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Backroads has announced it will begin running a small selection of trips in the U.S., starting the third week of June. The tour operator anticipates that there will be a more robust offering for July and August.
According to KC Hoppe, guest services and travel industry manager for Backroads, the four selected itineraries are in regions that have experienced few COVID-19 cases. Additionally, they take place in areas where social distancing can be accommodated and where vendors are open for business.
Below, Hoppe offers further insight into why advisors and their clients can feel confident in booking future trips with Backroads. She also shares how Backroads expects its products — and travel in general — to change in the age of the coronavirus.
How will Backroads work with travel advisors moving forward?The COVID-19 crisis has strengthened our relationship with travel advisors. We were bound together by a common goal: taking care of guests scheduled on Backroads trips and finding solutions that were amenable to them. We have received many accolades from our advisory partners for how well we handled the situation. Many have expressed admiration and gratitude for how we stood by our policies and did right by our guests and agents. They experienced first-hand the lengths that we are willing to go to in order to work with them to find solutions that would make guests happy.
How did the team reach the decision to reopen select U.S. itineraries as early as June 21? We have heard from many of our guests that they are hoping to get back out on the road traveling this summer. As restrictions are being lifted in many areas, we reached out to guests already scheduled on specific June domestic departures, and they’re telling us how excited they are to get back out there.
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We will continue to monitor the regional openings. We are also following all guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO); and are adhering to recommendations from federal, state and local authorities. Deciding when to travel is a personal one, and we will only operate trips that we can run responsibly.
Deciding when to travel is a personal one, and we will only operate trips that we can run responsibly.
What was the process behind choosing the specific itineraries and destinations for Backroads’ soft reopening?Our end of June departures were chosen for a variety of reasons, including trips that allowed for easy social distancing and vendors that were fully operational. Also, national parks are a big draw this summer, and geographically, the trips are easy for guests to drive to in many cases.
The trips that Backroads is running in June are Grand Tetons & Yellowstone Multi-Adventure Tour; Bryce & Zion Bike Tour; Utah & Arizona’s National Parks Family Multi-Adventure Tour; and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge and Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains Walking & Hiking Tour.
I understand that guests on these itineraries were carefully vetted for their interest in getting back to travel. What does the vetting process entail?We reached out to guests already scheduled on these departures to see if they were still interested in traveling on the scheduled trip with us and what concerns they might have.
We explained the changes that Backroads is making regarding guest and Trip Leader safety, and how we are following the CDC and WHO guidelines as well as those in place in the trip’s specific regions.
We will continue to stay in close communication with guests booked on all upcoming Backroads trips. We expect the average group size to be about 10 people per trip.
How will future Backroads trips differ from pre-COVID-19 offerings?While the world has been transformed in big ways, we can confidently say that the magic of a Backroads trip will remain unchanged. We’ve spent the past 40 years crafting our own style of active travel that is now more resonant than ever. The sense of journey on our trips means spending time on quiet back roads, ancient footpaths and stunning solitary landscapes — no packed buses or crowded resorts. Our guests travel with Backroads because they know they’ll have the flexibility to move at their own pace, and they can break off and be as independent as they want.
Still, we have been hard at work to assess our trips and ensure that when we’re able to do so, we can run trips responsibly with enhanced measures for our guests.
Tell us more about the enhanced health and safety measures.New practices that we are incorporating include even more flexibility for guests on road and trail, more room in our vans and more space at meals.
Our Trip Leaders are trained in food handling safety, and in addition to wearing gloves, this year they’ll also be wearing face coverings when prepping food. We will offer more grab-and-go style meals, outdoor dining options and small tables at dinners whenever possible. We’re also working with our hotels and other vendors to make sure that their safety protocols follow CDC and WHO guidelines.
Additionally, we will require a temperature screening for guests prior to the start of the trip as a condition of participation. People with temperatures above 100.4 degrees will be required to self-isolate and not join the group.
Is Backroads seeing any trends in bookings or requests? We are seeing a lot of interest in our national park trips, domestic trips closer to home within driving distance and four-day weekend trips. There’s also a big surge in our private trip offerings.
Many families or small units of friends are choosing to travel together on our private trips this year. Additionally, for 2020 private travel, we have dropped our minimum group size for base pricing to six people (from eight).
What has been the response so far to Backroads moving to reopen trips? Very positive. Our guests are eager to get traveling and so are we, but they also trust us and know that we will only travel when we believe it is safe enough to get back on the road.