Chris Larsen of Blue Sky Wildlife explains how wildlife tour operators across Europe are reacting and adapting to the 'new normal' post Covid-19
Black kite © Al Henderson, Ebro Delta Birding / Blue Sky Wildlife
The travel industry as a whole has been hard hit by the effects of coronavirus – and none more so than companies offering guided wildlife-watching tours.
In this form of hobby holidaying it's the norm for guests to spend many hours, often days, with fellow nature enthusiasts they have never met in the confined space of a minibus or wildlife hide.
In those circumstances, even with a small group, maintaining social distancing and lessening the chances of spreading infection was always going to be a challenge. But it's a challenge that the tour operators are rising to with simple, common sense measures.
Blue Sky Wildlife, the website that specialises in promoting expert local wildlife guides, asked some of its European members what steps they were taking now that lockdowns are being eased in many countries and air travel is gradually resuming. Their answers reveal the seriousness with which they are taking the fight to prevent further flare-ups of this highly contagious virus.
For wildlife companies there has been a positive aspect to this long period of inactivity, and it's one that they are keen to share with their clients. With the lack of human activity and a consequent lessening in pollution and disturbance, nature has been thriving.
Al Henderson, who runs Ebro Delta Birding, a company specialising in birdwatching and based in Spain's Ebro Delta, has noticed the differences. “Birds have had much more habitat to themselves and have been undisturbed for weeks. This has led to record-breaking numbers of flamingo pairs, and many varieties of birds are being spotted in areas closer to human habitation than where they have previously been observed.”
This is music to the ears of keen ornithologists, but how to take advantage of this bounty and still stay safe?
Across the board, European wildlife tour operators have been implementing schemes to disinfect vehicles daily, provide masks, hand sanitiser and gloves, reduce the numbers travelling on each trip and leave seats empty in minibuses to put space between guests.
Pelicans © Andrei Prodan, Bunica Maria / Blue Sky Wildlife
Check-ins at accommodation are being staggered and conducted outdoors wherever possible, with constant disinfection of keys, door handles, and anything else guests cannot avoid coming in contact with frequently. Meals are only offered served at table, often outdoors if the weather permits, and seating arrangements allow for large gaps between customers who are not from the same household.
With telescopes and other pieces of optical equipment that are often shared, the guides are charged with wiping the eyepieces and focussing wheels with disinfectant after each person has used them – definitely a challenge to the speed of the guide if a rare bird is spotted!
Through sticking to strict protocols and keeping their customers well informed and aware of what to expect, European wildlife tour companies hope that a return to some sort of normal will be possible. The advantage they have over some types of holiday providers is that wildlife watchers generally form a loyal customer base, ready and willing to return to a familiar guide as soon as it is safe to do so.
Richard Baines of Yorkshire Coast Nature sums it up when he says: “Almost 100% of our pre-booked clients responded brilliantly to our replacing tour dates, and transferred their bookings alongside emails of support. We were very heartened by this response. It made a massive difference to our business when our clients said they loved our product so much they were willing to wait beyond a pandemic!”
Lynx © Sergio-Gonzalez, Living Doñana / Blue Sky Wildlife
Blue Sky Wildlife is an online marketplace which connects independent eco tourists who prefers to make their own travel arrangements with reputable specialist wildlife tour operators in countries around the world.
Blue Sky Wildlife ranks conservation as one of its prime motivators and is proud to be a Birdlife Species Champion, supporting Birdlife International's Preventing Extinctions Programme while elevating grass root conservation initiatives undertaken by the majority of local wildlife experts listed on the site.
Northern gannet © Steve Race, Yorkshire Coast Nature / Blue Sky Wildlife.
Green Adventures July 2020