Our Adventures In The Aftermath of Covid-19

Trekking in a post Covid world
'Social distancing' in the spectacular wilds of western Mongolia; carefree times indeed, but when can we reasonably expect them to return?

Updated May 15, 2022,

The last two years have been challenging to say the least! Now though, we are looking forward and planning for 2022, when at least some of you, will be keen to join me once again, and embark on one of our scheduled small group expeditions , or perhaps have us design that long awaited private adventure just for you, your family, or a close group of friends. Besides, like many of you by now, without some restorative adventure to finally look forward to, I'll go stark raving mad!
As such, we have recently updated a limited selection of small group expeditions that it should be possible to run, both safely and seamlessly, this year. These expeditions are open to all, and we will take deposits up front as usual. However, in the event that any expedition is unable to run, then they will be postponed, and your deposits transferred in full to the newly rescheduled trip without penalty. If there are mitigating circumstances that ultimately preclude your participation in the postponed trip in question, then we will fully credit your deposit against any other future trip, in perpetuity. The same flexible terms also apply to our custom-designed private trips.
For the forseeable future, we will also be limiting our expedition group sizes to just 7 guests, and selecting destinations where it will be possible to effectively manage testing requirements, proof of vaccination, and strict hygiene procedures for all of our crew. For private groups and families, maximum group sizes will understandably be more flexible.

So, should I be planning an adventure any time soon?

Well - in our experience, adventure has always been just as much about the anticipation as the journey, and so for many of us, there will be a powerful restorative and psychological boost in having an uplifting and inspiring adventure to look forward to. Furthermore, by planning, and ideally booking a trip today, you can help us give our local partners (most of whom have no safety nets to speak of), and their local communities, a little hope, as well as some tangible deposit funds to help tide them over these difficult times.

When do you expect things to fully re-open?

Obviously, we cannot operate in isolation, and the exact timing is still difficult to predict for some destinations e.g. Bhutan, but we are hopeful that by the Autumn of 2022, all our selected Asian destinations will have re-opened (this is already the case in Mongolia for example), probably in stages, and with the need to demonstrate proof of a recent negative test, and an approved vaccination, to enter the country.
We also need air travel to fully come back, which may happen regionally at first, and then internationally. A co-ordinated strategy, both on the part of various Asian countries, and some of the relevant international regulatory bodies (e.g. IATA/APAC) would also be helpful in order to create the framework for a standardized strategy to help mitigate fragmentation and confusion.

Will getting there be more of a fuss?

Probably, for the forseeable future at least. There will be temperature checks at airports, you will need to wear a mask to board a plane, and many destinations, as already mentioned, will require proof of a recent negative test and vaccination to enter the country. A co-ordinated approach, with standardized regional proceedures will probably work best, although this is probably wishful thinking. Given that we have always been first and foremost about creating extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime adventures though, we trust that whatever the increased level of inconvenience, we will make it all worthwhile when it is safe to do so.

Are you going to limit the size of your groups a small group?

I suspect that everyone will be different, but for the forseeable future, I suspect that some of you will probably seek out small-group experiences or private travel, to ensure that their fellow travelers are people they know well, see often, and feel safe around — their immediate or extended family, or a close community of friends.
At the very least, most will feel much safer joining a relatively small group, even of fully vaccinated travelers, and so for the forseeable future, all of our scheduled expeditions will be limited to just 7 guests. Many guests may also prefer to trek with relatively limited support, with the use of pack animals rather than porters for example, and so in the main, these are the type of expeditions we will be running in 2022.

Are some destinations likely to be safer than others?

While all of our adventures take place well off the beaten track, not all destinations will be viewed equally in the aftermath of Covid-19. Some countries such as Bhutan have had relatively few historical cases (at least outside of the major urban centres), and have very high vaccination rates, and so the virus is just not as significant a risk. It is also very easy to imagine shaking off covid induced claustrophobia amidst the pristine peaks of Bhutan, or indeed the big blue skies of Mongolia, and so these destinations have been purposely selected for 2022, as I am sure that they will appeal.
Fortunately, we also have deep expertise across several different destinations in Asia, so we can be nimble, and adjust our geographical focus in accordance with specific in-country developments, and changing client preferences.

What additional health precautions do you plan to take?

