TORONTO — It was mission accomplished for Globus, which successfully hosted its first tour worldwide since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
The tour operator, part of the Globus family of brands, welcomed 19 Canadian guests last week on its five-day ‘Canadian Rockies Escape,’ which departed Calgary on Oct. 17 and visited Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. Also joining the tour was Stéphanie Bishop, managing director for the Globus family of brands, who shared her experience earlier this morning with a select group of media.
“We saw a glimpse of what a tour could look like, how it could feel, and how operations could look like with all safety protocols in place, from pre-trip screening and social distancing, to leveraging technology with our Go Beyond devices, wearing masks, and all the enhanced cleaning disinfection measures,” she said. “This was truly our very first opportunity to make sure that all the dots are following through from the beginning of the experience to the end.”
Bishop credited the “really good coordination” of many experts that ensured “very smooth” transitions from hotels to attractions. She witnessed strict measures in place at national parks (one-way directional routes and separate entry and exit points), enhanced cleaning and touch-free check-ins at hotels (the Delta Downtown in Calgary had plexiglass barriers, pen and key sanitization and QR codes for guest services), and mask wearing in all public areas (downtown Banff has made it mandatory to wear face coverings even while outdoors).
“It’s really about back-end logistics and seeing the difference between planning and implementation,” added Bishop. “The tour gave us a really good sense of the ultimate partnership of everyone working together. Guests put a lot of trust in us and it was so nice to see that everything operated very smoothly.”
Mitch, a travel agent from the Toronto area who was among the 19 Canadians on the tour, personally attested to how seamless the operations were throughout the five days. Calling himself “lucky” to be able to take part, he said: “I felt comfortable and safe, and the protocols that have been put into place have been absolutely amazing. I’ve had an opportunity to get away from home and see and learn a little bit of Canada, and I haven’t had an opportunity to do that in my own country in the same way that I’m doing it this way. So I want to say thank you very much to Globus, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Here are some highlights from last week’s tour, as well as more thoughts from Bishop about travel today:
On all Globus tours, a Meet & Greet typically occurs on the first day, with a Tour Director greeting guests at the hotel. Last week, Brad Noyes, the Tour Director, maintained the tradition (albeit with a mask on) to ensure that all guest paperwork was completed and provide a warm welcome.
This initial point of contact, said Bishop, is essential to provide guests with peace of mind.
“A lot of airlines are saying that clients really want to see their protocols in action, so this was an opportunity for our guests to do the same,” she said.
The group also enjoyed a small cocktail reception at the Delta Downtown Calgary, which provided Bishop with the chance to evaluate further hotel measures.
“What I was looking at was, what was the experience when walking into the hotel, what are their protocols, how are they handling luggage? Delta was absolutely superb in demonstrating what their protocols are,” she said.
ONBOARD THE COACH
Guests were asked to sanitize their hands each time they boarded the motorcoach, something Bishop said became a “very normal” thing to do. Onboard, social distancing was enforced, with every second – sometimes every third – row of seats being occupied. Solo guests sat alone, while seat rotation was also enforced.
As for health breaks, Bishop noted that with current COVID-19 restrictions, the coach couldn’t just stop anywhere. “You have to really plan where you’re stopping,” she said, adding that the group was able to utilize government information centres and other facilities.
“The teamwork between the Tour Director and Driver was quite phenomenal, they knew the area like the back of their hand. They had it really well orchestrated in terms of where we would stop to ensure that everyone’s needs were met throughout the entire journey,” she added.
Bishop stressed the need for flexibility, especially while travelling in this new reality. COVID-19 travel restrictions, which often change at the drop of a hat, will sometimes require itineraries to be modified at the last minute. Such was the case last week when the group was forced to scratch Johnston Canyon off the itinerary due to its sudden closure.
Thanks to the quick thinking of the Tour Director, the group made their way to Emerald Lake in neighbouring British Columbia instead, an unexpected “surprise and delight,” said Bishop.
“This was probably the most spectacular alternative, guests were so happy because they didn’t expect it. It was a big plus and they talked about this experience for day afterward,” she said. “There’s definitely a need for flexibility now in orchestrating all of our tour experiences.”
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF…
When asked what would happen should a traveller show symptoms while on tour, Bishop said protocols have been put in place. The Tour Director would isolate that guest and make sure they would get to a health facility to be tested. Each case would be handled on an individual basis. As for the rest of the guests, the group will still operate as is because “the reality is, the guest could just have a cold,” said Bishop. “You just don’t know and we’re not medical experts. We would rely on the advice of medical experts.”
THE CANADIAN FACTOR
While at the cocktail reception, Bishop said guests told her three main reasons as to why those chose to take a tour at this time. The wanted the opportunity to travel, they felt reassured that the tour took place within Canada, as well as the fact that they would be travelling exclusively with Canadians.
“All our guests were commenting on having the opportunity to visit our own backyard,” she said. “As travellers we tend to go elsewhere. This, for them, was meaningful because it gave them a chance to visit Canada. Canadians do want to travel and they want to be safe, and that’s what they told us they felt at the end of the tour. ”
With this in mind, Bishop added that both Globus and Cosmos are reinforcing the fact that they’ve always had a robust Canadian program. In fact, the top-selling tour series of all time for the company is a Newfoundland program.
“We have lots to offer within our country and I think you’ll see a lot more of tourism within Canada. It won’t take away from our European or Exotic portfolios, but I think it will supplement them. So we are looking at other Canadian products that will enhance further touring in Canada,” said Bishop.
Next week, Globus will be hosting three tours in the United States strictly for Americans, with other “domestic” tours launching in Australia and the United Kingdom as well. Though Bishop could not confirm when the next Canadian tour will take place (“We want to take baby steps and see how last week’s tour would go first”), she did say that Globus has a number of its itineraries in progress in terms of how they would operate in the new normal. Globus has a comprehensive range of tours in western and eastern Canada, Quebec City and Ottawa that could potentially be tweaked to meet current health and safety guidelines.
As for 2021 bookings, Bishops said she is very encouraged by the activity she’s seeing, citing a blend of travellers that include those who’ve rebooked from 2020 as well as new guests coming onboard. She added that though travellers will most likely travel in the second half of 2021, she’s also comforted by knowing that approximately two-thirds of all Letters of Credit have yet to be redeemed.
“We’re not looking to compare 2021 to 2020, but rather 2021 to 2019, and I’m encouraged to see where the direction is heading,” she said. “We’re taking all the precautions and measures necessary to make sure our guests feel safe. We still have a huge opportunity here, there’s still plenty of demand out there.”