By David Stoltz,
As the country cautiously prepares to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, local businesses are starting to carefully unlock their doors.With an uncertain future ahead, it’s one step at a time.
For GB Tours and Travel of Branson, that first step will be a June 16 trip to River Bend Casino in Wyandotte, OK.
The tour business’ distinctive red motor coaches normally seen along Hwy. 248 will be fired up as it joins the Branson community in gearing up for an unprecedented summer season.
But it will be “safety first.”
“Like always, our customers are our main concern, and their safety,” said Steve Monroe, GB Tours owner. “We’re very, very strict. We’re going to take temperatures before they get on the bus. We’re going to offer masks if they don’t have one. And we have always sanitized our buses twice a day, and of course that will continue.”
Monroe said that currently GB Tours is the only bus that will be allowed at River Bend Casino. The June 16 trip was announced only two days ago and was already 30 percent full. Soon after, GB Tours will resume casino trips three times weekly.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit GB Tours hard, as it did most other local businesses. Passenger count dropped by a third, and then March 17 the business closed its doors. In addition to its casino and occasional sight-seeing tours, GB Tours also leases its buses to groups for trips or special occasions, such as weddings. “That’s been all cancelled,” Monroe said. Lost revenue ran into the tens of thousands.
And the travel industry was one of the hardest hit. “We happen to be in the ‘group’ business, and so for us, for example, to do some other things like go south down into Arkansas to some of the sight-seeing places, they’re groups and they’re not open,” said Monroe.
“So we are trying to hang on,” said Julie Griot, GB Tours vice president of marketing. “We have very loyal customers and we’re trying to introduce some different avenues, different venues for our customers.”
They’re cautiously optimistic and an October tour to Savannah, GA is still being planned. “We’re not cancelling that yet,” Griot said.
“And it’s like so many other small businesses,” she said. “What do you do? There’s people everywhere trying to hang on.”
The motor coaches are equipped with television monitors and restrooms. “We have a lot of fun on our buses,” Monroe said. While bingo was offered in the past, that may end up being a coronavirus casualty. Griot is the tour host, and “(the guests) just love her,” Monroe said. “And they have fun. A lot of time I hear them say, ‘We enjoy the casino but the trip over and back is the fun part.’ So that makes you feel good.”
Monroe said he doesn’t try to think too far ahead. “I try to think positively. I think that’s why I’m so frustrated right now. I want to go (on tours). People are wanting to go and I can’t do it.”
GB Tours and Travel info can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/GBToursAndTravel/ and at gasbustertours.com.