A look back at 2020 - and a look forward to a brighter future
Our last tour returned from India in early March, just a couple of days before the Indian Government halted international flights. As the world went into lockdown, we set up our remote offices and focused on keeping our customers up to date and issuing refunds as required. Customer care has always been at the heart of what we do, and we are proud to say that everyone who had booked to travel with us in 2020 either received a full refund or chose to join the tour on new dates. Everyone affected was also given a bonus travel voucher to use against future tours.
Confined to our homes and with travel on hold, we busied ourselves finding new ways to keep connected. We had a really wonderful response to our virtual flower and quilt festivals, reminding us not only of the creativity of our audience, but also of the power of making. So many of you wrote of how quilting and flower arranging has brought you joy and peace this year. (You can see the shows here Quilt Festival, Flower Festival )
We got to grips with Zoom too, creating a series of Virtual Encounters with some of the many inspiring and knowledgeable people we work with. Our CEO Theresa McDermott chatted with our much-loved tour manager Graham Parker about the delights of the Netherlands and Belgium, and then hosted a conversation with Michael Bowyer MBE, SITA manager Farooq Kolu, and local SITA Tour Guides: Surinder Rajawat, Sudhir Agarwal, Dilip Chatwani and Shaju Mohan, all of whom shared their memories of WAFA 2020 and our tours. Kristell Darchy spoke to Dutch quilter Herma de Ruiter about all things thready and, as the year drew to a close, NAFAS Chair Katherine Kear and Area Demonstrator Di Smith helped to get us all in the Christmas spirit with their virtual Festive Flower Demonstrations. (All these encounters are available to view here.)
And, of course, we looked to the future, seeking out new destinations not only in Europe but also the Caribbean, India, Singapore, Malaysia, the USA and New Zealand, and researching inspiring new tour programmes ready for when the world opens up again. We know that our customers are travellers rather than just tourists. We know you want to know more about the places you’re staying in and spend time enriching your knowledge and learning new skills. With that in mind, we have spent the last months creating, in collaboration with our local partners, responsible, immersive, experiential tours that offer a range of carefully considered experiences such as hands-on workshops, personal guided visits and intimate conversations with experts.
This time has given us all the opportunity to reflect on our priorities, what is important to us and how we turn these objectives into our guiding steps for the future. For us that means ensuring that travelling with us will be a positive experience and a force for good at the destinations we visit. Our new tours offer opportunities to meet local people, experience their culture and gain insights into how they are managing their local environments, whether that is managing and sustaining the vibrancy of coral reef fish life in St Lucia, creating productive forest gardens in Kerala, or visiting some of Europe’s most innovative flower growers. We are also investigating how we can best off set the carbon emissions generated by our tours.
Coronavirus has changed the way we travel and we know that, now more than ever, you need to feel that you are in safe hands. A recent survey carried out by the consumer watchdog Which? highlighted serious problems with booking sites, including dubious refund policies and non-existent customer service, and advised “anyone looking to book a holiday to book a package holiday with a trusted tour operator.”
As a small and highly experienced tour operator, we can act swiftly to create holidays and short breaks that are both safe and enjoyable. We are on hand to answer your enquiries personally before you travel and, once you are away, our experienced Tour Managers are there to look after you. And, it goes without saying that we will always honour our obligations; where refunds are due we will continue to arrange these promptly.
This year we have missed the thrill of picking up our suitcases and setting off filled with excitement at the prospect of the energising new experiences ahead. The awe and wonder of taking in new scenery, discovering historic locations, tasting new foods and drinks, and experiencing local life. But the world is still out there to be discovered and, as we head into a new year with the promise of the freedoms a vaccine can bring, we can feel that excitement bubbling once more and we can’t wait to share it with you.
We wish you all a safe and peaceful Christmas and look forward to the hugs and holidays to come.