Firstly, with vaccinations mandatory for all team members to actually enter our trip destinations, in the unlikely event that anyone was to actually catch the virus, the chances of them going on to get seriously ill will essentially be taken off the table. Furthermore, we have also deliberately chosen destinations for 2022 where we can also confidently extract anyone if immediate medical treatment is required.
I am also a big believer in human ingenuity. As such, I expect there to be continuing advances in the availability of effective treatments, and even prophylactics, over the next few months. Crucially for example, progress is being made with anti-viral drugs that could be administered orally (such as the one being tested by Merck), and as soon as symptoms appear, which would be helpful in remote, expeditionary environments.
For all of our expeditions and private trips, we are also formulating even stricter protocols around hygiene for both clients and staff, including the meticulous cleaning of all equipment, and the safe preparation and serving of all meals. With the availability of ubiquitous low cost saliva testing kits, it may also be practical for us to rapidly test key members of our local support crew in a non-intrusive manner before embarking on an expedition. Importantly, we are also working on vaccinating all of our local crew as jabs become available in respective destinations. For example, in Bhutan and Mongolia, we can already guarantee that all our support staff are fully vaccinated.

How do I best insure myself, particularly for evacuations?

Having comprehensive travel insurance (that includes cover for emergency evacuations) has always been a strict pre-requisite for joining one of our scheduled expeditions. Typically we have tended to recommend specialist adventure trekking policies such as those offered by World Nomads, or alternatively best of breed generic options, such as AIG Travel Guard.
For the forseeable future though, clients may consider supplementing such policies with a specialist medical evacuation membership such as the one offered by GEOS, or trade up to secure one of the most comprehensive evacuation and insurance policies on the market, such as that provided by Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance. Either way, insurance costs are likely to go up, and while we always have contingency plans in place for any emergency evacuation, as well as a satellite device to activate them, for some people the extra layer of safety and protection provided by the policies of a medivac specialist will probably appeal in the future.

What about booking conditions going forward?

We are a small, specialist operator, with no technology layers between you and us. We also try to avoid the impenetrable legal speak typical of larger businesses, in favour of a flexible approach that personally considers each booking on a case by case basis, and works towards producing fair outcomes all around. For now, we are committed to 100% transferable deposits (or indeed full payments), in the event that any of our scheduled expeditions, or private custom trips, are unable to run due to Covid-related factors.
Given the logistical compexity of the unique adventures we offer, it is just not possible for us to operate without booking deposits, but we do promise that, wherever humanly possible, all deposits will be fully transferable towards any of our future trips, in perpetuity. Again due to the nature of our adventures, while we appreciate that shorter booking windows will be tempting for the forseeable future, it can be difficult for us to deliver trips at the very last minute. In most cases, we will need at least a few weeks to make the necessary arrangements.

Will you be changing the core focus of your operations?

No, not really. Uniquely-designed small group expeditions, and private trips, have always been our core focus. Indeed, we pride ourselves on creating and delivering extraordinary adventures; the kind that will probably appeal even more going forward. It is a highly specialist and personal approach, and one that is first and foremost about quality over volume, and deep experience over superficial knowledge. Our trips also create a backdrop for people to (re)connect with nature, and perhaps more importantly, themselves. For many clients, our expeditionary-style adventures can be incredibly restorative, even transformative, and so I am confident that more intrepid travelers will continue to seek them out, perhaps more than ever, as people become bolder in terms of reimagining the possibilities for their big annual getaways.
Likewise, in terms of sustainability, there are very few ways of traveling that are more sustainable than putting one foot in front of the other, and directly experiencing the places and people that we encounter along the way! Sadly though, for a variety of operational reasons, costs may have to increase (as they probably will across the entire travel industry).

And frankly, is Whistling Arrow going to survive?

Absolutely we are still standing! Our main assets have always been our loyal clients, who we strongly believe will continue to value our unique, private-guided, small group adventures, many of which you simply won't find anywhere else. We are also small, and nimble, with low fixed costs, and so can either hibernate, or spring into action as required. Deep, direct client relationships, and a highly-personalized approach matter at times likes these, so thank you for your support. We will definitely still be here, and raring to go, whenever you feel ready for some adventure once again. In the meantime, I will revert back to my trading screen!
If anyone has any follow up questions, please do let me know.