Closing thoughts on 2020

Closing thoughts on 2020

2020 – the year that was NOT what we expected or planned for

Entering 2020 on record high occupancy and revenue numbers, we anticipated a groundbreaking year! We had plans to renovate and relaunch two of our camps – Waterside Lodge and Chapungu Tented Camp, roll out a rebrand and make changes to our guest proposition.

But even the best laid plans can go awry – as they did for so many this year. Instead of realising all of our goals for 2020, we watched them wane and eventually diminish as the year wore on.

Instead what we got was the following:

  • Lockdown on 26th March and with it, the complete closure of all our lodges and furloughing of much of our team.
  • Four months of (not very) patient waiting before we were able to start reopening of lodges and bringing some of our team members back.
  • The implementation of a “Right Size” strategy to ensure business survival which meant an adjustment to the range of Thornybush lodges, aligned to anticipated short and medium term demand.
  • A gruelling restructure and retrenchment process that sadly saw us bidding farewell to many long-standing and much-loved team members.

It wasn’t all bad! There were some positives too

  • Some of our elderly team members benefited from a voluntary retrenchment package payout, which meant unexpected monies to help them through their retirement years.
  • Some of our team members were promoted to new lodges and/or roles, which means greater career development opportunities.
  • We also saw the most incredible support from South African guests, which was much better than what we could have ever anticipated, and for which we feel incredible appreciation and gratitude.
  • We managed to reopen three of our lodges in August – Saseka, Simbambili and Thornybush Game Lodge. With a further three lodges in November – Jackalberry, Nkelenga and Waterbuck, which will be used for sole-use/self-catering family groups and friends.

Looking ahead into the Festive Season and 2021

During lockdown things were not looking good, but from where we are now, we’re very happy to be able to share the following:

  • Our first international guests were recently welcomed at Game Lodge. The first brave travellers came in from Switzerland and there are more to look forward to, coming from England and Poland, as well as Americans currently living in Nigeria. We cannot wait to continue celebrating these international guests’ arrivals and stays.
  • We’re looking forward to more international borders opening with the COVID-19 vaccine, first launching in the UK and then rolling out globally. This has also meant that travel insurance is no longer mandatory and that PCR tests have become much easier to access and use.
  • We anticipate that the first quarter will remain quiet in terms of international travellers, with an upswing in the second quarter as internationals take up the opportunity of a pre-winter bush break. We’re expecting a busy second half of the year if the vaccine roll-out goes well, and there is no resurgence of COVID-19 outbreaks.

A word on our teams and greater community

Our team members are delighted to be back at work and excited to be hosting guests once again. I’ve been blown away this year by our huge-hearted team members, whom despite the curveballs of this year continue to have a massive capacity to care and serve; and in my opinion, remain our single biggest asset!

Beyond our lodges we remain committed to our local communities and have meaningful 2021 plans to assist in their revival too. We have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline for 2021, so keep in touch if you’d like to know more about what we’re doing in this space.

Message from the Chairman of our Board – Andy Payne

I would like to sincerely thank all those people who have supported our business and our people during these extraordinary times. We have been active during this difficult period to ensure that we are well positioned for the road ahead.

I must make a special mention to our wonderful staff who have shared a lot of the pain with us.

Wishes for the Festive Season

To end off

I’d like to wish you a peaceful festive season. Hold onto the hope (and even confidence) that the world will revive and be meaningfully better than 2020.

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…” – Alfred Tennyson

Thank you!

Joanne Dickson

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