I don’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 strucked about 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.
And 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 them 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. One of the things that we forget about as we look at the use of fossil fuels, the use of carbon and reducing both of those is that there are major players within that.
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 more user friendly to the planet alternatives and that is where airships come in the picture.
We will be making a mistake if we think that we can attract people to this media of transport based on sustainability because people don’t really care.
People is not going to travel by airship because of sustainability or to make a better planet. They are going to fly because of the experience. The truth is that instead to jumping into an airship and going to Venice with your girlfriend and having Venice as a destination, the experience starts when you leave London to Venice. 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 100$ per night or you can come to one of our camps and pay 3.000-4.000$ a night, go out in a beautiful vehicle, park away from the buses or maybe finding your own crossing and seeing 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.
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 an storytelling journey. If there is the technology, 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)