Tauck has operated its first tour departures since the outbreak of COVID-19 last spring. The company recently completed its initial Wonderland: Yellowstone in Winter itineraries of the new year, with additional departures of the 8-day Montana and Wyoming national parks tour scheduled for February.
According to company CEO Dan Mahar, the resumption of the Yellowstone tours follows considerable preparation. “Tauck is a family-owned and -operated company, and for 96 years the safety and well-being of our guests have been our very highest priorities,” said Mahar in a statement. “We’re thrilled to once again be welcoming guests to Yellowstone, and we’re confident in doing so thanks to the care, thought and planning that we’ve invested in our return to travel.”
Mahar noted that Tauck has instituted comprehensive safety and health protocols across all its 2021 tours and cruises, including the mandatory use of masks, social distancing wherever possible, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures developed in close cooperation with its hoteliers, restaurateurs, transportation companies and other partners. In addition, Tauck is requiring each guest to complete and sign its Travel Well Pledge. This health screening form confirms that guests have tested negative for COVID-19 within five days of departure, are free of virus-related symptoms, and have not been in close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.
According to Jeremy Palmer, sr. v.p. for Tauck Land Journeys, the added precautions did not dampen the spirit of the Yellowstone travelers. In fact, per feedback shared with Palmer by the Tauck Director guides who accompanied the first departures, the guests embraced the assurance and confidence the safety measures fostered. “While it’s impossible to totally remove all risk, our guests understand that we’re going to incredible lengths to keep everyone safe and healthy, and that knowledge is allowing everyone to relax, totally engage in the experience, and enjoy these beautiful national parks at this magical time of year,” said Palmer in a statement.
Those positive feelings were reflected in the detailed feedback forms that Tauck received back from their initial Yellowstone groups, added Palmer. “Tauck and their partners have put a lot of safety protocols in place and we felt safe for the whole trip,” noted one guest, while another spoke glowingly about the joy of traveling again. “It was as if you were there alone in all of Yellowstone. It was amazing… We were observing the wolves through a scope… and we all got quiet and we could hear the howling and it was just eerie. (It) was a very, very special moment.”
Yellowstone in Winter is part of Tauck’s Ken Burns American Journeys collection and is offered in cooperation with the filmmaker and his longtime collaborator Dayton Duncan. Tauck’s partnership with Burns and Duncan is more than a decade old and encompasses more than 15 itineraries, and Yellowstone in Winter was the very first journey that the two filmmakers insisted on including in the portfolio. Both have long maintained that winter is the very best time to visit Yellowstone, as crowds are non-existent and the snow-white background and lack of foliage on trees and underbrush provide the best wildlife viewing of the year.
Each departure of Tauck’s Yellowstone in Winter journey is limited to a maximum of just 24 guests and spends four days inside Yellowstone National Park. The itinerary also visits Grand Teton National Park and features an overnight at the Chico Hot Springs Resort plus two nights at The Wort Hotel in Jackson, Wyoming. The Yellowstone in Winter experience features insights and perspectives provided by Burns and Duncan themselves, shared in several 10-15 minutes filmed vignettes that guests view over the course of their travels.
Private Departure Tours
Recently, Tauck has seen dramatic growth in another segment of its business—Private Departure tours. Whereas travelers on Tauck’s journeys usually have no prior connection, Private Departure tours are comprised exclusively of people who have arranged to travel together in advance—typically a collection of friends or members of an extended family.
The idea of traveling within the “bubble” of a hand-selected group of friends or family is particularly appealing in the COVID era, and Tauck CEO Mahar says the company now offers Private Departures on more than 70 land journeys spanning its Exotics, Europe, North America and Tauck Bridges family travel collections to groups as small as just 10 guests. In addition, noted Mahar, Tauck’s Private Departure bookings are currently 79 percent ahead of the same time a year ago.
The growth in Private Departures is one of many bright spots on the horizon for Tauck, and while Mahar declined to speculate on when Tauck would fully resume operations, he was decidedly upbeat about the future. “Well over 60 percent of our 2021 capacity is already reserved, we’re poised and ready for the upcoming year, and we continue to look ahead with great optimism as reservations are coming in for 2022 and even 2023,” he said. “As a 96-year-old company, we’ve endured many, many challenges before, and without exception, every downturn or disruption has fueled huge pent-up demand. We know that our guests can’t wait to travel with us, and we’ll be ready to host them when the time is right. In the meantime, we’re extremely grateful to our guests for their loyalty, to our travel advisors for their wonderful partnership, and to our supplier-partners for their cooperation and commitment to the safety of our guests.”