Yesterday, the Australian government announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people. While guiding my Melbourne Free Tour I had the distinct displeasure of watching two of my guests find out in real time that the Formula One Grand Prix they’d travelled from Europe to see had been cancelled.
I created Walks 101 three years ago to try and bring the high-quality, small group tours I found during my decade-long guiding career in Europe to Australia. I think that puts us in an interesting position — we’re one of the safer activities that can take place during this Coronavirus outbreak. For that reason, we’re not cancelling any of our tours, but instead taking precautionary measures to try and limit our ability to spread this disease. Here’s what we’re doing:
- We are not cancelling our tours — If you have a booking with us (paid or free) it will be honoured. If this changes, you’ll hear it from us first.
- Limiting our staff’s person-to-person contact — Until today, a lot of our operational processes relied on a manager handing a guide their equipment (umbrella, point-of-sale device, maps). At the end of the tour, this gear was handed back to a manager, who then gave it to another guide who was giving the following tour. Yesterday, I issued each one of our guides their own equipment to use for the duration of this crisis. This will help prevent us from spreading germs to one another, and in turn spread to our guests.
- All non-guiding positions working from home
- Added a mandatory handwash stop at the midpoint and end of all tours — Except for the Uncover Hidden Laneway Bars tour (which visits 4 venues with 4 bathrooms) we’re adding 2 handwash stops on our walking tours. All our other tours, including the Melbourne Free Tour, Complete Melbourne Tour and Complete Sydney Tour will include this stop and we ask all our guests to please take part in a recommended 20-second handwash.
- No more walk-up customers — Our mission is to make walking tours accessible to everyone, regardless of if they’ve booked in advance. This is a place where our mission and virus prevention came into conflict though, for two reasons:
1) To quickly capture customer data, we hand an iPad to guests to register — creating an easy point for transmission of the virus
2) To ensure we have enough staff on hand, we send more staff than are needed to the start point, then have guides who aren’t needed go back to the office to do desk work. Since non-essential staff are working from home, we don’t have this operational ability at the moment.
Starting Monday 14 March, we’re requiring everyone to pre-register for a tour. Registrations will be open up until the start time of the tour and walk-up guests will be asked to visit our website to register — but when our free tour reaches capacity we will have to turn away other walk-up guests to maintain our commitment to small group sizes.
- Accommodation pick-ups suspended until further notice — We work with a number of local accommodations to provide a pickup before our free tour. To further limit potential exposure, we’re asking all our accommodation partners to send guests directly to the tour start point rather than send our guide team into accommodation points around Melbourne.
- Continue our policy of employing guides — Most tour companies work with freelancers, but last year I opted to employ all our guides which means:
- We give our guides their entitlements like paid annual leave and sick leave to stay home if they are unwell, so they won’t work sick
- All the above precautionary measures would be meaningless if our guides hop from our another tour operator to us. All our tour guides are only giving tours using the measures I’m outlining above
- Extending generous date-change and cancellation terms — For guests whose travel plans are affected, we can offer full refunds up to 24 hours prior to your tour’s departure. If you are unwell within 24 hours of the tour, reach out to us and we will happily move you to another date, free of charge.
Why aren’t you cancelling your tours?
With events being cancelled, we’re acutely aware that holidaymakers in Australia are having their trip affected, and untold numbers of Australians are cancelling their international travel plans. In an industry filled with large events, attactions and 50-seater bus tours, we recognise that our group sizes (average of 7 on our paid tours, 23 on our free tours) are one of the safer options to get out and discover our cities. As one of the small group activities in Melbourne and Sydney, we think our community and our team are better served by weathering this storm rather than cancelling.
I’ll be keeping a close eye on the evolving situation, but we hope to continue to provide a fun and reasonably safe outlet for enjoying some fresh air and discovering the amazing cities of Melbourne and Sydney in the months to come.