SALEM, Ohio — It may feel like a brave new world, but the value and importance of group travel for personal fulfillment and community enrichment hasn’t gone away.
After the pain suffered in 2020, America deserves — and is reaching for — a double dollop of Cajun joie de vivre, a big jigger of Tennessee moonshine, a heart-lifting stage show, the majesty of an ocean sunrise or the awe of a mountaintop sunset. People are yearning for moments that reawaken the senses that have been quarantined for a year. Nothing refreshes the human spirit more than travel, laughter and shared experiences.
Bob Cline of US Tours has been on the leading edge of maintaining group travel and sees a tsunami of groups serving their members with travel as COVID-19 runs its course.
“While I respect the need for responsible travel after vaccinations,” Cline said, “with masks and appropriate cautions. I think the time is here that we can again begin to discover America and think about exploring the world. I’m convinced we will beat this pandemic, and so are many of our group leaders.”
Cline gave examples of fearless tour planners like Sherry Gren of Get Up ’n’ Go Tours in South Carolina. Her first departure since the pandemic started was July 13, 2020, and she operated eight trips after that. Get Up ’n’ Go has seven trips scheduled in the first six months of 2021 and is still adding to the second half of the year. “With a little caution and a lot of laughter, her groups averaging about 15 people just keep rolling,” Cline said.
As 2021 begins to unfold, Get Up ’n’ Go is starting to see bigger numbers and the prospect of profits. Gren thinks that’s because of vaccinations, positive news on TV and a small group of regulars who have been rolling with her since July.
“Her travelers want to get out of the house,” Cline said. “While she can’t make a profit with these low numbers, she can at least build relationships with her customer base.”
Cline is constantly monitoring the group travel temperature and has made note of other groups pushing ahead with travel plans.
Lois Bax of Central Bank Jefferson City, in Missouri, is another recognized leader in group travel. “I am excited that we now have 36 travelers ready to travel on the U.S. Tours Texas Riviera trip,” she said. “I have made a call to each traveler, and either they have already received their first dose of the vaccine or have an appointment to receive their second shot this week. They are excited to get on the bus to travel this spring.”
Randy Calaguas of Randy’s Adventures said, “I’m excited that we have some safe yet adventurous travelers. We are visiting Costa Rica in February and Georgia and South Carolina in March. We have all agreed that we will adhere to all safety guidelines. Every one of my intrepid friends thinks it’s time to start getting out and living our lives again.”
Cline also described a group leader in Georgia who has 25 vaccinated travelers visiting Indiana’s Amish Country but expressed concerns about services being open. When Cline asked Elkhart County CVB director of group sales Sonya Nash about COVID-19 protocols, she gave an interesting perspective.
“The Amish didn’t shut down,” Nash said. “Their faith, as you can imagine, holds them strong. But they understand that groups from other areas might not be as comfortable. So they have been working with us on masking and social distancing. We’ve worked with each tour planner to understand their clients’ concerns, thoughts and interests regarding COVID. Then we customize a great experience.”
It’s comforting to know there are a number of strong-willed individuals who understand the importance of group travel to the well-being of the human soul. It is the tip of the iceberg of people who value travel to great destinations with friends.