Regional guides, outfitters report excessive curiosity regardless of pandemic
According to regional guides and outfitters, more people are going outside but staying closer to home than in previous years.
“It’s been a crazy summer for us,” said Peter Grubb, co-owner and founder of ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene. “We had about eight weeks to do nothing but cancel people and move them on a future trip, and when COVID-19 took a bath in early June our phones went crazy. And we were pretty busy in July and August. “
In late March, Grubb laid off eight of his 16 full-time employees. When the bookings recovered later that summer, he brought some people back.
Other regional suppliers agreed with Grubb, saying the changes made this summer, especially people choosing to stay closer to their homes, could become the new normal.
“Unfortunately, I turned people away,” said Dustin Aherin, the owner and operator of Idaho River Adventures, an outfitter on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Aherin, who is also president of the Middle Fork Outfitters Association, said the association’s 27 members had similar experiences. Though they all had a wave of rejections as the pandemic hit the world, those spots were replenished later in the season by a surge in interest.
Many of these customers, he said, had planned longer vacations overseas, but chose to vacation closer to home.
“I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future,” said Aherin.
Aherin already said that his 2021 season on the Middle Fork is about to be booked. He has not laid off any of his employees or taken leave of absence this season.
To ensure adequate social distancing, Aherin and other Idaho outfitters left a few vacant seats on each trip, masked themselves, and changed the way food was served, among other things. He pointed out that one of the safest scenarios is to be outside by a river. He also praised the money spent on protecting federal payrolls, which gave him “a lot of flexibility not to squeeze every penny out of every seat I had”.
This relatively optimistic report contradicts the latest data from the national travel industry. According to the October 29 report by Tourism Economics, travel expenses were 44% below the previous year’s level. The same report found that while air traffic was well below the previous year’s level at 36%, car traffic was relatively stable at 87% of the 2019 level. All of this seems to coincide with the anecdotal reports from regional suppliers.
“I get more interest from people who call me and say we want to book the entire trip, all 20 seats,” said Aherin. “We have four families that we would like to use as a travel pod next summer.”
Grubb and Aherin praised Idaho’s response, noting that the state worked closely with equipment suppliers and leaders to develop protocols that were safe but still got them to work.
For international companies like ROW, travel restrictions have closed most international businesses. Grubb said he is following the aviation industry’s lead and focusing on booking travel in Baja, Mexico. Mexico, with similar COVID-19 case numbers and no entry restrictions, seems like a good winter getaway for American travelers.
“I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m just trying to watch people who are smarter than us and have more money at stake, ”Grubb said. “So, I’m keeping an eye on the airlines and they have really upgraded and they seem to be betting heavily on Mexico this winter.”
These trips will be different from the previous ones, Grubb said. Known as the Baja Bubble Journeys, the trips are aimed at small, family-sized groups. ROW guides meet guests and take them on day trips. Travelers will stay in hotels and contact between groups will be minimal.
Other regional leadership and equipment companies also had good seasons.
Ron Sharp, the owner of the Oakeysmokes Fishing Guide Service, runs on Priest Lake, Coeur d’Alene and Lake Pend Oreille. In an email he described his season as “excellent”.
Similarly, Kelty Godby, founder of Inland Northwest Climbing Outfitters, said that the closure of indoor climbing gyms at the beginning of the pandemic “drove more people outside” and led to his business.
With COVID-19 cases rising again next year, this remains uncertain, although operators remain optimistic. Aherin said it was clear this summer that the people with multiple guests crying with gratitude need to go outside, happy to be outside and get away for a moment from the ever-present stress of a global pandemic.
“It added so much to the need for wild places. The great need for wild rivers, ”said Aherin. “And the great need for people like us.”