“It’s overwhelming what’s going on,” Edmonds resident and European travel expert Rick Steves said in a Saturday morning phone interview. “Europe is locking down just like we are. A lot of dreams are dashed.”
Steves has cancelled all tours departing through April 19, closed his Edmonds Travel Center to the public, and arranged for as many of his staff as possible to work from home.
“I understand that after hospitals and schools we are about the biggest employer in town with around 130 working in our 4th Avenue Travel Center,” he explained. “My clear responsibility now is to take care of our employees, be a good corporate citizen in Edmonds by not contributing to the spread of the virus, and to clearly, quickly and ethically make sure all of the travelers signed up on Rick Steves tours will know that they will be treated honestly and generously.
“Our top priority is keeping our staff, customers, and community safe and healthy,” he continued. “For guidance, we’re listening to the advice of Gov. Inslee, other elected officials, and the scientists and experts who are advising them.”
To this end, Rick Steves Europe is taking the following steps:
- Requiring anyone on staff who can do so to work from home until March 27;
- Closing the Rick Steves Europe Travel Center starting Monday, March 16 until further notice;
- Canceling the Rick Steves annual Travel Festival, scheduled for April 4, and all other travel talks for the public until further notice;
- Canceling all Rick Steves tours through April 19 (or longer, if needed).
According to Steves, approximately 25,000 people have signed up on 2020 tours so far this year; about half of these are on tours departing this spring.
“We’ve earned the trust of our tour members, and we’re determined to be the ‘good guys’ in treating them fairly and generously in this time of crisis – even if we wind up losing revenue,’ he continued. “We’ve cancelled all of our tours with start dates through April 19, 2020 and are providing 100% refunds to anyone booked on those tours. Tour members with questions can email email@example.com for assistance and visit our Coronavirus FAQ page. Our Tour Center staff – most of whom are now working from home – are answering all emails.”
In keeping with practicing social distancing and taking measures to minimize the spread of the disease, Steves opted to hold his most recent “all hands” staff meeting outdoors in the back yard of one of his downtown buildings, rather than in the confines of the office.
“The sun actually came out as if on schedule as I reviewed with my staff our stance in this rapidly changing crisis,” he related. “Those rays of sunshine just seemed to say ‘this too shall pass.’ Now, rather than selling travel, our focus is on health, safety, making sure our staff is taken care of, and giving our disappointed traveling public clear, straight, and caring communication as their monthly paychecks are threatened and travel dreams are put on hold. I assured my staff that we are strong enough to survive this crisis and that, while the short term will be difficult, we are determined and able to keep everyone working and come out of this strong and ready to put the train back on the tracks.”
Steves stresses that this is part of his vision for the long haul.
“Someday this virus will be old news and it’s both right and good business sense to focus now on taking care of our staff and our customers as well as be a conscientious business leader as our community fights this crisis,” he said.
— By Larry Vogel