Suyin Lee year in review

2021: A Year in review

By Suyin Lee

Who would have thought way back in March 2020 that we’d still be talking about the travel industry getting back on the road to recovery? It has been a bumpy ride, for sure, for many in the industry.

It has been disheartening to see so many businesses struggle to make ends meet. Unfortunately, many companies and enterprises have not managed to survive the hardship wrought upon tourism by the pandemic.

At Discova, we were fortunate to have a robust and stable base. Our financial security has meant we have been able to weather the storm, consistently support our partners, and, in fact, look to invest and innovate to prepare for the future. We move forward into 2022, not only surviving – but thriving.

It seems, finally, that with vaccination programmes ongoing and with borders opening up, that we can look ahead to 2022 with renewed optimism. Our 7-day cancellation policy, implemented way back in the summer of 2020, remains in place, allowing customers to book with confidence going into 2022.

For everybody in the industry’s sake, I hope that we can look forward to a prosperous year where travellers everywhere can rediscover the magical experiences waiting for them.

Let’s reflect on the past year at Discova.

Contents

planting seeds year in review
Planting organic seeds in Manggis, Bali

Taking Care of Our Communities

One of our founding principles is to commit to a ‘local-first’ approach. We try to celebrate the local people in our communities in everything we do – whether through the people we employ, the guides we work with, or the experiences and products we offer.

The disruption of tourism naturally presented a challenging situation for some of our local people. The abrupt cessation of travellers put immense strain on already fragile local economies. Our relied-upon flow of income from travellers meant we needed to find other ways to support our colleagues and partners across our destinations.

We could not simply abandon our responsibilities to these communities.

local lady Om Goi
A lady wearing traditional dress in Om Goi

In Om Goi, Thailand, we continued to do what we could through donations to support the villages. It was identified that a water filtration tank was urgently needed – the contaminated water in some villages led to many health issues among the people there.

Our response? We organised fundraising activities in November, walking 10,000 km across 10 days collectively worldwide, and managed to secure the necessary funding, thanks to the generosity of our partners and friends. The people of Om Goi will have their filtration tank early next year.

In Mai Chau, Vietnam, there are systemic issues relating to children’s education. Families are forced to make hard choices over keeping their kids in school. With many factors affecting their decisions, many bright kids are taken out of school to help with the workload at home.

Discova initiated a scholarship programme, in conjunction with the village elders as always, to offer financial help to five gifted students to cover schooling for two years, with a view to expanding the project in the future.

And finally, in Manggis, Bali, farmers there requested our help to implement more sustainable farming practices.

Having already assisted the villagers with an irrigation project, our teams in Indonesia set about coordinating specialist guidance. They helped set up organic rice crops and secure a supply chain to sell their farm-to-table products to local hotels.

What’s more, in Manggis, a local women’s group, seeing the work we had done with the rice planting, approached us for help setting up a separate project. Traditionally, within Indonesian villages, many women are subjugated, with duties confined to the home. They are often unable to participate in leading roles within the community.

This is changing, and we worked with a local enterprise that helps enable women to step into these previously forbidden roles. The women of Manggis have started their own organic vegetable garden, thus creating another valuable product for the village.

This is the start of a blossoming partnership with the entrepreneurial residents of Manggis, with exciting plans on the horizon. But, more of that below.

Mai Chau
The glorious scenery of Mai Chau, Vietnam

Exciting New Product

I am thrilled about the exciting development in Manggis. We have confirmation of a new glamping experience that will welcome visitors in the summer of 2022. We are delighted to be inviting travellers to this hub of sustainable travel experiences in a glorious East Bali location.

Guests will sleep under the canvas of a comfortable tent, waking up each morning to breathtaking views across the Balinese countryside from their hilltop location. More than this, these tented camps will be the focal point for a range of immersive activities learning about the lives of the nearby villagers, their culture and traditions, and their sustainable farming practices.

Travellers will get hands-on experience practising various skills, including Balinese wine-making, cooking, basket-weaving, and general farming tasks. They will also go on adventurous excursions out into the jungle. Travellers can look for magical waterfalls by bicycle or hike along winding nature trails alongside lush, green rice paddies.

In the evening, return to the camp to eat traditional Balinese cooking with the hosts in the on-site restaurant using ingredients grown within the village.

This is a fascinating new step for us and a blueprint that we will be looking to replicate elsewhere across our destinations.

Besides this intriguing development, our product teams have been working hard across our destinations to innovate our range of experiences, always looking for unique ways for travellers to discover these beautiful places.

At the heart of this is our Local Life range. We recognise that it is increasingly important for travellers to establish meaningful connections with the places they are visiting.

This closely aligns with our belief that the best way to understand a country is through communicating with its people. That’s why we have introduced a whole new range of activities that allows for human interaction between travellers and hosts, to learn their stories and gain valuable insights into how they live.

Local Life Tours in Cambodia
One of our local life experiences in Cambodia

We also updated and released four new brochures earlier this year. After a successful launch in 2018, we released an updated version of our Women in Travel range.

This range celebrates experiences that feature female business owners, guides, and experts from the communities we work in. Our Women in Travel experiences can be found in 12 of our destinations, with more plans in the pipeline to expand, proactively supporting women in our industry.

natural dyeing workshop
A natural dyeing workshop, ran by women for women in Indonesia

Another new release this year came in the form of our luxury travel brochure. In this, we have several example itineraries across our destinations that showcase high-end accommodation options and experience suppliers. Due to our longstanding relationships with these partners, we can present these options at affordable prices.

Furthermore, our tailor-made travel team are on hand to make these trips fully customisable depending on traveller interests. They can rely on a whole host of Discova-exclusive experiences to sprinkle in that something special. View some of these experiences in our updated ‘inspiration’ brochures for Asia and the Americas.

