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Tour Operators Aren't Rushing To Ditch Mask Mandates

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Although tour operators frequently deal with customers frustrated about having to wear masks, they are sticking their own mandates mostly, especially since many destinations where operators run trips still have rules in place.

Rashaad Jorden

A federal judge’s decision last week to void the mask mandate on public transportation in the United States drove five major U.S. airlines to drop their mask requirements for passengers and staff on domestic flights. Dozens of public transit agencies in the U.S. also decided to lift their mask mandates following the ruling.

And as more industries are grappling with issues surrounding mask requirements, tour operators — one of the hardest hit sectors in travel during the pandemic — aren’t rushing to lift any mandates, especially since many of them run trips in destinations where masks are still required in public settings. Tour operators are keeping their mandates in spite of tensions that have arisen from guests frustrated about having to wear masks.

“We continue to follow local regulations regarding masks, as there continue to be country-specific requirements,” said Steve Born, the chief marketing officer at the Globus family of brands, which includes Cosmos, Avalon Waterways and Monograms. “And we continue to require them at self-service food stations on our ships and at our hotels.”

Born cited Italy as an example of a destination where Globus operates that has maintained strict mask rules. While the use of masks outdoors is no longer required outdoors expect when social distancing isn’t feasible, FFP2 masks still must be worn on all forms of transportation as well as indoor locations such as theaters, music venues and concert halls. Born said that guests who fail to comply with the requirement could be denied boarding or entry into such places.

G Adventures is also mandating guests wear still masks, regardless of whether the company is conducting a trip in a location that requires mask wearing or not.

“We currently don’t have any plans to make changes to our current Travel with Confidence policy which is in place across all our tours,” said Ben Weiher, the company’s vice president of operations, about the policy that requires travelers to bring masks and wear them on vehicles and wherever social distancing is not possible. Weiher added the same rules apply for its chief experience officers, who serve as leaders on the company’s trips.

However, tour operators have also found that certain guests aren’t eager to follow the rules such rules. “We’ve had customers not want to wear (masks),” said smarTours CEO Christine Petersen. “I have had to reach out to ask customers to please follow rules.” Likewise, Melissa DaSilva, the U.S. president of Trafalgar Tours, acknowledged her company has had to hammer home the point to frustrated guests the need to wear masks.

“At times, wearing a mask can be frustrating for anyone, but our guests understand that if the government of the place we are visiting are requiring it, they will comply,” DaSilva said.

However, what steps are tour operators taking when they’re conducting tours in destinations that don’t explicitly require mask wearing in public? DaSilva said her company relies on its wellbeing directors — who ensure restaurants, hotels, or other venues it takes travelers to are adhering to local protocols — to advise guests when and where they should wear masks while on a trip. In addition to turning to its wellbeing directors to guide travelers, Trafalgar is also employing a hands-off approach regarding masks.

“As mandates continue to change, we will leave the choice up to our guests as long as it follows local mandates in the destinations we are visiting,” DaSilva said, adding that guests typically wear masks on its buses and in situations where social distancing is difficult.

But as health authorities warn that the fight against Covid is far from over, how long will companies that are taking a different approach from Trafalgar keep their mask mandates in place? Born declined to provide a timeframe, saying the Globus would refer to information from sources such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and health experts in countries it operates in before making a decision about masks. Weiher echoed Born’s response, adding that G Adventures still views the health and safety protocols the company has enacted for its tours as necessary.

Meanwhile, DaSilva refuses to shut the door on implementing a mask mandate for guests.

“We will continue to monitor case levels throughout the world to decide whether to enforce wearing masks in settings where wearing a mask not be mandated by a government or business,” she said.

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