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“In March 2020, when the Covid pandemic began, our fleet consisted of 27 trucks that were located all over the world.”
Charlie Hopkinson, the creator of the well-known travel company Dragoman, was reflecting on the challenging times at the beginning of the pandemic when borders around the globe were rapidly closing.
The worldwide shutdown had a significant impact on all international travel businesses. However, for overland companies that take trips to multiple countries, the Covid pandemic was their worst nightmare.
“I was traveling through India on an overland truck with Dragoman at the time,” Mr. Hopkinson shared with The Independent’s daily travel podcast.
One night we were in Mysore, going about our business. The following day, our guide informed us, “I apologize, but you must depart the country.”
“We made a u-turn and headed back to Bangalore airport, leaving the truck at a designated area for trucks. We didn’t see the truck again for two years.”
The army of translators was dispersed throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The main goal was to ensure their safety and find a secure place where they would be taken care of.
“We were aware of specific countries that were highly conducive to our operations, and others that were not ideal, such as Ethiopia.”
We currently have one truck, which we consider our top truck, that we are actively working to recover from Ethiopia.
“We were informed that the car, which is currently parked in a hotel lot in Gondar, has accumulated £100,000 in parking fees. However, we have managed to negotiate the amount down to £20,000.”
The trucks, which are crucial for any overland business, are specifically designed for adventure travel. Each one requires a substantial investment of thousands of pounds, not including parking fees.
The founder of Dragoman stated that there are possibly six or seven individuals still in need of rescue.
The overland business was affected by the pandemic for a longer period of time compared to other sectors of the travel industry.
Mr Hopkinson said: “Unlike most travel companies, who basically were able to go, ‘We’ll retrench, we’ll use the furlough and as soon as the world opens we can go back out,’ we had trucks everywhere.
“We had to save the trucks and navigate through multiple borders. If you are attempting to travel from Georgia to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and one of the borders is closed, you will not be able to continue your tour.”
The fate of the company established in 1981, after its initial journey through the Middle East and North Africa, appeared unclear.
In October of 2022, Dragoman made the choice to “pause” operations: issuing refunds to all customers with upcoming trips and eventually looking for a potential buyer.
The founder has announced that the brand and business have been sold to Madventure, a small overland company. They will continue to operate Dragoman in the same way as we always have, which is fantastic news.
The main advantage of partnering with Madventure is that it appeals to smaller buyers rather than bigger companies making the purchases.
Dragoman’s approach focuses on inclusivity and grassroots involvement, ensuring that everything is fully incorporated and that the local community is highly engaged. This philosophy embodies the essence of Dragoman.
Mr Hopkinson has now bought a camper van and is looking forward to exploring independently. But he aims to go on a “founder’s tour” with Dragoman at least once a year.