We reveal how the tourism industry is adapting to life in a pandemic

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We reveal how the tourism industry is adapting to life in a pandemic

Coronavirus has been devastating for many industries and one that has taken a huge blow is travel and tourism, with millions of job losses predicte

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Coronavirus has been devastating for many industries and one that has taken a huge blow is travel and tourism, with millions of job losses predicted and billions of pounds lost.

However, the damage to some tourism sectors has been even worse than others with charities and other experiences that rely on public funding losing much – if not all – of their revenue.

One such firm that had to find new, alternative ways to raise income is the South African based Adventures with Elephants.

Run by Sean Hensman, 37, and his wife, Jenna from Kent, the couple offer the chance for visitors to get up close and personal with the seven elephants on their farm.

Adapting: Adventures with Elephants is a South African company changing the way it operates during the coronavirus pandemic

Adapting: Adventures with Elephants is a South African company changing the way it operates during the coronavirus pandemic

Adapting: Adventures with Elephants is a South African company changing the way it operates during the coronavirus pandemic

The operation started when Sean’s family received their first two elephants from the culling taking place in Zimbabwe.

Both orphaned, they planned to release them onto his game farm before realising they were too young – so took in the elephants full-time. 

After learning more about them, the family agreed to take in more orphaned and ‘problem’ elephants before they were forcibly moved on by Robert Mugabe. 

Setting up in the Limpopo region, Adventures with Elephants started in 2010 and, as of last year, played host to 15,000 guests a year.  

With a heavy focus on education and understanding elephant behaviour, activities include bathing the elephants, swimming with them or walking with them through the bush.

They also host weddings and other events where visitors can interact with the wildlife. 

Sean, pictured, had to think up new ways to continue the business during the pandemic

Sean, pictured, had to think up new ways to continue the business during the pandemic

Sean, pictured, had to think up new ways to continue the business during the pandemic

Mr Hensman said: ‘Our herd of elephants are arguably the most diversely researched in Africa and the world. We study everything about them.’ 

All of this had to stop, however, when the pandemic hit, meaning the entire operation was shut down for months on end due to the lockdown. 

‘We’ve really battled. There was no tourism and no international guests which was an absolute disaster.

‘We had no income so the park struggled. 

‘While we had some emergency funds, it is expensive having to look after the seven elephants and their associated carers.’ 

With African elephants needing to consume five per cent of their body weight a day, the adult bulls eat around 200kg of food every 24 hours.

Adventures of Elephants uses visitor fees to cover these significant costs, with Sean’s herd of two bulls, three cows and two calves requiring almost a ton of food every day.

With no money coming in, the park had to think on its feet and diversify the way it operated.

It was a problem also faced by zoos – running costs are high and with no income coming in, a difficult scenario to pull through. 

One way Adventures with Elephant has adapted is with the power of technology.

It has Zoom private meetings for birthdays and education sessions for schools in Britain and around the globe to interact virtually with the elephants and learn about them.

Up to 250 people can be reached in a single session, giving children an insight into how elephants behave – and provide a new way to make money for Adventures with Elephants.

As schools in the UK begin to head back, this is no doubt a good educational learning experience for them after months of uncertainty.  

Families can also currently do self-drive tours of the farm in South Africa to see the elephants roaming rather than having to be taken out by Sean’s team.

Prices range from £26.72 to meet the herd of elephants for an adult to £29.39 to bathe with the animals.

A self drive around the estate is £13.

The business has started offering private Zoom meetings for birthdays and group sessions for schools in the UK and around the globe to interact virtually with the elephants and learn about them

The business has started offering private Zoom meetings for birthdays and group sessions for schools in the UK and around the globe to interact virtually with the elephants and learn about them

The business has started offering private Zoom meetings for birthdays and group sessions for schools in the UK and around the globe to interact virtually with the elephants and learn about them

Sean (middle) and the staff have, like so many businesses, learned to adapt and diversify during the pandemic. For Adventures with Elephants, visitor income goes directly towards feeding the herd

Sean (middle) and the staff have, like so many businesses, learned to adapt and diversify during the pandemic. For Adventures with Elephants, visitor income goes directly towards feeding the herd

Sean (middle) and the staff have, like so many businesses, learned to adapt and diversify during the pandemic. For Adventures with Elephants, visitor income goes directly towards feeding the herd

The firm has also relied on donations, asking people to give what they can whilst they adapt to the changes.

They have said that if 1,000 people can donate 200 Rand – equivalent to £8.98 – per month for the next 6 to 12 months, they will be able to survive.

This has been fairly successful but, fortunately, the park has recently been able to reopen, welcoming back visitors – albeit in much reduced numbers.

Whilst there used to be a maximum of 40 guests at one time, this has now been slashed to 20 at a time, in order to align with social distancing measures.

Mr Hensman plans to continue offering the virtual Zoom sessions in the future as a way to supplement income and continue spreading the word about conservation.

This is something he is passionate about with him and his wife both starring in a recent Channel 4 series called Work on the Wild Side, which focused on British people involved in animal conservation work in Africa.

Sean said: ‘I’ve never been a big one for having elephants on TV. Although it is an educational experience, I want people to engage with them and meet them face to face.  

‘However, we will continue with the virtual education as it has highlighted the power of being able to reach people around the world. 

‘We realised not everyone has the ability to learn about elephants and see them in the wild.’ 

Drusillas is a zoo in East Sussex that has had to diversify how it operates due to the pandemic

Drusillas is a zoo in East Sussex that has had to diversify how it operates due to the pandemic

Drusillas is a zoo in East Sussex that has had to diversify how it operates due to the pandemic

How have other tourism-led sites coped? 

It is not just Adventures with Elephants that have had to change the way they are run due to the coronavirus.

Theme parks are now unable to welcome as many visitors as they once did with Thorpe Park spacing out where people sit on rides in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.

At Disneyland Paris, customers over the age of 11 must wear a face covering everywhere around the park, except when eating.  

Drusillas Park, a zoo in East Sussex, is also now open but operating at less than 50 per cent capacity.

Cassie Poland, deputy managing director, said: ‘Our outdoor play areas will be open with a few pieces of equipment closed off. 

‘Our play equipment will be cleaned regularly, and it will be everyone’s responsibility to decide whether their child can use our play areas.

‘The play areas should be a lot less busy than usual but if at any time you feel an area of the Park is too busy, we ask that you avoid it and come back at a later time.’

Outside swimming areas have also had to chance they way it is run with Tooting Lido now asking guests to book a slot before arriving and wearing their swimwear ready to get in when they get there. 

Whilst they used to be able to spend time in the changing rooms and sunbathing on the green, this too has been stopped.  

Murder mystery parties have too had to adapt, taking their business online to Zoom, rather than acting out in person. 

This has led to parties being attended online by around 50 people at a time, as opposed to a usually much smaller number, to make up for the costs lost.  

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