With travel still off the menu for so many of us, we caught up with a few of our favourite surf camps to find-out how the pandemic has effected them and plans for 2021 travel.
We spoke to Chicks on Waves founder Katrien Kegels (Portugal), The Surf Experience owner Toby Millage (Portugal), Paradis Plage marketing & communications manager Irene Gomez (Morocco), Salti Hearts founder Yeni Canelon (Bali, Java, Mentawai and Mexico) and The Yogi Surfer marketing director Tom Benzaquen (Morocco) to get a feel for things on the ground ….
How has your surf camp been affected by the pandemic?
Katrien: Normally we run our retreats from April – November but because of the pandemic instead of an 8 month season it fell back to a 3.5 month season which obviously had a direct impact on us financially. Last minute bookings and cancelations made it very difficult to plan accordingly and still keep the level of quality the same as the years before. Overall it was a lot of adjusting, rethinking and promoting to get our spots filled up every week which was very stressful and demanding … It felt like we were working 24/7 as things changed all the time.
Yeni: 2020 was supposed to be the busiest year for us at Salti Hearts as we had our new destinations retreats planned for Java, Mentawai for the second round and Mexico. However we only had a chance to have one retreat before the pandemic happened last year and have had to reschedule all our retreats from 2020 to 2021. It has been a difficult year for everybody, however for the travel / surf industry it has been really hard.
Irene: We have been deeply affected by the latest restrictions, particularly with the beach closure since we are extremely dependent on them. We closed for a few months during the confinement, but during summer we received a lot of local Moroccans who couldn’t travel abroad. We are now starting to get a few bookings from abroad and hopefully with the slow opening of some surf spots, we will start getting a little busier.
In what ways have you adjusted to the lack of travel in the last year?
Toby: Once the travel corridors opened in July 2020 we kicked our creative mojo into hyper drive to build new effective and super positive ways of operating on the beach, with catering and socialising. It was actually pretty dope. So dope that a lot of the new levels will remain in place forever.
Due to the UK and Scando markets and regulars being locked out for the guts of the 2020 season, it opened up brand new areas, nationalities and rockstars of which we were delighted to embrace. Some super cool new Amigas and Amigos on the Surf Experience liquid dreams train! Regrettably we lost practically all of our specialist female weeks including Madtolive with Sophie Everard but the Surf Skate & Culture week from Sweden somehow managed to fly in at the beginning of October. The conditions fired – hallelujah! It felt like a big win.
Tom: We offered full privatisation of The Yogi Surfer Boutique Hotel for groups in order to adjust to the lack of travel. So local groups took the whole building for yoga retreats and this did help us. Regarding surf travellers, we managed to bring them to some places where beaches were still accessible since only Agadir beaches were closed.
Irene: We have been adapting our offer for a public that wasn’t so focused on a beach holiday but more of a family holiday, enjoying the pool and other activities in the area. We did have some surf travellers and we managed to get them to the surf spots further north or south of the coast.
Katrien: In Portugal we rely on foreign tourists traveling from abroad. So we started by making our single room packages more enticing as solo travellers prefer now to have a room to themselves instead of sharing. Shared rooms are still available but only with one other lady. As friends you can still have the option to share a twin or triple room. We also now offer the option to rent the whole villa for groups and families till the start of the retreats which we never did before. We’re also now selling an apparel line with sustainable sweaters and hoodies in collaboration with local designers. The plan is to launch a webshop linked to our website soonish so keep an eye out for that!
What are your hopes and predictions for travel in 2021?
Yeni: We believe that after a big storm the calm and sunshine will rise. It has been a long, hard, painful and really strange time for everybody…however there is a silver lining and there is positive to come out of this hard period. We hope for the world to be much safer and conscious, where we can take every minute of everyday as a precious moment to embrace. Traveling will become such an exiting experience and luxury that it will encourage people to create unforgettable memories. This pandemic has made us realise how lucky we are to have the ocean as our playground and live a life focused on surfing, yoga and wellness and we can’t wait to welcome back our Salti ladies.
Tom: We think that the situation might be quite difficult until October 2021. Right now predictions are not the best because of what is happening in Europe and the border closures. But we have to remain positive and we are sure that once everything is over, tourism is going to be even better than before due to those restrictions. People really want to travel.
Toby: This year we hope that the season can start in some way from Easter. Even if it kicks off in May then we are still two months ahead of 2020. We are totally dependant on when international travel will open again so are slightly pensive but confident for a solid second half of the 2021 season. In the meantime, since last year, we’ve put in place community based groups with huge kids days which then brought us mums and dads days followed by mates, nomads and independent young guns. When the beaches are open for schools again we will immediately kick this off whilst we wait for the airlines to open up. What we do know is that we have never been more prepared for a season ever and we absolutely cannot wait to welcome you all back!
After reading what the surf camps have to say we say good luck for 2021 guys and we can’t wait to be travelling once again. Fingers crossed we will see you all soon! The SurfGirl Team