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“It’s about the journey, not the destination”

By Dereck Joubert, NatGeo explorer, conservationist and award winning filmmaker

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Idon’t know much about airships but I do know a lot about travel and adventure as a National Geographic explorer. I’ve flown my own airplane over six continents and, every time I fly I’m struck by the impact, the negative influence that I leave behind me as an explorer wherever I go.

And within me, the reason why I’m an explorer, the reason why I started our company, Great Plains Conservation, is because I believe we all have an inner explore, a Jules Verne inside us that wants to fly the skies or to go on a submarine in the deep sea.

Duba Expedition Camp at Great Plains Conservation

Dereck Joubert, Founder at Great Plains Conservation. Photo: Mark Thiessen

What I see is that now is the moment, with new technology, to return to that era of romance and to do it sustainably with a softer touch on the environment and without leaving any print. Sometimes in tourism, we want to bring people to an extreme place. Imagine a way to do it by dropping in almost silently from the sky. So I have great excitement to see how we can use this new technology based on old style travel and to travel more meaningfully.

As we came out of this pandemic, the things that we’ve learned here is that we can’t just return to “normal” because “normal” wasn’t good enough for us. We need to decide a new normal and we need to create a new way of interacting with nature and a softer way to travel is one way to do it.

“Turning the journey itself into an experience rather than just the destination will be something we should look into”

The way that we are going to get more people around us to save the planet is not by taking stuff away from them. We are always going to have airplanes but the way to move forward is to add something that is better. 

The naïve idea that to save the planet we must have less travel or tourism is just exactly the wrong answer. We need to have good meaningful tourism and we need not to be saying to the world that you can’t travel. We just need to create a more planet-friendly alternatives and that is where airships come in the picture.

Dereck and his wife Beverly Joubert, a couple of travellers and explorers committed to the conservation of species in Africa

,USWe will be making a mistake if we think that we can attract people to this medium of transport based solely on sustainability because people don’t really care.

People are not going to travel by airship because it is sustainable or to make a better planet. They are going to fly because of the experience. The truth is that instead of jumping into an airship and going to Venice with your girlfriend and having Venice as a destination, the experience starts when you embark from London. It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Turning the journey itself into an experience rather than just the destination will be something we should look into. 

For example, you can come to see the migration by bus in the Maasai Mara and pay US$100 per night or you can come to one of our camps and pay US$3,000-4,000 a night; go out in a beautiful vehicle, park away from the buses or maybe find your own crossing and see a fantastic thing on your own having an exclusive experience. And we are full. People are willing to pay that money for a high-end experience. This is what we have to do, and people who want an exclusive and unique experience are going to pay for it.

Camping with Dereck and Beverly Joubert is an exclusive experience

Dereck and his wife Beverly Joubert, a couple of travellers and explorers committed to the conservation of species in Africa

And, regarding airships, I’m seeing the perfect storm here, where there is a tourism market for this. We are starting to see what we call slow travel where people, instead of spending 2 days, 2 days and 2 days in each camp are spending 2 weeks in one camp or a month or 2 months, actually, with us. So I think that, at the high-end of the market, people have hunger for something different, something that is experiential, that’s exclusive, that takes them on a storytelling journey. If the technology is there, there will be a market there.

(Extract from the participation of Dereck Joubert, award winning filmmaker, conservationist, National Geographic explorer and Founder at Great Plains Conservation, in the roundtable “The Revival of Airships” at ExpoDubai on November 11th 2021)

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