The Tours Go On

Operators adjust to COVID-19 restrictions when taking groups to wineries

Tour operators are following state orders to socially distance, have employees and customers wear masks and other safety measures. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Corteggiano)

Like wineries across Michigan, wine tour operators have also had to develop strategies to keep their employees and customers safe as they’ve resumed doing business that is anything but usual.

Touring companies must abide by rules imposed by Michigan’s governor that require maintaining 6 feet of distance between people and wearing masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible, among others. The new procedures have definitely changed the wine-touring vibe.

“Sometimes, I just laugh and say we have gone from stemmed crystal to the red Solo cup tastings,” says Daniel Madden of Southwest Michigan’s Fruitful Vine Tours. “Now more than ever, it’s about a safe, good time for our guests.”

Under current restrictions, Fruitful Vine Tours is limited to 10 guests per tour. While the company has three buses and two farm wagons, it’s reduced operations to one bus and reduced working days to weekends — resulting in lost revenue.

“Our buses have always been spotless with hand sanitizer. About the only change there is we wipe down many areas of the bus more frequently throughout the day,” Madden says. “When guests call, we try and stress a good time with our wine and their friends, and so far, that part is working well. “

Madden says the wineries on Fruitful Vines’ itinerary are also doing their best to survive with reduced capacity and social distancing, while giving guests an enjoyable time when they visit the area.

In the Traverse City area, Bay Life Getaways’ Designated Driver TC service has seen its business go through the roof, with sales up significantly over 2019’s.

“We are slammed, and we can’t get enough drivers,” says founder Michelle Corteggiano. “We are definitely seeing a huge influx in guests who have never been here.”

The company supplies drivers who take the wheel of customers’ vehicles. They must take their temperature before their day starts, wear a mask at all times and wipe down each vehicle with antibacterial wipes.

Matt Webster reports a mixed bag when it comes to the effects of COVID-19 on his Up North Tours in northern Lower Michigan. The company has been forced to reduce capacity to single-group tours only, which essentially translates to private trips.

“It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword,” says Webster, noting that mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and frequent use of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes are part of the routine now. “Our capacity is reduced by only doing single group tours, yet the customers seem to sincerely appreciate that they get the tour all to themselves.”


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