Last year, when the pandemic first arrived, Rick Steves (travel guide, author, activist, radio and TV host, all-around European travel authority) took a long view, planning to dig in for two years without income.
He canceled all his 2020 tours and would like to lead some in 2021, but is fully prepared to wait until 2022. And he offers zero predictions.
“Nobody knows when it’s going to break loose,” he said. “You can get the best experts in the world together on a panel and nobody will know anything about the future.”
Steves said that, after 30 years of profitable touring, he can afford to keep his Seattle-based staff of 100 employed — preparing new books, editing a year’s worth of raw TV footage — at slightly reduced hours while retaining health insurance. Meanwhile, he’s working to connect his Rick Steves-affiliated guides in Europe with U.S. customers for cooking classes, language classes and other online gigs, but allows it’s “very difficult” for tour guides these days. (Though, he noted, Europeans are tending to get steadier and more substantial government assistance during the pause than their U.S. counterparts.)
He’s eager to get back to touring, but expects individuals and couples to head out first — they can calibrate their comfort levels and improvise much more quickly than a group of 25 — and will wait until his customers can have the full travel experience.
“Social distancing and Rick Steves travel are opposites,” he said. “I’m not going to sell half a tour, not going to Amsterdam to have people sit in a bubble for dinner — I’m not going to change our tours to accommodate incremental freedom.”
Steves knows he’s in a fortunate position to survive two lean years and, even in a weakened economy, expects that demand will outweigh supply. “My mission is not to profit-maximize,” he said. “If I focus on creatively and energetically and passionately inspiring Americans to stop being so afraid, to celebrate the diversity on this planet, it makes everything go better — that’s the most effective promotion. TV goes better, guidebook sales go better and there’s more interest in our tours.”