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Rick Steves is ready to talk about travel again

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Since the Nixon era, Rick Steves has spent approximately 100 days a year in Europe. Between last March and last September, he recorded no minutes abroad, although Europe was still on his mind.

While holed up in his home north of Seattle, the travel expert and multimedia personality created public television shows and hosted virtual events on a world nearly 5,000 miles away. In June, traditionally the start of the peak tourist season, it began accepting reservations for tours departing the following year. Travelers moved quickly, capturing 95 percent of the nearly 31,000 seats on approximately 1,100 group visits from February to December.

As for Steves, he finally crossed the Atlantic 18 months after the closure and is quickly making up for lost time: this fall he hiked the Alps and stopped in Paris then returned five weeks later to drive. new guides through Italy and filming in Rome, Florence and Athens. Its count for the last quarter of 2021: 30 days.

We caught up with Steves while he was at his home in Edmonds, Washington, to discuss his recent forays into Europe; its approach to ensuring the safety of its staff and guests, especially as we are dealing with omicron, a new variant identified a week after our first conversation; and whether his characteristic optimism is high for 2022.

Q: How has the pandemic affected your touring operation?

A: It has been a difficult time for anyone in the tourism industry. We had our best year ever in 2019. On the eve of the pandemic’s closure, we hosted our annual Guidebook Summit. I had 100 tour guides in my living room celebrating how ready we were all to go for 2020. We broke away from this annual reunion and everyone went back to their hometowns in Europe. Two weeks later, we realized we were going to have to cancel our entire season for 2020. But our mantra was, “The pandemic can derail our travel plans, but it can’t stop our travel dreams.” “

Q: How did you deal with the shutdown?

A: I was very busy during downtime, writing and producing. I produced a TV show called “Why We Travel”, a love note for traveling. It’s a hot topic because it talks about the value of travel as we move past covid.

My priorities were to take care of my staff and our community. We have created the Rick Steves Volunteer Corps. My employees use their paid time in food banks and senior centers and to help clean up parks. During the pandemic, there are a lot of needs in our community.

Q: You have waited longer than many others in the industry to travel internationally. Why?

A: For a long time, “patience” was my middle name. It’s not an American fort, and it certainly isn’t Rick Steves’ fort, but for a year and a half I was very conservative about travel. I thought that before the vaccinations, we should not travel. We need to stay safe, stay healthy, and take care of our loved ones and neighbors.

Q: What developments or conditions have allayed your concerns about overseas travel?

A: It was still premature to start a group trip, but I wanted to go there and see what it was. I had the impression that in Europe it was a smaller and smaller world for people who did not get vaccinated. Everywhere I went, it seemed like there were safeguards that kept unvaccinated people (vaccinated people) away.

Q: Tell us about your long awaited return to Europe.

A: The first trip was a vacation. I wanted to hike around Mont Blanc with my girlfriend. It was six days, with 10 miles of hiking each day. We had a sherpa service who transported our luggage from one mountain hotel to another. Then we went to Paris. I wanted to see what it was from a covid point of view and how things survived. A few weeks later I returned for a 20 day work trip. I wanted to do a guide mentoring tour. (The group, led by Steves, followed their nine-day itinerary through the heart of Italy.) We have 100 guides in Europe. They are all professional guides, but I wanted them to know exactly what sets a Rick Steves tour apart.

Q: In your experience, how did Europe fare during the pandemic?

A: I was concerned that we were picking up the corpses of businesses that died during the pandemic. But I was happy to find that almost all of them survived. The other thing I noticed was that the vibe of Europe, the passeggiata [Italy’s traditional evening walk], the energy in the streets, the cafe scene – they’re just like before. The love of life is vibrant in Europe.

Q: Did you see a lot of Americans on your travels?

