After eight years, Atlanta Movie Tours has decided to close its doors for good. Co-owner Carrie Sagel Burns told Patch in an interview Wednesday that as much as she wanted to continue operating the tourism attraction, the pandemic had other plans for them.
January and February are typical slow business months anyway, she said, so when COVID-19 became a concern, she said they knew what they had to do.
"We made the decision that we just had to shut down and we'd figure out what we would do after," Sagel Burns told Patch. "Normally you have more of a staged plan, either selling, closing or merging, but I feel so fortunate that these eight years happened."
The last in-person tour was held March 17 as the staff brainstormed how to move forward. The company tried virtual tours for a while.
"The last one we rolled out was a 'Walking Dead'-based one," Sagel Burns said. "We did a virtual tour with a couple of actresses from it. It was fun, but it was not profitable."
Atlanta Movie Tours also offered private custom tours when restrictions were lifted.
"We had a lot of COVID safety procedures in place. It was just for families or people who had been quarantining together. We did a few of those, but it wasn't enough."
They also had to close their retail shop, another source for the business.
"It was a double hit," Sagel Burns said.
She said looking at projections and following the film industry for updates, it could possibly be another 18 to 24 months before business could pick up where it left off.
"Do you cut it off or do you let it bleed?" she said, using a "Walking Dead" adage. "Cutting it off is painful, but letting it bleed out until you can't really control it is certainly not an ideal situation."
Although things are still "fresh," as Sagel Burns described it, she said she's confident that she'll stay in the film, media and tourism industry. Her goal is to work on a statewide scale one day.
They had a staff of 21 and many of the tour guides have already been networking with other companies, she said.
"A lot of them found love and support from the community that we've built. It really is a family," she said.
Since 2012, Atlanta Movie Tours has seen more than 70,000 guests. It was started with business partner Patti Davis. The business saw a lot of growth over the years, Sagel Burns said. It went from running a tour a week to a couple of hundred. The largest tour groups were students. Once they had 450 kids, simultaneously, on eight buses.
"We grew over those eight years," she said. "We grew to have about 12 different types of tours across different genres and shows, with more that were in the works."
Some of their most popular tours have been "The Walking Dead" and their "Hero Tour," which focused on Marvel characters, including "Black Panther."
There have been so many memorable moments that Sagel Burns said she can't pick a favorite, but she's grateful that the tours have "really touched people."
A quote that her top guide and quality assurance manager, Colin Cary, said resonated.
"He said, 'I'm not sad that it's over, I'm happy that it happened' and I think that's one of the biggest takeaways."
A quote she used from Calm, a motivational app was, "It's like a sand castle. You build it and when the time is over you let it go.'"
"Nobody would've expected something like COVID."
She wants to encourage their guests to keep watching for what's next.
"We're not going to be Atlanta Movie Tours anymore, that's gone, but that doesn't mean there aren't great things going on in tourism and film for the state of Georgia."
Atlanta Movie Tours have taken more than 70,000 guests over the last eight years to set locations in Georgia. Popular shows like Netflix's "Stranger Things" and AMC's "The Walking Dead" have been regular tour stops.
From a list of 126, TripAdvisor, ranked Atlanta Movie Tours as a top tour in the city. It received an average of five stars out of five from nearly 3,200 reviewers and a 4.9 out of 5 among 435 Google reviews.
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