If you haven’t heard already, Discover Corps started the new year on a positive note with our first departures since the pandemic took hold last Spring. One group took to the tropical Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic and the other to the South American chain of the Galapagos Islands. It took months of preparation, but in the end, both groups received a safe & meaningful experience and we are excited to continue gradually getting back out in the world through the Spring and Summer months.
Rewind to this past summer when we began preparing to operate trips in a completely new reality that we could never have envisioned in the 10 years we’ve been at this. We began working alongside our sister organization, Global Leadership Adventures, with the driving question of “how can we make this safe by limiting risk to the best of our ability?”. Alongside some other industry partners, we created our COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines (have a look here if you’re curious). This shared “living” document is designed to guide our in-country partners, inform our travelers, and ensure that we are adhering to the highest of standards during these uncertain times.
Putting this to test in the “real world” was a great leap forward for us. Alongside our first intrepid groups and our family of international partners on the ground, we were beyond excited with the results. Meaningful, small group-travel experiences with an extremely cautious, forward-thinking approach to help stem the risk. Additionally, there are some key takeaways that will continue to guide our thinking and approach to travel in this new reality. Heck, we are even starting to think that these adjustments may even make our trips more resilient into the future. Here’s what we learned so far:
Safety is a Group Effort
Our protocol only works if there is buy-in from all travelers in the group and staff leading the journey. This is not only a necessity but shows a level of respect to the communities that we embed ourselves in. The group is a “pod” that, when in public places, must exercise the utmost precaution including social distancing, mask-wearing, and proper sanitation measures. Each traveler must play by the rules and be team members in the effort to promote well-being. We are admittedly quite strict about this and have all of our travelers sign waivers committing to these safe practices prior to the trip.
Many destinations where we operate are based on relationships that are over a decade in the making. To say it bluntly, we have been through thick and thin together. It is clear that this is nothing but a benefit during these stressful times. Trust and the ability to work together as an integrated whole in different parts of the world is what allows us to navigate these choppy waters with confidence.
We Must Keep the Groups Small
Large groups in big buses following the flag to tourist attractions will just not fly in today’s current reality. Thankfully, we have always placed ourselves on the opposite side of the spectrum with the firm belief that small group travel is the only way to truly experience a country. We’ve limited all new groups to 12 travelers with many as small as 5-6 travelers. We also are open to arranging private departures. This was clearly part of the success of these first two groups – the ability to use small, boutique hotels, eat at smaller non-touristy restaurants, and have a lighter footprint in the communities that we visit along the way.
Adaptation & a Healthy Dose of Flexibility are Key
We are constantly on our feet monitoring developments across the globe (which seem to change daily). This inherently means that we may need to slightly tweak our itineraries prior to the trip or even while on the ground. A great example of this was the testing requirement now implemented by the CDC to return to the U.S. Through our network of contacts, we were able to arrange a smooth testing process for both groups (and are currently building this out for all groups in the future). Expertise is more necessary than ever during these times helping to not only limit risk but the anxieties associated with the constantly changing landscape.
Travel Can Still be Meaningful
This was the most important realization for us. In a world that has retreated to social distancing and isolation, our overriding concern was that this would curtail the purpose that is infused into every one of our experiences. This turned out to be far from true in reality. Both groups were able to safely help the communities we visit and go beneath the surface to learn about these dynamic societies. In the Dominican Republic, our first group successfully finished a bottle home constructing the walls and cement floors for a family in need in the community. In the Galapagos, our group was able to visit a giant tortoise sanctuary to help with conservation efforts while joining our expert guide, Steven, who “like a textbook” was able to open a Galapagos that many never experience.
We look forward to continuing this journey back into the big, wide, beautiful world that we live in. With time and patience, we are poised to help the recovery in many places that have been absolutely devastated economically by COVID-19. If you’re thinking about travel, let us know, we would be glad to lend any expertise we can during these constantly evolving times and ultimately deliver a meaningful, Vacation with Purpose that you’ve been long waiting for.