Bob Cline of U.S. Tours

As a company that specializes in large events and wholesale tour operations and cruises, U.S. Tours has seen over 90% of its business evaporate in 2020.

Click the play button to watch the entire interview

Like most of the industry, president Bob Cline thought that the early lockdown would lead to a quick recovery of the industry. “I thought 30 days this would resolve itself,” said Cline. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

What has worked this year? “We’ve got a lady who owns one bus in South Carolina – she’s bound and determined to run trips. She’s lost money, but she’s out on the road. She’s had six or seven trips out and her customers love her.” Cline also points to a few groups including Colorado and Oklahoma – but even with that, “we’re down 300 trips this year including the ones that operated in the first quarter.”

Looking to the future, Cline has seen an uptick in business for next year with a trend towards better inclusions. “We’re selling a lot of better hotels, better meals and better activities.” He said that business is not coming from motorcoach companies or senior centers, but bank clubs and small tour operators.

Cline feels that cities are going to have a harder time coming back, based on what he’s seeing interest-wise. “We’re selling Colorado, West Virginia, and the Smoky Mountains are hot. I’ve got 12 trips going out for the rest of the year and eight of them are going to the Smokies.” At the same time, popular trip options like New York are simply a no go. “Everything in New York is shut down. That’s an incredible statement to make,” said Cline.

He expects a rebound of the cruise business but cautions that consumers are still going to be nervous about cruising for a while. “Remember, the cruise ships are working very hard on getting back together. Alaska cruises are going to be big next year. I think you’re going to see a big rebound from river cruises, especially American ports,” said Cline.

U.S. Tours has maintained a steady stream of promotion throughout the pandemic, promoting future tours and urging group leaders to keep in contact with their customers. “The continuation of marketing throughout the entire time is important. Customers can’t lose track of you,” he said.

Cline also points out to smaller group sizes as a key. “The pathway we’re looking at is smaller groups.” But with smaller groups, prices have to go up, they just do. We can’t lose a second year and expect bus companies, theaters and hotels to still be in business.”