Like many small businesses, we are trying to plan when we can reopen. My husband and I have worked at Gray Line Orlando since 2002, starting off as guides and office staff before becoming ownership partners with another European couple (who established the company in 1993) quite a few years ago.
March 18, 2020, was a very emotional day for us when we had to send our team of tour guides and office staff home, and park our fleet of tour vehicles.
Jason and I both hail from the UK, and we met and fell in love in Orlando, and made it our home. Hence our great team of staff are our American family. Gray Line is more than just a business to us; it’s our way of life.
But, like many small business owners at this time, we are at home. We have transferred operations to our house and are trying to work out the best way to move forward at the same time as home schooling our children. What a bizarre world we are living in!
Part and parcel of sightseeing tours are the tour vehicles. The USA’s motor coach industry is a huge market sector in transportation, not just in hospitality and tourism, but for many services. But, in regards to government grants during COVID-19, it has been the forgotten sector. Whilst Airlines, public bus services and Amtrak trains have received funding to help them navigate through these choppy waters, the motor coach industry has received no help, sadly.
Last week, the American Bus Association hosted a Rolling Awareness Rally, where coach companies from all across the continental USA drove to Washington. Every state was represented. It was impactful to see more than 800 motor coaches parade through the national mall outside the Capitol building with their battle cry of “buses move America.” Many Gray Line cities from across the nation had tour buses in the parade as well.
We are also trying to work out a plan regarding how to allow people back on tour vehicles, yet also keep them safe. We are lucky as a small business to be part of a world-wide consortium of independent sightseeing tour operators who abide by a collective group of standards we’re all held to. We pride ourselves on having some of the finest minds in sightseeing tours and motor coach operations on the world-wide team, and currently they are working together on this.
Within public transportation in the USA, there are currently no official guidelines as to social distancing to help steer us. On public buses here, you are still seeing people loading on and off with no real pre-COVID difference. So how do we work around this as tour businesses?
We need to ensure we’re still able to provide quality experiences for guests while keeping them safe. We are implementing extra cleaning schedules of vehicles, masks for drivers and guests, and sanitizing heavy touch points during the day, as well as discussing the seating on board.
When we do start running our tour vehicles again, we will do this with our new set of guidelines in place, aimed at ensuring we are not part of the problem. We want guests to feel safe. We want guests to be able to take tours again and just concentrate on relaxing and listening to the tour guide as we whisk you to the beach, an airboat ride, the cities, or theme park. We have many tour options, and our local expert guides can’t wait to help you experience them again.
Until that time, we, like you, are home doing our part. Today we dream, because someday soon the wheels on the bus willbe going ʼround and ʼround again, and we will be discovering new adventures.