Operator seizes the day

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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

One of the most interesting things about the Covid-19 travel shutdown has been watching the innovative way companies respond.

Last week I wrote about different ways luxury suppliers are working to keep customers engaged through everything from virtual reality to free online yoga, even daily webinars.

But the one that really caught my eye this week is a new offering from Walks, a Signature preferred day tour company that has launched live virtual tours as a way to not only keep their product front and center but also to help their guides earn money during the shutdown.

For just $10, anyone can sign up for the virtual events, which include cooking classes and tours of landmarks like Buckingham Palace and the Sistine Chapel. There is also a built-in tipping option, 100% of which the company says goes directly to the guide.

Additionally, anyone who signs up for one of the one-hour, interactive virtual tours gets a $25 credit for a future Walks tour that is good for two years.

Walks co-founder Stephen Oddo says it's a great way to keep some of the company's nearly 700 guides working and engaged with the guests, while giving travelers an interactive way to see new things or reconnect with a guide they have used previously in their travels.

"We're going to do this for a couple of months and see how it goes," said CEO Stephen Oddo. "I'm not super hopeful that international travel will all of a sudden go back to normal. This could be something that we do forever."

Douglas Quinby, co-founder and CEO of Arival, which tracks the day tours industry, says the virtual tours from Walks are just one example of what day tour operators are doing to try to help partners and their workers, most of whom are independent contractors.

Several food tour companies, including the Culinary Adventure Co. in Toronto, Unexpected Atlanta and Milwaukee Food Tours are offering "food tours in a box," or basically boxed meals and snacks from the restaurants they work with, delivered to your home. Culinary Adventure also delivers a coupon for $50 off a future in-person tour.

Unfortunately, Quinby said, the impact of the travel shutdown is still expected to be grim for the day tours and activities sector, which is made up mostly of one- and two-person companies. Forty-three percent of Arival members say they are at risk of failing within three months, according to Arival's latest survey.

"Now, while these are all novel ideas designed to support operators and their guides, they are not really business saviors," Quinby said. "You can't use a sink stopper to stop a dam from collapsing."

Still, every little bit helps. So go ahead, take the plunge. After all, what could be more luxurious in times like these than a box full of goodies from the great outside or an hourlong tour of someplace or something that has absolutely nothing to do with Covid-19.

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