Because the Nixon period, Rick Steves has spent about 100 days out of every yr in Europe. Between final March and this September, he logged zero minutes overseas, although Europe was all the time on his thoughts.

Whereas hunkering down in his house north of Seattle, the journey knowledgeable and multimedia character created public tv reveals and hosted digital occasions a couple of world practically 5,000 miles away. In June, historically the start of the excessive vacationer season, he began accepting reservations for excursions departing the next yr. Vacationers moved quick, snapping up 95 % of practically 31,000 spots on about 1,100 group excursions working February by way of December.

As for Steves, he lastly crossed the Atlantic 18 months after the shutdown and is rapidly making up for misplaced time: This fall, he hiked the Alps and dropped in on Paris after which returned 5 weeks later to steer new guides by way of Italy and to movie in Rome, Florence and Athens. His tally for the final quarter of 2021: 30 days.

We caught up with Steves whereas he was at house in Edmonds, Wash., to debate his current forays in Europe; his method to protecting his employees and friends protected, particularly as we face omicron, a brand new variant that was recognized per week after our preliminary dialog; and whether or not his trademark optimism is working excessive for 2022.

Q: How did the pandemic have an effect on your tour operation?

A: It’s been a difficult time for anyone within the tourism business. We got here off our greatest yr ever in 2019. On the eve of the pandemic shutdown, we had our annual tour information summit. I had 100 tour guides in my front room, celebrating how we have been all able to go for 2020. We broke from that annual huddle and all people flew again to their hometowns in Europe. Two weeks later, we realized that we have been going to should cancel our whole season for 2020. However our mantra was, “The pandemic can derail our journey plans, however it can not cease our journey goals.”

Q: How did you occupy your self in the course of the shutdown?

A: I’ve been very busy in the course of the downtime, writing and producing. I produced a TV present known as “Why We Journey,” a love be aware to journey. It’s a well timed subject as a result of it talks in regards to the worth of journey as we go ahead after covid.

My priorities have been taking good care of my employees and our group. We created the Rick Steves’ Volunteer Corps. My staff use their paid time at meals banks and senior facilities and to assist clear up parks. Throughout the pandemic, there may be numerous want in our group.

Q: You waited longer than many others within the business to journey internationally. Why?

A: For a very long time, “persistence” was my center title. It’s not an American forte, and it actually isn’t Rick Steves’s forte, however for a yr and a half, I used to be being very conservative about journey. I believed that earlier than the vaccinations, we shouldn’t be touring. We ought to be staying protected, staying wholesome and taking care of our family members and neighbors.

Q: What developments or situations eased your considerations about touring overseas?

A: It was nonetheless untimely to start out group journey, however I wished to go over there and see what it was like. I felt that in Europe, it was an ever-smaller world for individuals who weren’t getting vaccinated. In all places I went, it appeared like there have been safeguards protecting unvaccinated folks away from (vaccinated folks).

Q: Inform us about your long-awaited return to Europe.

A: The primary journey was a trip. I wished to hike round Mont Blanc with my girlfriend. It was six days, with 10 miles of mountaineering every day. We had sherpa service that shuttled our luggage from one mountain lodge to the subsequent. Then we went to Paris. I wished to see what it was like from a covid perspective and the way issues have been surviving. A number of weeks later, I went again for a 20-day work journey. I wished to do a guides mentoring tour. (The group, led by Steves, adopted his nine-day Coronary heart of Italy itinerary.) We now have 100 guides in Europe. They’re all skilled guides, however I wished them to know precisely what distinguished a Rick Steves tour.

Q: Based mostly in your expertise, how has Europe fared in the course of the pandemic?

A: I used to be nervous that we have been going to be raking away the corpses of companies that had died in the course of the pandemic. However I fortunately found that the majority of them have survived. The opposite factor I seen is that the ambiance of Europe, the passeggiata [Italy’s traditional evening walk], the vitality on the streets, the cafe scene – they’re similar to they have been earlier than. The love of life is vibrant in Europe.

Q: Did you see many Individuals throughout your travels?

A: Half the folks mountaineering round Mont Blanc have been Individuals, and so they have been full of pleasure. Half the folks I met whereas I used to be ready in line to see the Pantheon (in Rome) have been Individuals, and so they have been having the time of their life. Half the folks I met on the high of the Acropolis ([in Athens) were Americans, and they were having a great time. The smiles on their faces didn’t say covid; they said we’re living, we’re traveling.

Q: How are the countries you visited keeping their residents and tourists safe?

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 that everybody in there has their vaccination. I was pretty impressed.

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

A: To get to Europe and fly home from Europe, you generally need to have a negative coronavirus test. People wonder how they get their test in Europe. It’s easy: Just ask at the hotel desk. Some countries also have a passenger locator form. I pooh-poohed it and the airline asked for my passenger locator form and I hadn’t completed it. So I had to stand aside at 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 make any adjustments to your tours to conform to local rules and to ensure the overall safety of your staff and guests?

A: We decided about a month ago that everybody on our tours – the bus drivers, the tour guides and the participants – must be vaccinated. I don’t want to take people to Europe and have them standing out in the street while we go inside and have a good dinner. You cannot function efficiently in Europe without having your vaccination.

We did the guides mentoring tour in part to see what it’s like and what’s required during the pandemic. We can’t take 25 people into a lot of the museums together. We can get their tickets and turn them loose in the museum or we can go in with two smaller groups. We will have people spread apart more at restaurants. That’s just common sense. I think 50 people in a 50-seat bus would be tough. We have 25 people on a 50-seat bus, and we will be social distancing and wearing masks if the pandemic persists. We will have the comfort of knowing that everybody in our travel bubble is vaccinated and is wearing their masks and washing their hands.

Q: Any upsides to the slowdown in travel and capacity limits?

A: You used to crowd into the Pantheon and it was a mosh pit. Now you line up, show your CDC card, get your temperature taken and see the Pantheon without the crowds. I was in the Sistine Chapel (in Vatican City). Usually it’s put on your shoulder pads and get ready to shuffle. Now it’s not so crowded. I have not enjoyed the Sistine Chapel like that in more than a decade. You don’t have the masses of tour buses from emerging economies. That takes a lot of pressure off key sites.

Q: Many countries, such as Germany, Belgium and Austria, are experiencing a rise in cases and are implementing stricter measures. A new variant called omicron has also surfaced. Will this affect your trips next year?

A: Exactly what the situation is going to be come spring of 2022, nobody knows. It’s a long ways away in pandemic time. We will assess closer to the departure dates.

Q: Do you plan to resume your heavy travel schedule for your various projects?

A: I am scheduled to go to 10 cities over 30 days in April. I am really excited to go back and make sure all of our guidebooks are up to date, and I am really excited to continue filming over there.

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

A: I think there’s a lot of anxiety and misunderstanding about what it takes to travel in Europe and what it’s like over there. On my first trip back, I was nervous. I am so thankful that I didn’t succumb to the nervousness and bail. So often you hear about things and worry takes over, but once you get over there, you think, “I am glad that I had the gumption to make this travel dream happen.”

Q: Do you feel cautiously optimistic about group travel to Europe returning in 2022?

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

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