These seem like very dark days, especially for tourism. A recent Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) survey and report about the impacts COVID-19 is having on the adventure travel industry found that as of the end of March, responding organizations estimated a loss of 29% of revenue in 2020 compared to 2019. Scores of small businesses have already closed their doors, and many others are struggling to survive. The survey is ongoing and we expect these numbers to become even more dismal for the industry as the world finds its way out of this global pandemic.
However, the adventure travel community is strong, and we will get through this by supporting each other as we always have. Our team at AdventureTravelNews and ATTA has been inspired and touched every day by the stories we are hearing throughout our community. To bring a little light into this dark time, we have selected a few examples to share with all of you.
Both small and large tour operators are struggling, as people simply are not traveling. While this means even multi-national conglomerates are having a hard time paying their bills, the more drastic and worrying effects fall with the individual employees who now find themselves without a job. While some countries such as the USA have implemented strong safety nets like increased unemployment benefits, many workers in other countries are at risk of losing everything they own. Here are some examples of tour operators finding creative ways to help support their guides and other employees in any way they can:
- Ciclismo Classico has encouraged its Italian tour guides to write a cookbook and host virtual cooking lessons. A PDF copy of this cookbook is sent to anyone who donates to their GoFundMe campaign.
- Malawian Style has started a #Photos4Africa campaign and GoFundMe page. All donors will receive a little something from Africa in exchange; a cool photo of a lion, or a personalized thank you from a guide.
- Good Life Expeditions is co-sponsoring the efforts of local non-profit, MEDLIFE, to raise money in support of vulnerable families in Peru and Ecuador that have lost their income due to nationwide lockdowns.
- Monkeys and Mountains is working to maintain relationships with their guests by doing regular video updates explaining their approach, offering a free online course about how to be a happy hiker at home, and sharing additional valuable resources.
- Hidden Iceland has put together a webpage dedicated to how Iceland is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the bottom of the page, they have listed some ideas on how to support small businesses (such as tour operators) during this time.
- Company owners are taking such measures as trying to support their team as long as possible out of their own pockets and helping members of their community that do not have access to the internet to get registered on their government’s support assistance websites.
- Many tour operators are supporting each other by sharing what is working for them and what is not. For example, many have shared that their guests are very receptive to the idea of applying any existing payments to a future trip, especially when offered a small incentive (for example, an additional 10% credit).
Other organizations that are part of the adventure travel industry community are also recognizing the crisis situation, and are offering help where they can. Again, here are just a few examples:
- Two ATTA member companies - Bannikin Travel & Tourism and Beattie Tartan Communications specializing in PR and marketing, are offering complimentary communications consultation services to ATTA members through the end of May.
- ATTA member and videographer, Josiah Holwick, is working on a passion project and creating a video of people’s stories on what keeps them positive. More information is available for ATTA members.
- Chunnie Wright is a lawyer who has specialized in legal advice for the adventure communities for many years. In the ATTA member community HUB she offered 13 pieces of legal and financial advice to members.
- Jennine Cohen is an adventure travel industry leader and professionally trained life coach, who is now donating her time to run mastermind groups for the adventure travel industry and one on one coaching for travel industry owners (DMCs, Outbound operators, lodge and hotel owners, etc). She sees each challenge as an opportunity to reassess where you are and where you want to go, to devise a plan that gets you through the rough patch and better positions your business and life for success in the future. It is a chance to step back, reassess, realign and strategize—especially with the support of other talented travel leaders who are facing similar challenges.
- Kristen Kellogg is an ATTA member and storyteller who has been offering regular free consulting advice about how to pivot your business or brand to her friends on Facebook and Instagram pages. Offered in 30-minute increments, it is a simple way she is helping people.
Adventure Travel Trade Association
ATTA’s CEO, Shannon Stowell, shared much of how the ATTA is supporting the industry in a recent video. Below are some additional updates from the ATTA and our team.
