(Bloomberg) – After several trips with the tour company Mango Africa Safaris, including a personalized one for Madagascar last year, Irene Bowers and David Register were intrigued by a newsletter they received via email with an invitation to a group travel experience close to home. The pandemic had thwarted other travel plans further away from the retired Oregon couple, so they decided to get in the car and drive to Montana for a “safari” on the Yellowstone River.
On the trip, made in August, they saw brown bears and black and gray wolves. In addition, they did river rafting with nine strangers and some guides.
These are difficult times for group tour operators serving the American public. Some ended their activities, at least until autumn in the country. Those who persisted experience annual losses of 40% to 90%, according to a survey of 590 tour operators by WeTravel.com. Companies are making up the difference through domestic travel, mainly to national parks in the United States. For Mango co-owner Teresa Sullivan, this strategy reduced the loss for the year, from 90% to 78%.
As bad as it may seem, it is a good sign that group travel has not been completely interrupted at the present time, since most were canceled by the pandemic. On the other hand, this type of business could have an advantage over the rest of the travel and cruise industry because of the extreme precautions they require and the category’s emphasis on outdoor adventures.
The retired couple and all of their traveling companions, for example, were forced to take Covid-19 tests before the trip, a tactic that some cruise lines are also using. They also had to practice social detachment and wear masks whenever they couldn’t get away from each other. The couple additionally paid for a private bathroom, dining table and vehicle with driver; standard options have grouped travelers up to seven people. Still, they liked the camaraderie.
“After dinner, there was always a nice fire going, and people could talk into the night while the stars and a beautiful full moon appeared in the sky,” says Register. “Our friends and family supported us a lot – and maybe they were a little jealous.”
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