Covid-19 hit unexpectedly. No one had time to think, prepare, or ask questions. What were the initial conversations had during this time, and how did you respond to the madness in those first few critical weeks?
Josh: Considering travel/tourism would be the first industry affected, I immediately thought about how I would continue to put food on the table, pay my mortgage and cover any other bills. Not to mention, my first child was born the same day Scott Morrison stood up in front of the nation and introduced the new lockdown rules. Another huge and immediate priority was our clients and their bookings. We had to contact each and every operator to discuss what options we could present to our clients, and make sure we were offering them the support they needed. Then, we individually reached out to all of our clients via a personal phone call, to start the booking amendment process.
To this day we are flying blind - we have just as much information as the general public about when things will go back to normal. But, we have tried to keep our finger on the pulse as much as possible, reacting to global announcements and implementing changes if necessary to stay updated.
Steve: The early weeks of the global shutdown back in March were the most challenging in the business’ 23-year history. I was in the Maldives meeting with our operators and I had my wife and 2-year-old with me. Suddenly, we were scrambling to get home before the borders shut, and when I got home it was straight in to 2-week quarantine. This was before Zoom meetings became the norm, so trying to work through everything remotely was extremely difficult. With so much uncertainty, all we could do was focus on presenting the options provided to us by our operators, to those clients immediately affected. Our team did an incredible job working under a huge amount of pressure, and our clients were overwhelmingly supportive and understanding throughout.
From a strategy and planning perspective, we realized early on that all we could do was be as adaptable as possible. The ever-changing environment meant that plan A, B, and C often became redundant within a matter of hours. The only unchanging aspect of our strategy over the past 8 months has been to look after our clients and partners as best we can.
With so many challenges, pressures and expectations to manage and overcome, what has been the biggest lesson learnt this year?
Josh: Personally, I’ve realized a good work life balance is the key to happiness. All the ‘work from home’ guidelines have allowed me to spend quality time with my son and see his progression every day. Instead of being at the office and driving to and from meetings, I’ve been able to work remotely from my laptop with him sitting on my lap!
On the business side of things. I don’t think there’s any bigger challenge you could throw our way. I’ve learnt that our team is more passionate, loyal and resilient than I realized. Despite copping abuse from all angles through no fault of their own, they continue showing up for World Surfaris, our clients and our operators.
Steve: We have an incredible team. We have incredibly loyal and understanding clients. We have an amazing network of partners and operators with a shared passion for surf travel and the clients we serve. This experience has reinforced what I’ve always seen in the broader World Surfaris “family”, but maybe not appreciated as much as I should have.
What are some of the achievements World Surfaris has celebrated as a result of all the research, development and innovation?
Josh: We have successfully operated three research surf charters to the Great Barrier Reef including one with The Mad Hueys, and are confident these trips will be a very realistic option now, and in the future. We’ve also launched the biggest surf travel competition we’ve ever done, called the Golden Passport. Anyone who enters stands a chance to win 3 free surf trips, and also gains access to some of the best surfing-based subscription services on the market.
Steve: The work that Josh has spearheaded regarding the Great Barrier Reef has been very exciting, and is definitely reflective of our position as the world’s most innovative surf travel company. I like to think this sets the groundwork for more R&D once we’re able to travel internationally again, which keeps us dreaming of exciting new destinations to send our clients to (as well as all the old favourites!) There are a few other initiatives in the background which we hope to see come to fruition over the next few months.
Nearly 8 months on, the surf travel industry is still among the most affected due to Covid-19, with border closures and quarantine measures limiting travel options in most countries around the world. What does World Surfaris future look like with this in mind and what is the game plan moving forward into 2021?
Josh: Going into hibernation is not an option for World Surfaris. We could very easily sit back and wait for this to blow over, BUT we are instead seeking new opportunities and trying to better World Surfaris and continually improve. Pioneering domestic surf expeditions is just one goal. We have also put a real focus on delivering regular content that resonates with our audience, and have developed relationships in the surf industry with partners such as The Mad Hueys, JS Surfboards, Swellnet and Garage Entertainment, just to name a few. We have also decided to continue working on our surf events. World Surfaris operates the Byron Bay Surf Festival, the Noosa Festival of Surfing and in 2021 we will be running the inaugural SUP Festival at Mooloolaba Beach on the Sunshine Coast.
This is all in an attempt to keep World Surfaris top of mind so when we can operate normally, we are in a strong position to do so.
Steve: World Surfaris has been a market leader for the last 23 years, and we will do everything we can to be here for the next 23 years. So, whilst we’re adapting to this ever-changing environment, working on our domestic offering and curating content to keep our audience frothing for their next surf adventure, we’re also working on improving our business channels to ensure we’re presenting an even better service to our clients and operators in 2021 and beyond. Being the world’s most innovative surf travel company does not just entail presenting exciting new destinations to our clients, it also means always striving to offer a better service, a better experience to our clients and partners.