Adventure operators’ new products provide relief from cabin fever

Adventure operators' new products provide relief from cabin fever

Many guided travel companies remain on hold due the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are some adventure operators that are up and running domestically and even putting together new products to lure virus-wary travelers out of the house.

Backroads, which offers hiking, biking and multiadventure trips, has two new lines aimed at first-time active travelers who company founder and president Tom Hale said might normally choose ocean cruises, all-inclusives or large resort hotels.

Earlier this month Backroads unveiled its Dolce Tempo product, which offers what it describes as “easygoing” itineraries of e-bike, walking and multiadventure trips.

And this week, it will launch another product, called Rendezvous, which will let small groups of two to nine who travel within a larger group pay a flat rate of $2,500 to have their own guide so they can split off to bike, hike or otherwise explore at their own pace.

Hale said the new categories were being developed before the pandemic hit but that they expect pent-up travel demand to help them tap groups that, before the outbreak, might have been less interested in active, outdoor-focused travel.

Early bookings suggest the products will resonate with consumers. Within three days of launching Dolce Tempo, Hale said the company picked up more than a dozen reservations.

“That may not sound like much, but believe it or not, before the only [previous launch] that had that kind of response was when we went into river cruising. That was off the charts,” he said.

Trek Travel, which operates bike trips, said that although it hasn’t developed any new itineraries that will be specifically marketed as “easygoing,” its e-bike trips are in high demand.

Trek president Tania Burke said the company has also created a few new products in response to Covid-19, including an expansion of self-guided tours, an a la carte program that gives guests a menu of options for creating custom trips, a private villa program for groups that want to travel together but avoid hotels and a new One Collection of itineraries based out of one hotel rather than multiple stops.

“We are seeing high demand and last-minute bookings,” said Burke. “We had a guest call Saturday to book a trip starting Sunday. We have a large increase in demand for custom and private trips. We have also seen our closer-to-home campaign do well — trips in driving distance.”

Hale said that Backroads’ domestic trips have been well-received, but without any inbound international travelers, overall guest numbers remain very low compared with normal years.

This year, Hale said,  Backroads expects to run 5,000 guests, about 3,000 in the U.S. and 2,000 from international trips that ran before the Covid-19 outbreak. That compares to the average annual guest count of 50,000 globally.

He hopes that will increase to 30,000 next year.

“We’re pretty bullish on next year,” he said. “And we are also happy that we could keep running trips this year, happy that we could just keep the engine lubed so to speak. We’ve had people say, ‘Thank you so much for getting us out of the house.'”

Dave Wiggins, whose public relations company Widness & Wiggins specializes in adventure travel, said most of its clients are operating.

Still, he noted, “These are tough times for most all of our North American clients. The possible exceptions are the river rafting industry and the RV vacation industry.”

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