Travel During Covid: Behind the Scenes with Our Trip Planners
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Travel During Covid: Behind the Scenes with GeoEx Trip Planners

By Don George | April 13, 2021

A sea of sand dunes seen from a safari flight over Namibia

Meeting challenges to create seamless travel experiences has been our passion at GeoEx for 39 years. Although the past year has presented entirely new obstacles, our experienced team has approached them with the same determination and creativity learned through decades of managing journeys during shifting political situations and natural disasters, always putting the traveler first.

Complications associated with the Covid-19 pandemic have made travel arrangements more challenging than ever before, with new entry requirements, testing and safety protocols, shifting flight schedules, border closures, and contingency plans all needing to be monitored daily.

Moving forward, using an experienced company to organize and manage travel will be essential. Talking about this informally with staffers has made me realize just how much work happens behind the scenes for a GeoEx trip, and so I decided to ask our travel planners and trip managers what kinds of feats they’re pulling off to get intrepid travelers out roaming the world again.

Changing Plans (The Theme of the Year)

“A week or so before their departure, two of my clients heading to southern Africa had to abruptly change their plans. They still wanted to take the trip, but they had to postpone by a couple of weeks. We sprang into action and were able to completely recreate their itinerary with just a couple of weeks to spare. This was a multi-country itinerary with multiple internal flights, and everything had to match up: flight schedules, Covid testing in between countries, and all original camps/lodges/private vehicles had to be available. This required an enormous amount of work and coordination, and the guests were so happy and appreciative!”
–Jessica Silber, GeoEx Trip Designer

A leopard walks through grassland in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

“Recently we’ve had lots of flight cancellations and we have been diligent in obtaining refunds, finding alternate flight routing options, and doing everything possible to get our guests to the places they want to visit. Handling these changes and the reissuance of airline tickets requires LOTS of patience and sometimes more than hour-long hold times to resolve with the airlines.”
–Sabrina Middleton and Esther Hsu, GeoEx Air Team

“Much of my work this past year has been rescheduling trips for people. This isn’t glamorous, but of course, it’s essential. Some trips I’ve had to reschedule two times, or even three times! It’s a lot of hard work—but it’s so sweet when these trips happen, and our travelers are able to get back out into the world again!”
–Natalie Crow, GeoEx Trip Designer

Ensuring Traveler Safety

“We have been working tirelessly and rigorously with all of our suppliers to get the proper Covid protocols in place. This involves everything from securing vehicles whose windows can be rolled down, to making sure that we have more vehicles than usual so that there are fewer guests per vehicle, to ensuring that PPE and hand sanitizer are readily available and being used, to confirming that lodges, camps, and restaurants are not serving food buffet-style. We have set up testing appointments in-country as needed for group departure guests about to go into the field on multiple-country trips.”
–Edwin D’Haens, GeoEx Groups Team

“For all of my guests heading to southern Africa, I’ve arranged all of their in-country Covid tests. In Botswana, this means we make arrangements for the tests to fly to them—by helicopter!—so they can get their swab without having to interrupt their safari or travel beyond their camp at all.”
–Jessica Silber, GeoEx Trip Designer

“I had guests who wanted to travel during the holidays, so we adjusted their arrangements to be safer during Covid. We added vehicles so they could have more personal space and arranged for guides to get Covid tests before the clients arrived. We even set up a private helicopter and early-bird tour of Chichén Itzá so they could skip some of the crowds. They loved it!”
–Natalie Crow, GeoEx Trip Designer

El Castillo step pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico

A Word About Testing

“GeoEx staff are on top of all of the testing requirements. We spell them all out in the final documents, and we help guests troubleshoot when they are looking for testing facilities before departing the US. Some of the requirements we’re constantly monitoring include:

  • Do you need to download or register with an app?
  • Do you need PCR test results, or is antigen (rapid) OK?
  • Do you need it printed before you board the plane, or is a mobile copy OK?
  • Do you need to be prepared to be tested on arrival?
  • Do results return in 24, 48, or more hours?
  • What’s the earliest date and time you should plan to take your test?

In-country, we arrange all of the testing, so guests do not have to locate international labs and worry about getting test results, or worry about questions like:

  • How will they access this lab?
  • When does the lab guarantee turnaround time?
  • Is local currency needed to pay for the test?
  • Do you need PCR test results, or is antigen (rapid) OK?
  • Do you need it printed before you board the plane, or is a mobile copy OK?
  • Do you need to be prepared to be tested on arrival?
  • Do results return in 24, 48, or more hours?
  • What’s the earliest date and time you should plan to take your test?”

