Adventure travel in a challenging new world
Backroads is the world’s largest active travel company, taking thousands of adventurous travelers every year by bike, hike, kayak and hike around the world. This year, of course, is very different. The company has had to adapt its itineraries, its travel style and raise health and safety standards. The good news is that their travels will resume next week. I met their founder and president, Tom Hale, to ask him about adventure travel in the aftermath of Covid-19.
Everett Potter: Tom, you’re resuming the Backroads trips this month. Which trips did you choose to start over first?
Tom Hale: We are very happy to be back on the road next week. Our first departures are to destinations in National Parks – the Yellowstone and Tetons Multi-Adventure in Wyoming, Bryce and Zion’s Bike in Utah, the Family Multi-Adventure Tour of Utah National Parks and Arizona and hiking and backpacking in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee.
EP: Have you reduced the size of your group for the summer of 2020?
TH: Backroads trips have always been small, ensuring our customers have plenty of room to stretch out while still having opportunities to socialize. This year, we are further reducing the size of our small groups. We would expect the average trip size to be around 10 people, with a maximum of 20 in most cases.
EP: And the cost? Will the prices stay the same?
TH: The Backroads community is strong, with 75% of our customers being either regular customers or referral customers. Our 2020 prices remain the same and we are looking for ways to add value for our customers in this new travel environment. That said, we are offering incentives to travelers in the near future, such as with our private trips, where customers can now get our lowest price with a party of just six. We’re also offering incentives for solo travelers and a $ 200 credit for anyone who books a 2021 trip before July 1.
EP: How do you address travelers before each trip to make sure they’re healthy?
TH: Because things change so quickly, we contacted each group by email six to eight weeks before they left. In these messages, we communicate our new safety protocols both for the start of the trip and throughout the week. We will require a temperature check for guests prior to the start of the trip as a condition of participation and recommend face blankets. On the first day of the trip, Backroads Trip Leaders will check everyone’s temperature and any guest with a temperature above 100.4 ° F will need to self-isolate and will not be able to join the trip. We also suggest that our customers take a Covid19 test within 72 hours of starting their trip.
Our Sales and Customer Focus teams have been in regular phone and email contact with customers and we will continue to stay in close contact with customers who have booked for all future Backroads trips.
EP: What can travelers expect in terms of Covid-19 precautions when traveling Backroads this summer?
TH: Over the past couple of months we’ve been working hard to evaluate our trips and make sure we can organize trips responsibly, with improved metrics for our customers. The new practices we are incorporating include even more flexibility for customers on the road and trail, more space in our vans to space out, and scattered dining options. Our travel chefs are trained in food handling safety and in addition to wearing gloves, this year they will also be wearing headwear during all food preparation. We also work with our hotels and other vendors regarding state and federal protocols.
As the world has changed, we can confidently say that the magic of a Backroads journey will remain unchanged. We’ve spent over 40 years creating our own style of active travel that is now more resonant than ever. The sense of travel on our travels means spending time on quiet back roads, ancient trails and stunning lonely landscapes – no crowded buses or crowded stations. Our clients travel with Backroads because they know they will have the flexibility to move at their own pace, to go on an adventure with the group, where social distancing comes naturally, or to break away and be as independent as they are. wish. You can find more information on how we will travel this summer on our website.
EP: And the hotels? What measures do you take to ensure safety?
TH: We have worked with many of our hotel suppliers for years, if not decades. We communicate with them about local safety protocols, CDC and WHO and they go out of their way to help us travel responsibly. Our tour managers will work closely with hotel staff during the trip with regards to baggage handling and other very sensitive tasks ensuring that they wear gloves and masks where applicable , while following physical distance and cleanliness guidelines. We will ensure that guests avoid the in-person check-in process where possible, and we request that rooms be thoroughly cleaned / disinfected prior to check-in and cleaned once a day normally, unless guests prefer not to take care of their room. at. We have asked hotels to provide hand sanitizer in public areas wherever it is available and to increase their daily cleaning of all public areas.
EP: Dinner is traditionally a group event on a Backroads trip. Will it be different this summer?
TH: Food has always been a big part of Backroads travel, and it will continue to do so. We work closely with our restaurant vendors regarding their safety protocols and taking into account CDC and WHO guidelines. We make changes to our dining options when it makes sense. We will opt for outdoor dining when we can and leave more space each time we dine indoors with individual and smaller tables at dinner (instead of large group tables). We will offer more take-out, more gourmet picnics and take-out and room service options where appropriate.
EP: Later in the summer, do you plan to add more domestic travel?
Yes, as more regions and hotels start to open, we will be expanding our travel offering. In July and August, we plan to start organizing domestic trips to Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, and Oregon, and we will be hosting many departures to national parks across the United States.
EP: When do you think international travel could resume?
TH: International travel right now is still a guessing game. Europe recently announced that it would open borders to countries outside the EU from July. And some countries, like Iceland, have already put in place additional measures such as arrival tests that allow visitors to bypass a 2-week quarantine. We are therefore actively exploring the resumption of travel to Iceland as of July. What remains to be seen, however, is when EU countries will allow Americans to enter, and whether EU members generally stay together or whether we start to see different rules in different European countries. Our Regional Managers are in the field and in close contact with our hotel partners and follow the recommendations of the CDC and the WHO. We still have thousands of clients booked for trips to Europe with hopes of traveling with us this summer and fall.