Update: The Future of Wonder Voyage After COVID-19
Like most of us, I have spent the last several months wondering about some of my favorite businesses and non-profits. How can I best support them? Will the voices that I’m familiar with still be there when I call? Will they survive COVID-19?
For me, Wonder Voyage topped that list. As a long-time supporter of Executive Director Shawn Small, Operations Manager Cheryl Small, the Coordinators, the Board members, and the Guides; my heart feared the worst. I couldn’t take Shawn out for a cup of coffee, so, like many of you, I settled for a Zoom call.
“When everything started shaking up in March, I had no doubt we’d survive. I knew that the future was in flux and we’d have to make some tough decisions, but Wonder Voyage would evolve and serve well through the crisis. By the beginning of April, I started to realize how rough this road might be,” Shawn said.
As of this writing, 90% of 2020 trips have postponed to 2021.
“Wonder Voyage is a unique non-profit. We do not fund the organization through donations. For the last twenty years we have operated on creating top-quality voyages that are highly valuable and affordable. How do you pay a non-profit staff when the only income we make is in the trips we take out?” Shawn asked. “By the time the COVID crisis hit, we had pre-paid 50% of the money our clients paid in for housing, food, and activities before the trip ever started. That money is gone. So what do you do? You try to secure those pre-paid funds for postponed trips.”
Many clients have discovered the value that an organization the size and strength of Wonder Voyage brings to the table. “We have a relationship with our vendors, and we’re negotiating on our clients’ behalf. That gives us all a better chance.”
Wonder Voyage has always run a tight ship. The staff telecommutes. They have a strong budget and accounting system. They organize adventures and pilgrimages that rival the largest for-profit businesses, but they do it all within a non-profit framework.
“Having no money coming in is a real challenge, but we’ve been prudent,” Shawn said. “We have enough in savings to carry us through the toughest months. We’ll drain the coffers, but Wonder Voyage will be standing and ready to serve in 2021.”
Wonder Voyage changes for 2021 and beyond
Based on the high volume of trips that have rescheduled for next summer, they are already 60% full. They expected to be completely booked for Summer 2021 by September.
There will not be a price shift, and they have expanded on their National Emergency policy which has been in place for a decade.
“We already had a policy in place of a National Emergency like war and political unrest, but we’ve had to broaden that for a Global Emergency at this point.”
Shawn says there is no way of knowing what venues, restaurants, and businesses will still be open when the pandemic settles, “but we know how to adapt, adapt well, and adapt quickly.”
“I always thought 9/11 was really bad,” Shawn said. “But there, we had an enemy we could see. We don’t now. Now we are battling some microscopic virus.”
But, when looking at the history of plagues from the Christian perspective, Shawn realized a few things that have settled his nerves.
“Christians throughout history have reached out to lepers and outcasts. At some point our faith has to move us to go ‘out.’ One way or the other, we have to make decisions to not be afraid anymore.”
“Travel is a risk no matter what. It’s an investment.”
Wonder Voyage still has trips scheduled for August, September, and October. Shawn personally plans to travel domestically in the next few weeks and internationally by Fall.
“I’ll follow all the guidelines given, but I plan on getting back to life as soon as things open up.”
“I’m not afraid. I know I’m going to be exposed, but I’ve been exposed to tons of stuff in the 85 countries I’ve traveled.”
Until he can stamp his passport, Shawn’s trying to find unique ways to engage. He is enjoying the outdoors, socializing with Zoom, and hosting Facebook Live storytelling events.