Our product teams have worked hard this past year to consistently create fantastic itineraries with experiences that help travellers get to the heart of a destination. That hard work will continue into next year as we strive to craft products designed to inspire. All that’s left is for travellers to come and enjoy them!

Investment

Far from standing still, we know we need to invest to ensure that our services are as efficient and convenient for partners as possible. Part of this means preparing for a tech-oriented future in which our partners can access what they need through increasingly online mediums.

That’s why we have introduced our new online booking platform – Discova Connect. This simple, easy-to-use service allows partners to book day tours, transfers, and hotels through a convenient interface.

Agents can jump on there and quickly generate quotes whenever they need, hopefully lightening their workload. Yet, we’re still just a click away for support – our tailor-made team are there for more complicated requests and to help wherever and whenever they are needed.

Discova Connect

This is just the first step of our tech investment – we plan to expand and improve upon Discova Connect and will be listening to partner feedback on how best to optimise the service in the future.

Ongoing Support

Over the past two years, companies have had to face the problematic consequences of what prohibited travel and closed borders have meant for employees.

Of course, we have seen people leave the business.

As Managing Director, I feel my responsibility is more pronounced in times of hardship. Therefore, through the painful partings that the pandemic rendered inevitable, we took care to ensure that departing staff were well compensated. We felt it was imperative to provide funds for parting colleagues and friends to help them establish some other enterprises.

We have maintained those relationships with our wider family, and many pop into our offices to say ‘hi’, check in with how things are going, and catch up with their friends. We hope that future growth allows us to work together again.

We have been able to double down on the promise to invest in professional development opportunities for those who have remained with the company. We have spent this time preparing our staff to move them into future leadership roles. This has been a source of pride and encouragement for me amid all the challenges, and it excites me to see people thrive.

We deliver a mix of virtual workshops, training sessions, and self-directed online learning modules to help our people progress, gain new skills, and enhance existing ones

Phen Guide Academy Leader
Phen Phoy, our Guide Academy Leader

One fantastic example of this is our Guide Academy. Many of our guides have seen their source of income depleted, but we have maintained these relationships through regular meetups.

Throughout the pandemic, our guides have met together to learn new skills, collaborate, and engage in group-learning activities. They have progressed through a curriculum set by the fantastic Phoy Phen, our Guide Academy leader.

As a result, our knowledgeable guides have honed their expertise, confirming their reputation as spellbinding storytellers and engaging, welcoming hosts.

So, why am I sharing all this about our internal commitment to investing in people?

Well, because our services are based on our people. With passionate, constantly improving individuals, our collective services improve. That means the ultimate benefactors are our partners.

Two of our guides from the Local Ambassador Programme

Discova Enterprize

Speaking of supporting our wider family, the soon-to-be-announced Discova Enterprize programme is a subject close to my heart.

Discova Enterprize aims to support local entrepreneurs in creating sustainable and ethical enterprises that empower local communities through responsible tourism.

We’ve been building up this idea for a while now.  We want to provide business mentorship and ad hoc consultancy services to people within the business, wherever they are on their entrepreneurial journey.

With our network of skilled individuals to draw upon, whether it be finance professionals, Marketing gurus, or sales superstars, we know we have the expertise to enable others to succeed.

Hulu Wayan
Hulu Wayan, a Local Guide Ambassador graduate

Furthermore, we can commit to kickstarter funding from a total pool of $50,000 to those business plans that require some start-up costs, with up to $10,000 available for each enterprise. Applicants will simply have to go through an evaluation process to determine potential in the concept. This will be a collaborative endeavour, and we’ll be looking to partners to get involved over the coming weeks and months, too.

The fundamental principles of the project are based on shared growth – it’s essential to encourage people with ideas. The end result is that we will hopefully have several people emboldened and energised by the process and, of course, a whole host of new, exciting product grounded in the community and based upon responsible travel principles, diversifying our product offering for travellers.

Costa Rica Volcano
Our Costa Rica operations are growing

Growth in the Americas

It has been fantastic to see substantial growth in our Americas destinations this year. This goes beyond the notion that those countries did not suffer the same closures as most of our destinations in Asia. With new partners coming on board and working together, the outlook is exciting for further expansion.

We have seen our first multi-day itineraries in operation in Mexico and Costa Rica and our first Discova Educational Travel programme in Costa Rica. Also, with Discova Regional Product Manager Simon Lindsay in charge of an innovative, hard-working design team, we are well on our way to creating and implementing a whole host of thrilling Discova-exclusive experiences.

With these steps in the Americas, not only are we seeing exciting growth, but we are ensuring a consistency of service across all of the countries in which we operate.

travel trends Mexico
We are seeing consistent, exciting growth in Mexico

In all of our destinations; we are now ChildSafe certified; our rigorous health and safety standards are implemented; our expert tailor-made travel team can offer customised itineraries; our Crisis Management Team can provide full-time support if something should go wrong.

 

Year in Review

This progress bodes well for us going into 2022 as we work towards our vision. Across all of our destinations, we want to keep providing sustainable and ethical experiences designed and delivered by strong local teams.

We want to keep forging meaningful connections through human interaction, where the local hosts play storyteller to experiences that allow for discovery, to experiences that nourish the mind and body.

Underpinning it all is a responsibility to our local communities – our ‘local first’ approach empowering local people, preserving traditional cultures, and benefitting our destinations in the long run.

As we continue to grow into the Americas and with further expansion, it is imperative that we stay true to this vision and to these principles.

Onwards and upwards to an exciting year together!

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Subscribe to Discova's Monthly B2B Newsletter

and stay at the forefront of new product offerings, Discova behind-the-scenes, destination news, travel trends and thought leadership articles from our on-the-ground experts