Less than sunny: ABQ travel company's challenges keep evolving - Albuquerque Journal

Less than sunny: ABQ travel company’s challenges keep evolving

In 1980, Sun Tours, an Albuquerque-based sightseeing company, planned its first group trip to the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany.

The Catholic play occurs every 10 years; each decade since that initial trip in 1980, Sun Tours has brought a group of New Mexicans to see it.

Except for 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the play and dried up Sun Tours’ business.

Like many tourism businesses, Sun Tours floundered during the pandemic.

“When we cancelled our 100th tour, we stopped counting,” said Frank Fine, the recently retired president of Sun Tours and a consultant at the business.

But, even whittled down to just six employees — less than half the staff they currently have — Sun Tours was able to weather the pandemic. The 44-year-old company, which is once again running domestic motorcoach and international tours, is even planning a trip to the delayed passion play this year.

Despite the end of many pandemic travel restrictions, the challenges haven’t ceased, says general manager and owner Eric Rosenberg. Inflation, flight cancellations and regulatory changes continue to make planning tours more difficult.

“Every day is a bit more challenging,” Rosenberg said. “… A lot of moving targets out there.”

According to the U.S. Travel Association, in June 2022, travel spending was the highest its been since the pandemic started — the third month in a row that 2022 travel spending was higher than 2019 spending.

Rosenberg said that despite more demand for their services after pandemic travel restrictions were lifted, “delivering on their promises” has become more difficult.

Sun Tours plans, prices and books its tours months, or even years, in advance. Lately, many vendors have reneged on their original prices due to inflation and increased labor costs, Rosenberg says. Because customers have already booked and paid for the tours at a set price, Sun Tours is left with the bill.

“Our vendors are coming back to us and saying, you know, that your motorcoach is increased by 20-30% your rate because fuel or labor costs have increased,” Rosenberg said. “… So we’re having to absorb a lot of the other costs.”

Rosenberg said many of the hotels and restaurants Sun Tours used to rely on have closed — or they no longer have the staff to handle large groups.

“Venues we’ve relied on for years have changed,” Rosenberg said. “… And now, we promised all of our travelers we’re gonna have a nice group dinner that night, and so we have to regroup.”

A patchwork of different state and country COVID-19 regulations have also complicated travel. Many national parks, Rosenberg said, have restricted visitors centers and limited the number of people who can go on overlooks.

Even getting guests to their destinations has become more difficult. More airlines are canceling and adjusting flights last-minute, Rosenberg said, which wrecks havoc on travel plans made far in advance. Recently, Fine and Rosenberg ran a tour to Nova Scotia. The airline they were supposed to use changed the arrival time from 5 p.m. to midnight, leaving Sun Tours to scramble to book passengers on a flight to Philadelphia, put them up in a hotel for a night and fly them to Halifax the next morning.

“It becomes more of a challenge to get your customers from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time,” Rosenberg said. “… It’s particularly a headache on some international destinations.”

Rosenberg said that airlines merging together has reduced the number of routes offered and decreased choices for the company. He personally stopped flying between Albuquerque and Tucson, where he owns a second tourism business, Pleasurebent Tours. He drives instead.

Rosenberg initially planned on buying the Albuquerque travel company more than two years ago.

“Then COVID hit,” Rosenberg said. “… So we started to run some joint tours together”

He officially bought the business just three months ago.

Fine and Rosenberg are working harder to keep their customers happy in the face of uncertainty.

“It’s a challenge, of course, to deliver sometimes on what we promise because of the things that are out of our control, right: the airlines and the hotels and whatever closing,” Rosenberg said. “But we always manage to pull through and get it together for them.”

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