As destinations slowly but surely begin to reopen, it remains unclear what types of COVID-19 adjustments tour operators will make for larger motorcoach tours.
“I have not seen any updates from the tour companies as to how they are going to handle this,” said Sarah Kline of Time For Travel. “I would think [tour operators would] limit the amount of travelers on each tour to allow for spacing on buses. This segment may be slower to recover because of the grouping of strangers aspect.”
Cal Cheney of Bucket List Travel and Tours said that because the demographics are generally older for large motorcoach tours, he “suspects next year will be rough because [older travelers] are inherently more cautious and probably won’t even start booking until next spring.”
North American motorcoach tours are more likely to resurge more quickly than those in Europe. “Once there is a vaccine, I imagine that people may feel a little safer staying in the U.S. with our health care system,” he said.
In Kline’s view, travelers will make vacation choices based on their past experiences. “I think the savvy traveler is going to look more toward private/small group touring or totally independent [touring],” she said. “I feel the less experienced traveler will prefer the safety of like-minded travelers and will be more comfortable around other Americans.”
Some clients, meanwhile, are leery about motorcoach touring. “I have had some clients who travel with Tauck who have expressed reluctance to book a future motorcoach tour until a vaccine and clear plans [are put in place] on reducing numbers on the coaches,” said Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel. “I have also had more 2021 cruise clients asking about private tours, as they have concerns about crowded coach excursions offered by the cruise lines.”
Cheney questioned the economic feasibility of limiting the number of guests on larger motorcoach tours. “Just like airlines and restaurants, I don’t see how they can survive at 50 percent capacity,” he said.
Cheney had a small tour booked for March, “which we moved back one year and everyone stayed with it,” he said.
While all of Kline’s tour clients canceled and have credits to use for future travel, “so far none have contacted us to rebook or settled on new dates.”
At Churchill & Turen, “we are currently advising our guests to avoid motorcoach-based touring until we hear specifics about adjustments that will severely reduce the number of occupied seats,” said Richard Turen. “We will also need to be assured of the steps that the ‘group-oriented’ hotels en route are taking. Given our advisory, we are seeing an 80 percent reduction in bus touring.”
He added, “Forty-night percent of American adults, according to Gallop, believe that angels are real. An equal amount probably believes that large group travel, where social distancing is not possible, is a good idea. But most intelligent overseas travelers want real, certifiable assurances. They are balking until they get them.”
Turen said he is aware that Churchill & Turen’s advice to clients to avoid motorcoach travel is in all likelihood a minority view. “This segment will return again, complete with branded facemasks, antibacterial wipes and private-label, Purell-type sanitizers. But is will be a slow, tortuous return unless creative thinking invades this space.”
In the end, only time will tell how and when motorcoach touring will resurge. “Thus far, there are few specific adjustments to the COVID-19 touring realities,” Turen said. “How will tour guides practice motorcoach social distancing? No one really knows.”
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