As we look for the light at the end of the tunnel, we can only hope it’s not a train coming toward us.

Once we settled into the new normal of regularly working from home, we were quickly overwhelmed with social, digital and personal phone calls bringing the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis to the forefront of our minds. It didn’t take much time before we were inundated with information overload. Much of the news in the world was bad.

During the past six weeks, we’ve seen disturbing images of parking lots filled with motorcoaches and many friends in the industry were laid off, furloughed, or worse, seeing their position eliminated.

This April, I reached out to more than a dozen tour operators, including receptive and wholesaler operators. Although a small percentage of the industry, I believe they are where the industry is headed. Certainly, each operator had losses. It was apparent in our conversations that student operators and those tied to spring events were hit hardest.

They all had early success in re-booking for the fourth quarter and quickly developing new packages. As a whole, they are convinced that’s when the group travel recovery begins. Only one operator was concerned about their charter company of choice being able to come out of this crisis.

Each is in regular communications with their pre-formed groups and many of their retail customers. They are leaving tours on the books and only canceling and re-booking when necessary. Those that are ready with Major League Baseball, college football and professional football trips are crossing their fingers.

Overall, their attitudes were positive, although it is still early in the battle with COVID-19. The wholesaler had partnered with Leisure Group Travel early to develop and promote Bounce Back Tours, an innovative program that creates a bridge between tour buyers and sellers. A receptive operator was busy developing recovery tours in the markets the company operated.

One operator that was devastated by the loss of spring business shared that the free time in March and April is allowing for more time to develop even more creative itineraries. A few mentioned they experienced 9/11 and the 2008 recession and better planning on their part had prepared them for this pandemic. One of the nicer stories we uncovered was about an operator returning a customer’s deposit for a canceled tour. The customer returned the full amount with a message of support for the operator.

By Dave Bodle