Wondering what it is like to travel internationally during COVID-19? A loyal guest of ours shared his experience traveling to Tanzania with his family on an African safari. Yet, despite the rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19, our well-traveled guests navigated safely to and from, and had a once in a lifetime, truly private setting of living with the wonders of Africa’s wildlife.
1. Why did you choose to travel during this time?
For our family, travel and the experiences it provides plays a big part in our lives. While our travel plans have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our love of travel and desire to explore was not. So, the choice to travel at this time was more about opportunity and the stability of that opportunity. With Tanzania’s approach being consistent since it first reopened its borders and it being on our list, the current situation provided a great opportunity to see the country without the normal crowds and at a lower than normal cost. Secondarily, we recognize that for many people around the world, tourism is the backbone of their economic well-being, and we believe it is important for people to start traveling again to help support a global economic recovery.
2. What was your biggest concern prior to booking the trip?
Our biggest concern prior to booking was the potential for travel requirements to change at any time before departure in a way that would impact our ability to make the trip and cause us to lose the deposit money. We already have a considerable amount of money tied up in trips that may or may not happen, and we were reluctant to tie up even more.
3. What was your biggest concern after booking the trip?
Obviously, the concern outlined in 2 carried forward. In addition to the potential loss of deposit money, our biggest concern after booking and through until arriving back home was the potential impact (e.g., cancellation of the trip, last minute reschedule, quarantine requirements, inability to repatriate) of changes to international travel policies before or during our trip.
4. How hard was it to find appropriate flight routings?
While there were not as many options as normal, we were able to find a couple of workable flight routings. We ended up going with Qatar Airlines based on the consistency of their approach and quality of their product. We did have one flight change causing a longer layover in Qatar, but the rest of our trip went as scheduled. We were very happy with Qatar Airlines and would recommend them to anyone traveling right now.
5. What did you experience en route to Tanzania?
Obviously, there are new mask policies in place for flights and airports everywhere. Outside of this, airports and security lines were significantly less crowded which made travel quite easy. Airport services are a bit more limited with some restaurants and lounges not operating, but with the light crowds these limitations didn’t impact our travel experience. On arrival in Tanzania, we had a temperature check and one additional form covering recent medical history as it relates to potential COVID-19 exposure. Otherwise, entry was very quick and easy.
6. What COVID-19 protocols did you experience during your time in Tanzania?
All camps had temperature checks when you first arrived, and one did them daily. Masks were not required for game drives or when outside in common areas. There were hand wash stations located in all common areas in the camps and hand sanitizer was readily available if you wanted to use it. For the few camps with other guests, group dinners were only done if everyone was comfortable, otherwise the policy is private dining for all guests.
Since we were often the only guests in the camp, we effectively had no mask requirements. Upon arrival we let each camp manager know that we were comfortable with the staff wearing or not wearing masks at their discretion, after which almost everyone chose not to wear one. To us, this was nice as everyone seemed more comfortable. From what we could tell from conversations and what we observed in other game vehicles, this seems to be the common practice of most travelers.
7. How was your entrance to the country impacted? Did you experience longer wait times, etc?
We flew business class and were the first people off the plane, so we didn’t experience longer wait times. In fact, the decreased number of flights meant that we were through immigration in less than 15 min from the time the plane doors opened. For other passengers, there may have been slightly longer wait times, but from what we observed any delay would have been minimal and more than likely offset by the decreased overall passenger volume.
8. Being an experienced traveler and having been to Africa before, how did your experience in the bush differ from previous trips?
I’ve referenced some of this above, but overall our experience in Tanzania was fantastic. The biggest difference, was that we were able to visit the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, etc. with extremely low crowd levels. We went entire days in the Serengeti without seeing another vehicle, and the most vehicles we ever saw in one place was at a large crossing and there were only 5 other vehicles. Essentially it felt like a private safari on a private reserve. Outside of the lower crowd level, the experience in the bush was unaffected. For individuals able and willing to make this trip now, the overall experience is fantastic.
Our experience in the camps was great. Everyone was inviting and friendly, and very accommodating. We were often the only guests in the camp and when other guests were there, it was only one other couple or individual. So the camps felt like private camps with no impact on the level of service or quality of food.
While we did not have any impacts to our internal flights, we did talk to another couple who mentioned having to rearrange their trip a bit about a week before they traveled due to changes in internal flight transfers. For us, the impact was that our 2 shared charters became private charters as we were the only passengers.
9. Is there anything you felt you missed out on during this trip due to COVID-19 protocols and restrictions?
We enjoy community visits when possible, but if anything, the overall experience was enhanced due to the private feel.
10. How, if at all, would you have prepared differently for this trip after having taken it?
We would have potentially worried a bit less about the potential for Tanzania to change its entry requirements. It was clear from traveling around the country that Tanzania has taken a very practical approach to balancing protecting public health while managing its economy, and Tanzanians seem to be fully supportive of the government’s approach. With hindsight, our bigger concerns would be potential changes impacting transit to/from Tanzania and re-entry to the US.
11. What would be your advice to traveler who are thinking about traveling, but aren’t quite sure?
Advice is hard to give now because much of any individual’s decision will be based on their personal risk tolerance given the current environment. But below are some of the key things for us with hindsight.
Qatar Airlines was a great overall experience, particularly in business class. Their cancellation and change policies right now are also very generous and help remove much of the overall risk of travel.
While statistics for Tanzania do not exist since they do not test, you can extrapolate from surrounding countries, and based on this, your overall exposure potential is less than most of the US or Europe. When you factor in being in the bush with exposure to limited numbers of staff and other guests, your potential for exposure is drastically lower than going to the grocery store at home, for example.
The country relies on tourism and is eager to see tourists return. This serves to enhance the overall service level as everyone is going the extra mile to ensure the best possible guest experience.
For travelers comfortable with the risks of travel, the ability to experience Tanzania with very low crowd levels during peak season is a truly unique opportunity and one that for us was absolutely worth the challenges and any additional stress associated with traveling now.