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After cancelling all of their spring and summer trips, western Iowa-based Star Destinations has had two tour departures this fall. The first was a seven-day trip to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and the other to Door County, Wisconsin, which lasted six days.
“Obviously, like everyone else, we cancelled everything for the season. But we wanted to see what the fall would bring. We have one more trip, a Christmas program at the beginning of December,” said Cathy Greteman.
Star put a number of measures in place to ensure a safe journey, including keeping load factors down. “Even though the numbers were small, I think that really helped, because many of the places we visited, even restaurants, were okay with smaller groups.” Protocol included a wellness form filled out by passengers before departure, daily temperature checks, sanitizing and mask-wearing.
“About halfway through the trips, people realized we were doing everything we could to make them comfortable,” said Greteman. “We always do a comment sheet at the end of every tour, and we asked them about the safety and protocol. The comments were very positive about that. They want that feeling of security. All of them were very positive about travel for the coming season.”
Greteman recounts an incident in St. Charles, Missouri, where the group unloaded the coach across the street from the visitor center. Representatives from the CVB were so excited to see a bus they ran out with brochures and offered assistance.
Many of Star’s cancelled 2020 reservations have been moved to 2021. “When we’re looking at some of them that have already held their introduction meetings, our international is selling really well. That really surprised me because we tried to load up with domestic tours,” she said. “Domestic tours are selling pretty well, but people are waiting longer to book.”
Regardless of the destination, Greteman expects group sizes to be smaller and that preformed groups will return before retail trips. “So often in the preformed market they travel with friends. They have a club leader they like and if they’re promoting it, travelers are going to go.”
With 152 motorcoaches and 11 offices around the country, Star is one of the largest family-owned motor coach operations. They have seen a bit of a resurgence with charter business, particularly from sports teams that are starting back up again.
Still, Greteman urged the industry to get behind the CERTS act to help motorcoach operators through this time of crisis. “It is important that people recognize how significant this industry is,” she said.