- We have some quick tips for maintaining resilience in the face of a crisis, and how to prepare for the unexpected.
- For more thorough financial support, we have created a new report to help adventure travel businesses recover from this current struggle and establish a stronger position in the future: Financial Strategies and Tactics for Adventure Travel Businesses During Economic Uncertainty.
- A forthcoming report will be released by the end of April with similar strategies and tactics for marketing during times of crisis and uncertainty; watch for this on our research page and in the next issue of AdventureTravelNews.
- Like many businesses in our industry, the ATTA has had to reduce staff and hours. Also like many adventure travel organizations, ours feels more like a family, and many of our wonderful staff are volunteering their time to help ATTA continue to support our industry during this time.
Stories From Our ATTA Member Friends
Many businesses in our industry are doing anything they can to help their communities, and lots more have received heartwarming gestures from their guests. Here are just a few of the amazing stories we have heard:
The Bentwood Inn, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a small, boutique property. They are currently closed during the height of spring skiing, and will not reopen until at least May 1st, probably later. They have a commercial kitchen and professional chef in residence, all standing idle. So, they called over to the Jackson Hole Senior Life Center and learned they needed to start delivering breakfast for Meals on Wheels clients, a new service under the circumstances: their elderly residents were too afraid to go out. The Inn’s kitchen is now baking 50 muffins every morning. They were already experts at delivering specialty baked goods to our guests, and now they are doing it for our elderly neighbors!
Old Town Outfitters in Guatemala would like to share their current mantra: “Stay positive and stay nimble.” Their tours have dried up but they have shifted gears and are providing transport to any tourists we can reach that are still trying to get home. No flights are going out of Guatemala so the Old Town team is driving them overland to the Mexican border and helping to get flights onward from the closest border town. It at least gives our drivers some work, keeps us engaged with the tourists, and most importantly gets these people back to their families. Sending lots of abrazos to all of you!
Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures, told us two amazing stories about the support of his guests and the community as a whole:
“One of my guests who lives in the state of Georgia called me. He had been rafting on the Rogue River with ROW and I was one of the guides on the trip. They have a trip on the Rogue River reserved for 2021. They have not paid a deposit or anything. It is a group of around 20 people. He told me that he understood that these must be difficult days and how much they appreciate our company and me. He said he would be happy to ask the group, if it would be helpful for us, to pay the entire trip in advance. The only caveat was that we would provide a travel insurance product that would protect their investment. Frankly the offer in the midst of all this brought me to tears. I said that it really meant a lot to get the offer and thanked him and said that if we got to the point where we needed that, I would be in touch. He said how important the river trips are to his group and how much they all enjoy them and look forward to their next one and that they wanted to be sure we were solvent so that we could continue to provide the amazing experiences we do.”
“In 2011 we bought another adventure travel company that operated trips on the Rogue River. we bought the company on a contract for 8 years. We pay once a year and our final payment is due in October of 2020. The former owners of the company, who are a couple like Betsy and me, emailed me and said they understand that these must be very difficult days and that the season of rafting may or may not exist. Given that that is the case they said they would be happy to defer our final payment for one more year until October of 2021. Again this gesture brought tears to my eyes and it's so comforting to know that this is a debt I may not have to pay this year.”
Monica Malpezzi Price, with ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours operating in the USA and Europe, has many stories of kindness to share. Some come from customers paying full balance now when not requested or even if their tour is canceled/postponed as a way to keep money on account for the future. And then asking to whom they can donate in Italy since our company is so involved here and we have so many staff here whom they have traveled with.
Our staff who are currently furloughed are volunteering as bike couriers/deliverers for local businesses in Italy (food and pharmacies mostly). We are trying to set up a more formal program using our bikes and trailers and keeping vehicles off the city streets for these short-haul deliveries.
We would love to hear more inspirational stories about how our industry is supporting each other. Please share them in the comments section below!