–Jessica Silber, GeoEx Travel Designer

Protecting Your Investment

“I think the biggest benefit of booking with GeoEx right now is the lengths we go to on our guest’s behalf to ensure their financial investment. Times are unusual right now and while many properties/airlines are willing to be flexible, it makes all the difference to have us on the guest’s side doing the negotiations behind the scenes so they don’t have to! We get to take care of the less fun parts of their vacation so that they can focus on the positives.”
–Kim Keating, GeoEx Trip Designer

“For a client who suddenly made a last-minute decision to just go, we arranged complicated flights to the Maldives six weeks before her departure. A few weeks later, we noticed the airfare had suddenly decreased significantly. We immediately handled the new reservation and ticketing and obtained a refund for her, ultimately saving her $1,700. She was delighted when we gave her this good news. It’s just one example of how we’re always looking out for the best interests of our guests.”
–Sabrina Middleton and Esther Hsu, GeoEx Air Team

An aerial view of aqua waters and white sand beach, Maldives

The GeoEx Experience

“We offer a really personal experience. We are living, breathing people who miss travel as much as our travelers. I think people really do appreciate this—when they are thinking about booking a new trip, they want to do it with someone they trust, who has their back, and will go to bat for them—and they know we do, and we will!

“This year I hand-wrote and mailed thank you cards to our loyal clientele. What better way to express my appreciation? Honestly, we would not have made it through this pandemic without a lot of our clients who continued to book trips this year. I get emotional thinking about it! I got a lot of great replies from folks who said how much they appreciated the gesture. I think this is an example of the kind of simple, but personal, touch that our travel advisors offer, and one that sets us apart because we care!”
–Natalie Crow, GeoEx Trip Designer

“We LOVE to arrange surprises in the field. This ranges from something small (upgrading their vehicles or hotel rooms) to bigger surprises like scenic helicopter flights. I think we get as much of a thrill from planning the surprise as the guests do in receiving the surprise!”
–Kim Keating, GeoEx Trip Designer

A helicopter flies over the Okavango Delta, Botswana

“Every member of our air team has more than 25 years of personal experience with air ticketing and the deep regional knowledge and airline expertise that comes with such longevity. Sometimes our guests would like to see the flights, aircraft, seating configuration, flight duration, and costs associated with their airline travel before committing to taking a trip with us. We are happy to provide complete details to anyone at any stage of their booking process with us.”
–Sabrina Middleton and Esther Hsu, GeoEx Air Team

The New Face of Travel

“As things start to slowly open up again, I’ve loved hearing about the experience of guests and colleagues in the field. One of our star guides was in the Ngorongoro Crater the other week and saw only four other vehicles, which is incredible! Usually, you’re competing with 100 times as many vehicles. It’s a spectacular time to be on safari. Wildlife has been flourishing and you get to enjoy the spoils of this without the crowds. And this is feedback we’ve heard from around the world—sites that are normally packed with people are suddenly empty. It’s a magical time to explore without going elbow to elbow with throngs of other tourists.

A herd of elephants crosses a dirt road in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

“Because of the levels of trust that our guests need to have in us, it’s made working together feel even more personal, and I think that has helped us plan better trips, too. Planning a dream trip has never been impersonal, but more than ever, we need to speak candidly about concerns, health, and safety nets. I think that personal touch goes both ways and extends from the planning phase all the way into the field. Nearly all of my guests have sent me photographs from their trips, excited anecdotes by email once they get back to their hotel, or called after the trip to check in and share memories. It almost feels like I took the trip, too—we are all so invested in it!”
–Jessica Silber, GeoEx Travel Designer

* * * * *

I recall many people asking me during the past year “What does a travel company do when no one is traveling?” My colleagues’ replies show that there has been plenty to keep them occupied with rescheduling, researching, and preparing the way for the first guests to sate their yearning to travel again. As we begin to navigate this new travel landscape, I invite you to make use of their expertise and leave the hard work to them, so you can get back to the simple joys of travel.

* * * * *

To learn more about travel possibilities or to start planning your adventure, give our trip designers a call at 888-570-7108.

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