I’m pretty sure everyone reading this is well aware of the extraordinary damage this pandemic has caused our industry and the many millions who rely on vibrant tourism.

I’m writing this on January 3, 2021. It’s been nearly a year since, by and large, we all shut down our activities. Many of us remember vividly the downturns after 9/11 and the 2008/2009 economic crisis. We probably thought at the time that it would be near impossible for anything to be worse. But this is far worse and, while there is hope that the second half of this year will show recovery, the price that will have been paid globally is almost unfathomable.

I’m often asked how I’m doing. How are we managing with 9 dormant ships and a new one due later this year. Clearly it’s bad, really bad; lots of expenses and zero income. But we have so many tools at our disposal to help manage—we will hurt a great deal but we will not die. And we have every reason to believe we will come roaring back. So, when asked how I am doing, I change the conversation and say, “a lot better than so many others.”

The stories, if you look, come streaming in: individual stories of a fisherman, an artisan, a farmer—all dependent on what seemed a never-ending flow of business.

Roberto Haro moved to Galápagos from mainland Ecuador in 1977, when the islands were sparsely populated and rarely visited. The few tourists who did reach Galápagos were mainly on tour boats, as there was no infrastructure in the towns, and to get to know the other islands Roberto became one of the first Ecuadorian Galápagos naturalist guides working on these boats. Gradually, more tourists came to the islands and interest in land-based options rose. This inspired Roberto and his family to turn their small home into a hostel, built entirely of lava rock. “La Fortaleza de Haro” finally opened its doors to the world in 2014. The warmth and love poured into the small, family-run hostel was evident in the glowing reports from their guests.

In March 2020, the pandemic brought tourism to the Galápagos to an abrupt halt, and left the Haros with empty rooms, no income and mounting debts and anxiety. Their future is bleak, since tourism was all they knew, tourism was their lives. Despite this, the love they feel for these islands, where their dreams came true and their children were raised, remains undiminished. They are hanging on with all their might, waiting for better times.

“This pandemic might have closed the doors of tourism to the world for some time, but our love for this magical place and our desire to share with the world keeps growing. Our doors remain open and we are determined to return stronger than ever.” – Roberto Haro

Roberto is but one of millions of people around the globe who have a similar story, and most of them have families so, ultimately, it’s hundreds of millions affected.

So, what can be done about this? How can we, as a company, and you, find creative ways to help these people? It’s not just kindness I’m talking about, it’s investment in the people and the places that we, in the travel industry, rely upon to send our visitors.

I’ll give you an example. Our company, Lindblad Expeditions, has two ships permanently in the Galápagos. We’ve been operating there our entire existence, and in a sense, the people of Galápagos feel like an extension of our family. Over 80% of all jobs in Galápagos are dependent on tourism. It’s an unmitigated disaster. The government is sufficiently strapped that it can only do so much.

We came up with an idea to create a fund which we are calling the Galápagos Island Relief Fund: https://www.islandconservation.org/galapagos-island-relief-fund/.

Our goal is to raise at least $500,000 and use these funds to provide $500 - $5,000 loans with very easy terms. Once repaid, the loan money will be recirculated so the Fund will live on and perhaps even grow beyond the pandemic. We went out to our guests who travelled to Galápagos asking for their support, with three matching $50,000 grants from Lindblad Expeditions, from our Board of Directors and from my wife’s and my charitable fund. In a matter of days our guests contributed over $100,000, so we are well on the way to reaching our target.

Here’s how it works: donations received by the Galápagos Island Relief Fund are administered by Island Conservation, a 501c3 non-profit organization based in the US. These donations will enable Fundación Un Cambio Por La Vida (FUNCAVID), a local Galápagos-based non-profit organization, to disseminate micro-loans to help the people of the Galápagos recover from this crisis.

The funds will provide immediate financial relief and support community enterprises and initiatives including, local entrepreneurship and strengthening of existing businesses; sustainable food production for food security; emergency aid for vulnerable families to meet basic living costs; and connectivity/hardware for the continuation of education for young people.

In order for us to be successful in Galápagos, the people who live there and the ecosystem must be successful. What we need is a global pact where we, as enterprises, together with our travelers can find creative ways to support the wider network of needs when crisis emerges. In other words, we must really look for ways we can support those without safety nets, whose well-being is ultimately necessary for ours.

This is the time—never been one like it—and hopefully there never will be again. Travelers, companies, places —think of it as a triangle where benefits flow in all directions. Our businesses will never be successful in a degraded world, and the more creative we can become as an industry, the greater the likelihood of securing our future. We need healthy communities, vibrant coral reefs, wildlife and natural systems in balance. COVID-19 is a long experience as far as we are concerned, but a mere blip in the context of universal time. We will always have challenges to work on and the more we engage head-on with them, the greater the likelihood of our being able to effect destiny rather than just be handed it.

© TravelPulse, 2020

"This pandemic might have closed the doors of tourism to the world for some time, but our love for this magical place and our desire to share with the world keeps growing.’"

More From Sven

This is the fourth installment of Exploring with Sven published on TravelPulse, but there will be more coming so keep your eyes out in future months for more insight and advice from the CEO of Lindblad Expeditions!

Learn More About Lindblad Expeditions

View Next Article

Sven Lindblad

CEO, Lindblad Expeditions

Sven-Olof Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, was born in Switzerland, son of renowned expedition travel pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad. In 1979 he founded Special Expeditions (now Lindblad Expeditions), a specialist in expeditions by ship to the world’s wildest and most charismatic geographies. In 2004, Lindblad entered into an alliance with National Geographic with a mission to inspire curious, intelligent people to explore and care about the planet.

Tourism In Crisis - Becoming A Safety Net

by Sven Lindblad, CEO, Lindblad Expeditions

"Our businesses will never be successful in a degraded world, and the more creative we can become as an industry, the greater the likelihood of securing our future."