Asia bike tour companies response to the COVID-19 coronavirus ranges from “100% refund, no questions” to “Sorry, you should have purchased insurance“. Their responses depend on the type of tour company they are. Small companies like Bike Asia that run their own tours are giving 100% refunds where big companies like RedSpokes that contract their tours out are saying “Sorry, not our problem”. An easy way to tell if they contract their tours out is to look at their list of tours. If its just on one or two countries then they probably run their own tours like Bike Asia does. If they list tours all over the world like RedSpokes does, then they are probably contracting.
I am in a very good position to write about this issue because I was supposed to take a two week bike tour with the RedSpokes bike tour company in Asia today (8th of March) so I can tell you first hand how different bicycle tour companies are responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus. They drastically different way these companies are handling the crisis highlights a very important difference between tour companies that most people are not aware of.
How bike tour companies like Bike Asia that run their own tours are responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus
Lets start with the response of bicycle tour companies that run their own tours. I spoke to Scott, the owner of Bike Asia, who I have strongly recommended in the past for their amazing China tours. Here is how Bike Asia is responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis:
“Due to the Covid19 virus we are offering full refunds on all of our tours until the end of May. We understand travel can be difficult at this time and many people may wish to change their plans due to health concerns. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and make updates where necessary.
While this is a difficult time for many in Asia we are confident that things will return to normal soon and we’ll be ready to resume our operations and welcome people back to this amazing region.” – Scott, owner of Bike Asia
How contracted bicycle tour organizers like RedSpokes are responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus
Now lets look at the opposite extreme, the response from RedSpokes when I asked to change to a different tour because of my inability to get flights:
If it were at all possible, we would be happy to move you to another tour but unfortunately at this late stage we have already transferred funds to our local agent in payment of all services and reservations.
Best wishes” – email from RedSpokes
So there you have it. Because RedSpokes contracts out the tour and has given the money to the locally contracted company already, they do not have the flexibility to give a refund even in a crisis like this.
Why you should avoid contracted bicycle tours.
By the time many of you read this, Coronavirus will be yesterdays news and you will be asking yourself why you should care how a tour company responded to coronavirus. Coronavirus is a fluke, and its over. Why shouldn’t you just choose the tour with the slickest website and the best price? Great question! The way the companies responded so differently to the coronavirus crisis predicts with great accuracy how the company will handle problems in the future. In fact, I have seen this first hand. The local company that lands the tour contract has zero flexibility. They are given a map of the route they must take and a list of things they must do as part of the contract. The problem is, in much of Asia, things can change quickly. The best route today can become miserable tomorrow by construction or floods and the local tour company simply is not allowed to make decisions based on current conditions. They have to email/text headquarters on the other side of the planet to get permission to make a change. I have ridden miserable hours thru noisy, nasty, obnoxious construction zones because the local guide could not get permission to deviate. The fact that the local guide does not have the authority to make command decisions that is the root of the problem. THIS is why you should seek out a tour company where they run their own tours! Before you book, ASK the company if they run their own tour or contract it out!
Scooby is crazy for biking in Asia during a coronavirus epidemic
Well, turns out that I can’t go on this tour, but I would have if I could have. Thailand just instituted a quarantine from all visitors from Singapore where my flight is thru for people who “are not healthy”. Since I have had a persistent cough ever since I caught the flu in Hong Kong 2 months ago there is a good chance the Thai authorities would deem me “not healthy despite the fact my doctor cleared me and I simply have no interest in being stuck in a hotel for 14 days in Thailand. The chance of my travel insurance thru my credit card covering my loss is negligible so I will lose $3000 – please read glass half full. If I could have gone I would have though. Yes, coronavirus is very serious and is killing thousands BUT if you look at the infection map you will see that in Thailand where my bike tour is, the infection rate isn’t that different than in America. Coronavirus strikes the elderly and those with weak immune systems and I do not fall into either of those categories so I view it as a very low risk for this bike trip. If I was allowed to go and I knew that my flights there and back were guaranteed to fly there is no question that I would go on this bike tour. My biggest concern is that out of panic and fear, the US government might institute a ban on incoming flights from Asia while I was over there. As much as I love Asia, I am not interested in being stranded there. If you still think I am crazy for wanting to go on this two week bike tour in Asia despite the coronavirus, please watch my video on “risk/reward analysis“. TLDR: Everything in life has risk. Everyone needs to decide for themselves if the reward is worth the risk for every activity they do.
Bike tour companies response to COVID-19 coronavirus
Other than being a customer of Bike Asia and Redspokes, I have no affiliation with either of them. Also, please note that I did not survey every single bike tour company that runs bicycle tours in Asia so I cannot guarantee their responses; however, their responses fit perfectly with my past experiences with both types of companies.