The Coronavirus Economy: What social distancing means for a walking tour business

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Just over two decades ago, David Mebane founded Fat Tire Tours in Paris. The goal was to share with tourists the city he’d adopted as his own by way of two wheels, pedaling around the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine, and out to Versailles for picnics in the château gardens. Today, Fat Tire operates globally in 12 cities around the world, from London to Berlin to Barcelona in Europe to Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans in the U.S.

The 44-year-old CEO has since based his company’s headquarters in Austin, where he lives with his wife and two kids. But Mebane travels the world regularly to maintain his role as the self-proclaimed “Chief Encouragement Officer.”

Fortune spoke with Mebane for a new series, The Coronavirus Economy, to ask about how COVID-19 has affected his employment status and his plans for the future, and to get a sense of how he has been handling this news, both emotionally and financially. The following Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

David Mebane founded Fat Tire Tours in Paris, to share with tourists the city he’d adopted as his own by way of two wheels. Courtesy of David Mebane

Fortune: What’s a typical
day like for you?

Mebane: That’s a great question. I am involved somewhat in the operations, but only at a very high level. Several years ago, I put an executive team in place. I hold the CEO title, but the president handles the operations. We have a senior management team and so forth. I am much more of a 30,000-feet operator. I look at weekly metrics, forward bookings, ratings from our customers—things like that. I don’t get involved in the day to day. It’s much more strategic.

But
culture is very important to me, and we have a very special secret sauce at Fat
Tire, a very familial atmosphere. So maintaining that is valuable. I had a
heart attack in Paris, actually, at 39. As you can imagine, when that
happens—especially at such a young age with two kids—your concept and value of
time changes. We all know that time is our most precious commodity, but few of
us—and I’m raising my hand here, too—act on it unless we’re forced to. So I
spend a lot of time with the family. Fortunately, work does not have to be a
priority. Today, however, it is.

When
did you realize things were taking a turn?

It was gradual, but I don’t think I took real notice until the northern part of Italy was affected, probably about a month ago. I started talking to our Italian manager on a daily basis. I’d call him in the morning, my time, to hear what the word on the street was. Then I started to notice a trend in our bookings. Future bookings were starting to drop for April and May, and cancellations were coming in for March. And what we were seeing, up until …read more

Source:: Fortune

      

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