Relentless Wildfire Smoke Causing Poor Air Quality and Changing Cancelation Policies

Ely, MN June 2023

Summertime is typically enjoyed outdoors in the fresh air involving adventures in hiking, swimming, biking and other popular warm-weather recreations. However, today, tour operators are faced with the unprecedented effects of Canada’s wildfire smoke on such activities.

Cancellation policies are adapting to include air quality due to wildfire smoke recently. Most travelers plan their trips months, if not longer in advance with no knowledge of foreseeable weather events. With seasonal hurricanes, tornado outbreaks, Nor’easters and other familiar weather patterns to contend with already, adding wildfire season to the roster may be the future norm.

Jim Plaunt, Tour Chief at Bike Tour Vacations in Dexter, Michigan, talks about how the smoke is affecting his tour operations.


Lake Pepin, MN


“I was touring from Minneapolis to the Iowa border along the Mississippi from June 4 to June 9, and in a big 300-mile loop from Duluth to Virginia, Tower, on to Ely for 2 nights, then to Beaver Bay and back to Duluth, all on days when the air quality index was lousy. None of my guests reported any interference from the air, fortunately.”

Jim has recently revised his cancellation terms in response to the smokey conditions. “I had to act on the cancellation policy for the benefit of my guests. I surveyed a dozen friends in the bicycle tour industry, and I can confirm that everyone was caught off guard by the AQI threat.”


Trailside in Wisconsin with Bike Tour Vacations

While most travelers will continue on their sojourns amidst the smoke, others are more cautious. Jim says, “To respond, I relaxed the cancellation policy for those who won’t/can’t tour due to health concerns.”

Throughout the industry, Jim says dozens of colleagues he’s reached out to about the conditions did not anticipate this type of “environmental threat to tour operations.” By collecting real-time data, tour operators will have a better understanding of how to proceed with operating procedures and updating cancelation policies as the season goes on.

In a recent blog post, Jim cautions against overindulging in the news saying, “Watching every news article on smoke and air quality will only increase your anxiety about doing anything. Our personal experience, and that from friends around the Great Lakes, is that only rarely can they smell smoke or feel any side effects such as irritated eyes. This is not to say ignore the advice of public health authorities, rather just sit back and stop watching for a few moments.”