The other week, as I was talking in a pub with someone, I was asked what quality was most necessary to being a YPT guide. I said ‘flexibility, adaptability and people skills’ (OK, that’s three qualities. So I cheated a bit). Little did I know that those skills I had just named would be put to the test very soon after.
On October 14th, Young Pioneer Tours had a tour of Southern Iraq scheduled to go. After a few setbacks related to changes in the visa policy of Iraq, everything was solved, set and ready to go.
And then it hit us: the protests in Baghdad emerged and started spreading throughout the country, the internet was blocked and phone connections were minimal. With one week before the tour, we had to make a judgement call. Not knowing if the situation was going to get any better, or if our visas would be issued in Dubai in such a situation, we had two choices: continue under very uncertain circumstances and hope that the tour happened, or cancel.
While we pride ourselves in taking you places your mother would rather you didn’t go, we’re not silly either and safety is our priority. Not feeling that it was the right time and knowing that Iraq would always be there, we decided to cancel this tour.
However, we felt that just cancelling would be wrong for the members of the group. While we spend our life going to the out-of-the-beaten-path places, we do keep in mind that for our guests, those trips are an adventure they can sometime look forward to for a year or more and that their carefully-planned time off work – which can sometimes be scarce – is something precious. We had to come up with something else.
With the new e-visa policy to Saudi Arabia having just been released a week before our tour, we knew what to do. We had experience in Saudi Arabia, an itinerary and local contacts. We took the week to make the necessary bookings and offered YPT’s – and perhaps Western tour companies in general’s – first tour of Saudi Arabia using the new tourist e-visa. We jumped on our computers and phones and made the last-minute bookings and phone calls. Can’t say it was fun and many nails were bitten but, in a way, that’s what comes with doing tours where others won’t go!
Was it a good call? Yes! Saudi Arabia was amazing and really challenged the preconceptions of our group. We found people who were keen to welcome us and introduce us to their lives. We found great beauty in the desert and the ancient civilization which founded one of the world’s most important religions.