A: Half of the hikers around Mont Blanc were Americans, and they were overjoyed. Half the people I met while waiting in line to see the Pantheon (in Rome) were Americans, and they were having fun. Half of the people I met at the top of the Acropolis ([inAthens)wereAmericansandtheywerehavingagoodtimeBreathingontheirfacessaidpascovid;theysaidthatweliveandwearetraveling[inAthens)wereAmericansandtheywerehavingagreatystimeThescayreting’veling’veliving;[àAthènes)étaientdesAméricainsetilss’amusaientbienLessouriressurleursvisagesnedisaientpascovid;ilsontditquenousvivonsnousvoyageons[inAthens)wereAmericansandtheywerehavingagreattimeThesmilesontheirfacesdidn’tsaycovid;theysaidwe’relivingwe’retraveling

Q: How do the countries you visited ensure the safety of their residents and tourists?

A: If you go to a museum, you wear a mask. If you go to a restaurant, you show your CDC card and you know everyone is vaccinated. I was quite impressed.

Q: In addition to proof of vaccination, what other documents do Americans need to travel to Europe?

A: To travel to Europe and return home from Europe, you usually need to have a negative coronavirus test. People wonder how they get their test in Europe. It’s simple: just ask at the hotel reception. Some countries also have a passenger tracking form. I pooped it and the airline asked for my passenger locator form and I didn’t fill it out. So I had to stay away from the check-in and fill it out. I could have missed my flight. Before you leave for the airport, go online and fill it out.

Q: Will you be making any changes to your tours to comply with local rules and ensure the overall safety of your staff and guests?

A: We decided about a month ago that everyone on our tours – bus drivers, tour guides and participants – should be vaccinated. I don’t want to take people to Europe and have them on the streets while we go inside and have a nice dinner. You cannot function effectively in Europe without getting vaccinated.

We did the guides mentoring tour in part to see what it looks like and what is required during the pandemic. We can’t take 25 people to a lot of museums together. We can get their tickets and make them free in the museum or we can go with two small groups. We will have people more dispersed in the restaurants. It’s just common sense. I think 50 people in a 50 seat bus would be difficult. We have 25 people on a 50-seat bus, and we will respect social distancing and wear masks if the pandemic continues. We will have the comfort of knowing that everyone in our travel bubble is vaccinated, wears their mask and washes their hands.

Q: What are the benefits of slower travel and capacity limits?

A: You used to crowd into the Pantheon and it was a mosh pit. Now stand in line, show your CDC card, take your temperature, and see the Pantheon without the crowds. I was in the Sistine Chapel (in the Vatican). Usually it is put on your shoulder pads and get ready to shuffle. Now there are not too many people. I haven’t enjoyed the Sistine Chapel like this for over a decade. You don’t have the tourist bus masses of emerging economies. It takes a lot of pressure off the key sites.

Q: Many countries, like Germany, Belgium and Austria, are seeing an increase in cases and are putting more stringent measures in place. A new variant called omicron has also surfaced. Will this affect your trips next year?

A: What exactly will be the situation in the spring of 2022, no one knows. That’s a long way off in times of pandemic. We will assess the departure dates as closely as possible.

Q: Are you planning to resume your busy schedule for your various projects?

A: I have to visit 10 cities for 30 days in April. I’m really excited to go back and make sure all of our guides are up to date, and I’m so excited to continue filming there.

Q: Any advice for travelers planning a trip to Europe?

A: I think there is a lot of anxiety and misunderstanding about what it takes to travel to Europe and what it is like there. On my first trip home, I was nervous. I am so thankful that I did not succumb to the nervousness and the caution. So often you hear about things and the worry takes over, but once you get there you say to yourself, “I’m glad I had the courage to make this travel dream come true. “

Q: Do you feel cautiously optimistic about the return of group travel to Europe in 2022?

A: I don’t want my trademark positivity to be a mask for recklessness or impatience. I think it is progress that stumbles, but we are making progress. At this point, I am still convinced that we will be traveling to Europe next spring.


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