going. We have 11 full-time employees, but there are a lot of other people depending on this; we have 15 artists, other vendors, coffee producers.
“This was all created to be sustainable, and now it’s quite the opposite.”
Sameh Tawfik, 38
General manager, Intrepid Travel Cairo, Egypt
“We handle all clients coming into Egypt and Jordan. Luckily we were able to get everyone out once borders started shutting. Our last 26 passengers were on the final flight departing Cairo.
“For the Middle East, it’s very disappointing. Egypt had been struggling to attract clients back, but recently it was looking really promising – 2018 was a very good year and 2019 was amazing – so when everyone left, it felt like going back to 2011 when we had no tourists [during the Arab Spring].
“It’s very difficult, especially for tour leaders on the road all the time, not knowing when this will go on to. That’s why this period is more difficult than the Arab Spring – then, there was no business for a couple of months but it wasn’t standing still like now.
“Everyone needs to work together to build tourism again. Travel is part of our lives. We know people will travel again.”
Danie van Zyl, 45
Owner of Khamkirri lodge near Augrabies Falls National Park, South Africa
“Our Easter weekend is normally booked out six to seven months before, and we were fully booked for almost the whole of April. On Easter weekend alone, we lost about R200,000 (£8,700), because it’s not just the deposits we paid back, but the meals, the activities – game drives, river rafting, barge cruises – and drinks at the bar. All those things add up.
“We decided we’d pay our staff from our rainy-day fund and we’re keeping busy fixing up mountain bike trails and roads. Financially it’s crippling, but in a personal capacity it’s been amazing – spending time with our sons, camping and fishing, even home-schooling. It’s given us time to think about what bits of the business we need to concentrate on.”
Petit Miribel, 52
Founder of Sol y Luna Lodge, Peru
“We started the hotel in 2000 to finance our foundation, which runs a school with 220 children, plus a centre for children with different abilities and a children’s home.
“We had 120 staff on our property, we are now down to 14. We had no choice but to reduce staff. We don’t have any way to keep them on.
“Until there’s a vaccine or treatment for the virus, nobody is going to want to travel. We don’t have a local market, it’s all from the US, Europe or Australia, so our clientele is not going to travel to us in the next nine months to a year.
“Our main concern is cashflow. I have to look after the property and the gardens so all the investment we’ve made will not be lost. The other worry is how to finance the school and the orphanage – 90% of sponsorship or donations we get comes from the tourism industry in the UK and US. I will do whatever I can to make sure I don’t close down the orphanage or the school.”