Whether you had signed up for one of our 2020 tours, or are just dreaming of future European travels, I'd like to share how we see the current situation and how we expect to get through this pandemic as a tour company.
When COVID-19 hit, we had 24,000 travelers signed up for Rick Steves tours. As of right now, we've canceled tours through September 20. Our first priority is making sure that every traveler whose trip we've canceled gets back every penny they've paid us. And we're committed to issuing those refunds promptly, without the run-arounds and delays that, sadly, have become so common in the tourism industry these days. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, our goal is to soften the disappointment by taking the best care possible of you, our loyal customers. (We're regularly updating our tour status on our website, and our tour sales team is happy to answer any questions from their home offices.)
I've personally signed many of those refund checks. And each one has made me sad, not because of the lost revenue, but because of the dashed dreams it represents. I'm also saddened by the overall economic impact of this crisis. It'll take some of our travelers longer than others to get back on their feet, much less back on a plane.
I'm committed to taking care of my office staff. As the company's sole shareholder, I'm thankful that the many good years we've enjoyed have positioned us, financially, to survive a couple of bad years if necessary. Our talented team will share the sacrifice with reduced work weeks.
We also have a team of 150 tour guides who are freelancers. And, like all freelance guides, they have no work during this crisis. I wish we had the resources to help them financially. But what we can do is ensure that our company stays strong, so that as soon as it's safe to travel again, we can get our guides back to work — leading busloads of happy tour members like each of you.
In the interim, we've created a "Guides' Marketplace" on our website. It showcases the fun and creative ventures many of our guides are doing to share their talents and generate a little income on their own. I've been so impressed by how, even in these challenging times, the teaching passion of our guides can't be kept down.
We've weathered many crises in the 40 years since I first led a Rick Steves tour. And I'm confident we'll weather this one. When exactly will our tours run again? Only when we're convinced that it's safe and smart to do so. I'm determined to be conservative and patient. We believe a focus on health and safety is critical, and we have no interest in being the first tour company out of the gate, only to face the disappointment of further cancellations…or worse. Once we do restart, we'll carefully revisit how our tours are designed, with a respect for science and expert advice, and your safety as a priority.
Our tour groups are already famously small — it's how we prefer to share and experience Europe. And having small groups also makes social distancing easier (our buses are only half-full even in normal times). Going forward, we'll carefully review those buses, along with our restaurants, hotels, and other interactions. We'll take smart measures to keep our tours safe and healthy while enjoying the experiences that make European travel so fun and rewarding.
Until then, we'll be patient and confident that the day will soon come when our European travel dreams can be turned into smooth and unforgettable reality. That's become our mantra: This virus can put our travel plans on hold, but it cannot stop our travel dreams.
You can stoke those dreams in this month's Tour News: Travel through the art- and culture-rich Basque Country of Spain and France, stroll around the Tuscan hill town of Volterra, and hear from our tour guides how Europe's gradual reopening is brightening spirits.
When the sun rises on international travel, we'll be there to make sure you can experience the Europe of your dreams. So be sure to "keep on travelin'" — even if only in your dreams for a little while.