57Hours, the company that connects individuals with certified guides for outdoor adventures, recently compiled the results of a survey of independent mountain guides to explore the effects of COVID-19 on the outdoor guiding industry. The survey included 109 independent guides who responded, and the results paint a grim picture for the near future of the outdoor guiding industry. Overwhelming sentiment indicated that fear from would-be clients may prevent guides from getting back to work long after other small businesses have reopened.
A full 92% of guides surveyed facilitated their last guided trip in February or March 2020, meaning they have been out of work for nearly two months. IFMGA and AMGA guide Rob Coppolillo said, “Here in Europe, we were forbidden to work, so that decision was made for us. Guides in the U.S., though, face more uncertainty with the varying local and state restrictions. Most guides have accounted for this by taking the conservative route and ceasing all operations. As businesses reopen, some guide services continue to put their services on hold while others are pushing to get back in the field. It’s a tough situation.”
This abrupt halt in guided travel resulted in a financial blow to many. Most respondents indicated they have already lost 75 to 100% of their guiding income in 2020. While emergency government funds have created financial buffers for other groups of freelance professionals, less than half of guides surveyed had successfully applied for a PPP loan at the time of the survey.
Guides, like many others in the freelance economy, are by and large ready to get back to work in the coming weeks, but their clients feel differently. While many guides responded that they agree the stay at home measures are appropriate at this time, 62% indicated that they believe it will be safe to start taking clients back out this summer and it’s unlikely to contract the virus outdoors with proper screening and social distancing measures. However, respondents indicated that 78% of their future trip bookings have been outright cancelled with no plans to reschedule. About seven in 10 respondents anticipate that the guiding industry and salaries will not return to normal until December 2020 or later. As one guide explained, “The bottom line is that clients will not come back until they are comfortable. In my opinion, business will not go back to previous levels until immediate testing or a vaccine is readily available.”
Regardless, one thing is certain: when trips do resume, adventure travel will be different in many ways. Most guides indicated they will take extra precautionary measures and alter the way they run their businesses.
For example, 70% commented that taking only one to two individuals out at a time matters most to them for safe guiding during COVID-19. Others say they will likely start by booking only return clients with whom they’re already well acquainted. Frequent equipment disinfection, mask-wearing, mandatory health testing, and physical distancing will all be part of the new normal. Sadly, high-fives and hugs after a trip might be a thing of the past. 57Hours founder, Viktor Marohnic, said, “We are excited to start booking trips to provide work for our community of guides. It’s been a difficult time, but the outdoor community is extremely resilient. As soon as it’s safe to do so, we’re looking forward to providing the platform to connect guides with adventurers and get everyone back into the outdoors.”