Dear Friends and Fellow Adventurous Spirits,
I hope you, your family, and your friends had a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day and long weekend. I also hope you took the time to honor the spirit of the holiday and pay tribute to those brave men and women of our nation’s military services. Many have given their lives in defense of their country and its citizens. I personally have a tradition of riding my bike out to our local military cemetery and giving thanks. And by riding my bike, that just means more BBQ when I get home.
Memorial Day weekend is also the “unofficial” kick-off of summer. For all of us here at Austin Adventures, it’s pretty darn “official”. We wrapped up guide training on Sunday and Monday. The teams loaded up their bikes, vans, and trailers and are hitting the road, heading out across the country to welcome hundreds of travelers in the weeks ahead. It really is an exciting time for us all, it’s what we live for! I have to give a huge shout-out to our president, our fearless leader, and our always-smiling Kasey Austin! Not only does Kasey spend months and months recruiting only the best of the best to join her guide team, but she also pulls together an extensive and highly orchestrated guide training right here in Montana (literally in our own backyard). She works with our veteran guides to create an environment that will prepare the new guides for the real-world adventures that await. I want to share a bit of the fun, so check out a few pictures from the week here. (and yes that’s me BBQ’ing up a pig for the team, it’s the one day a year I get to serve them!)
As the subject line of this email says “What a difference a year makes“, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a few minutes to reflect on the last year (at the risk of bringing up what we all might be looking to forget). Just over a year ago, we had no idea what the year ahead would bring. All travel was abruptly shut down, with no clear picture of when or what to expect. Over the next weeks and months, we started seeing a bit of what we could expect and it wasn’t pretty. We pulled together as a team and (as you have heard me say) we made the decision that this virus and all the challenges it served up would not be our demise; in fact, it would define who we really are. I could not be prouder of the team, they truly rallied and worked harder than ever!
Remember our “A, B, C”s? That was the foundation of our plan: Anticipate, Be Honest, and Communicate. This simple formula served us well then and continues today.
The first order of business was navigating the challenges of cancelations, credits, and refunds. Early on we made the decision (the right decision) to liberalize our cancelation policies. We believe they were the most liberal and consumer-facing in the industry. We are exceptionally proud of the fact we did not have one single “chargeback”. We worked tirelessly with each and every booked guest (and we were already on pace for a record year) to make sure they got what they were looking for. This less-than-comfortable process just demonstrated that 99% of our travelers are amazing.
Next up we had to decide if we would actually run adventures in 2020. Talking with the team and our guests, working with the National Park Service and the CDC guidelines, we made the decision that if you wanted to travel, we were going to be there for you. We evaluated some 20+ of our Western Adventure Programs and determined that about one-third of the destinations could be run safely and to our standards. We set out for adventures to Alaska, Yellowstone, Utah, and South Dakota. To say we had our challenges is a gross understatement. Hotels and restaurants were closing as we rolled into the parking lots with a van full of guests. We quickly accepted that not only did we always need a plan B, but having plans C and D were good ideas as well. Again our guests proved amazing; those intrepid souls who joined us in 2020 were rewarded with the adventure of a lifetime that will never be forgotten. The numbers were about 25% of a “normal” year.
Then there was the staffing issue everyone in the country was facing. Once again the team rallied and we made the decision to NOT lay anyone off. We closed the office down and all worked remotely. We worked swiftly with the team to get everyone set up with a home office and perfected Zoom staff meetings. Then we made yet another tough decision, one quite contrary to most business at the time especially for those in travel — we went on a bit of a hiring spree. With unprecedented layoffs around the country and world, we saw an opportunity to pick up some much-needed talent. And pick up some talent we did! You may have had a chance to work with industry veterans Kelly Palmer, Megan Steele, or Curtis Fox?
That decision is proving to be a game-changer as we roll into the biggest year in the company’s 35 year history (at least with domestic adventures). We are bursting at the seams and are thankful we have a full crew behind the scenes. I have no idea what we would be doing or how we would be handling things if we were in a rebuilding phase as so many are facing. I am so proud of this entire team, from our President Ms. Kasey to our 20+ year veterans like Christy Hamill and my wife Carol, to some of our newer additions like Chris Williams and Ryan Morrissey. I can’t give shout-outs to everyone on just this email, but you must know the team behind the scenes is second to none. If you want to see the smiling faces that work tirelessly for you and put a face to a name (and learn more about their lives), check out our staffing page here.
Honestly, we are not through the challenges yet, we are waiting to see the end of this pandemic and its effects on the tourism industry. But there is daylight and promise. As I said earlier, domestically we are off and running on the biggest domestic season in our long history. Internationally we are starting to see glimmers of hope as countries around the globe start to open… Picture a beautiful butterfly emerging from its cocoon. We have a list here of countries that are indeed open or have plans to open soon. Please note, the challenges will continue, we are still seeing new rules and regulations roll out daily. We only ask that A) You are patient and B) Trust we are up to date and following the latest guidelines. Oh and trust we have plans A, B, C, and D…… (let’s hope we don’t need D).
I apologize this is so long, it just seems there’s a lot to share today! One last thing, we are always looking for ways to share and communicate with our amazing community. We have set up a Facebook Group for intrepid friends and family like you. 15,000 people “like” us on Facebook, but unfortunately with Facebook’s algorithms, you miss out on our posts. Being part of our group is a great way to keep in close contact with like-minded adventurers. We try to keep posts fun, informational, and not “salesy”. Please take a minute (I said please 😉) and join our group. In the weeks and months ahead we will try and make it worth your time and energy (and support) with some giveaways. See you there.
OK, that truly is enough for this month! Hope you and yours have BIG summer plans… If you don’t, hit me up and I’ll see what we can do!
Namaste my friends, namaste,