Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part feature on Eagle Christian Tours based in Rome. Click here to read Part 1 from Monday.
By Natalie Simms
It’s been just over a year that Brett Roes, CEO and founder of Rome’s Eagle Christian Tours, experienced “the single worst day of his adult life” …the COVID pandemic hit and immediately his booming business came to a crashing halt.
“The phone rang off the hook with cancellations, thousands of trips, all evaporated. Every college, every church, every school, every tour, every corporate group—canceled. All wanted refunds. A few of our oldest customers, realizing what we were facing, accepted credit for future trips…to them we are forever grateful,” says Roes.
“Seven-digit losses, a decimated support staff and host-driver team, the growing fear of tomorrow and the dread of going home and having to share this news with Becky (his wife)…it was the single worst day of my adult life.”
Eagle Christian Tours was shutdown for three months. Roes says he lost more in 2020 than he had ever earned up to that point since starting the company in 2012.
“I’ve always seen my business as being a steward of someone else’s resources. You are entrusted with what is in your hand and it can just as quickly be taken away,” he says. “We were on the precipice of doubling again and having the greatest year of business…already the first three months of the year had proved that.
“And in one day, it was gone. At the end of three months in May, we were discussing on the table if we could survive…was it physically possible? When do you throw in the towel? And in that moment, I made the decision we were going to trust God. And I’m happy to say, we kept our people working. We only lost one employee who was offered another position elsewhere.”
As the pandemic unfolded, Roes says it was one thing after another that sustained the business, including the launch of Eagle’s ‘Travel-Wise’ option for essential business travel last May.
“The first program of its kind to be offered in the U.S. market, essential businesses are now able to move management teams and key personnel from one ‘clean zone’ to another without contact with the general public,” he says.
“While Internet platforms may be suitable for routine interactions, the nature of many larger, more important business transactions require face-to-face communication. This program was created to offer essential businesses a travel-wise option when extended person-to-person interaction is required.”
Eagle offered this service to corporations such as Chick-fil-A and Ball Corp.
“The new Ball (Corp.) was opening their new plant in Rome and they had 175 people that all needed to be trained at Ball’s other plants in Texas and Colorado, they couldn’t fly so we ran all our buses taking them out to Texas every week,” says Roes.
“Motorcoach is actually the safest way to travel in the pandemic because of the air circulation…every 10 minutes the air inside the vehicle is completely changed. I am happy to say we ran buses all last summer for businesses and no one ever got COVID.”
Business began to pick up more in the fall as colleges and private schools started traveling again. The public-school business is still shutdown but Roes hopes that will come back next spring.
“God has been gracious to us. We are one of the first in the country to really be back to full schedule. The last three weekends, we have been fully occupied,” he says.
As for the future, Roes is very optimistic that brighter days are ahead. In fact, he is already working on an expansion and a new division that will manufacture the ‘Mini-Entertainer,’ a Streamliner touring coach.
The Eagle Christian Tours headquarters is off Technology Parkway in Rome and Roes just purchased some additional property and an adjoining building from Scott Logistics to use as their new driver training center and childcare center for their office staff.
“We do everything here in Rome…all our customer service, sales, training and our custom-made garage for all maintenance. Over the years, we have purchased additional property for the buses, and we plan to close on the new property from Scott Logistics in April,” he says.
“I am really excited about a new prototype for what we call the mini-entertainer. It has been designed for smaller musical groups that are looking for efficiency in travel. Coming out of the pandemic, there has been a tremendous desire for these coaches. The key is efficiency because these guys (music groups) have taken a hit in the pandemic and not been able to tour.”
Roes says this new vehicle will be about 40% more efficient than the larger motorcoaches. He is working with a builder in Nashville on the prototype which will be unveiled in April.
“We’ve already had tremendous response to the product,” he says. “If all goes well with the prototype, we plan to start building them in Rome. We will open a conversion shop and build 25 or so of these over the next 10 years.
“I no longer fear tomorrow. Whatever it brings…my duty is still the same. Whatever God wills, I will do my best in it to honor Him…but I cannot control it…to think I do is an illusion. The future is brighter than it ever has been. Not because the economy has rebounded, not because fortunes have come, not because things have changed but because, thank God, I have changed. The future is brighter than it ever has been, and I can’t wait to grab it by the horns and see how the next part of the story unfolds.”