Most of us can only dream about jetting off to some tropical destination or hopping on a flight overseas after staring at the walls of our cramped homes and maneuvering around children and pets for the last eight months.
The good news — fingers crossed — is that getting up and going will become a reality in the not-so-distant future. And we should be ready for when that day comes, say entrepreneurs who curate experiences in far-flung locales.
We spoke to three women who founded boutique travel companies to see how they’re faring during the pandemic. Some have pivoted to virtual events, while others are riding out the second wave in fantasy lockdown locations.
While it is unclear what the future of travel will look like, these small business owners are betting that wanderlust will drive the quarantine-fatigued masses to explore areas beyond a 5-mile radius of their homes. And prospective clients might prefer a customized touch to large-scale tour groups and chains. Why not start planning now?
The Hispanophile on Hold
Before the pandemic, things were looking up for Karen Rosenblum. She had just re-branded her company, Spain Less Traveled, which provides handcrafted itineraries and consulting services for people traveling through the European country. She cultivated a growing online community and redesigned her website.
“I was getting clients from my community and word of mouth,” Rosenblum said. “I was getting a lot of consultation calls. Things were really going in the right direction.”
She added that 2020 was going to be her first profitable year. “Then,” she said, “Covid came.”
Rosenblum, who previously did stints at STA Travel and Airbnb, moved from her small apartment in Madrid and is currently hunkered down in southern Spain, near picturesque beaches — a comforting reminder of home in San Francisco.
She helped clients navigate airline, hotel and excursion cancellations during March and April, which “was heartbreaking,” she said.
“Nobody asked for a refund for my consultation fee because they understood that I’m a small business,” said Rosenblum, whose fee starts at $100. She bases her itinerary rates on length of trip and number of travelers. “They knew we could always put it on the table for later.”
Rosenblum is banking that her Facebook community, which is filled with over 9,000 Spain enthusiasts, will “travel dream” and buoy her business when it is safe to globetrot again. She is currently offering a special starting at $45 for a “pre-planning session.”
“Let’s just get on a call together and start talking about the trip,” Rosenblum said. “Then you’re going to have all the ducks in place for once we’re ready to pull the trigger.”
For now, she is freelance consulting. She said it is too difficult to drum up interest — and money — for virtual events, but she predicts that “maybe within a year, even less, people will be able to travel overseas again.”
“Once we have some idea that travel is going to be coming back, and trans-Atlantic travel is back on the table, that’s when I’m going to start getting busy again,” she said.
The At-Home Adventurer
Entrepreneur Inbal Baum knows people aren’t flying to the Middle East right now, so she’s bringing a taste of Israel — and other destinations — to their homes.
Baum’s flagship company she started a decade ago, Delicious Israel, connected foodie tourists with the bustling markets and Mediterranean flavors of her adopted home. Now, she has started a new project, Delicious Experiences, to bring culinary concoctions directly to her customers.
“My passion is fun, engaging, memorable experiences,” said Baum, who fled with her family from their tiny Tel Aviv apartment to Baum’s parents’ house in Maryland. “And if you’re in travel, there are lots of different ways that you can engage people and connect them with different opportunities.”
Through her virtual venture, she offers individual and corporate culinary experiences — everything from whiskey tasting, to cocktail creating, to bread baking. Packages include “Experiential Cocktails for Tea Lovers” for $190 and “Mastering Challah and Babka: From Dough to Braid” for $750.
Baum said she trains Michelin-starred and James Beard award-winning chefs to be camera-ready. “Teaching online is a whole different thing. We make sure they have the two-camera set-up, so you can see two views.”
The majority of clients, Baum said, “are buying a gift for their family to do together as a way to connect with people they haven’t seen in a long time. It’s a lot of mixology classes.”
For corporate clients such as Google, Ogilvy, Microsoft and Peloton — many of which are throwing virtual holiday parties for their teams — Baum and her husband are mailing out thousands of kits that contain ingredients for cocktails or, say, gingerbread houses. Corporate packages start at $550.
“We’re donating a lot to UPS,” Baum joked. “A huge percentage of our costs goes to UPS. It’s really sad.”
She has not been able to rehire the 23 employees she once had at Delicious Israel, but Baum said she remains hopeful that things will return to normal with the arrival and distribution of a vaccine.
“I think we’ll be wearing masks or we’ll have to be kind of cautious [while traveling], and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Baum said. “It’s just going to be different.”
Despite — or maybe because of — the pandemic, Jade Moyano is living out a millennial dream. The founder of Trust and Travel, which offers writing and meditation retreats, left Los Angeles when Covid hit and moved with her boyfriend into a lush treehouse in Costa Rica.
“They have a little bit more control over the pandemic here, so I go to yoga. I went on a retreat this weekend. I just started surfing,” said Moyano, inspiring quarantine envy everywhere. “So things are happening, and they’re small, but I’m able to kind of bring some sense of connection back into my life.”
Connection is the currency Moyano has traded in since she started her Instagram-friendly travel company last year.
“We were going at 100 miles per hour,” said the free spirit, who was recently laid off from her writing and research job at Airbnb. “We sold out our first retreat and then we sold out our second retreat and I was just like, ‘This is it.’ I found my thing.”
After canceling retreats that were supposed to happen in Japan, Sicily and Zanzibar — and after resisting for about three months — Moyano and partner Erin Rose Belair decided to take their workshops online. For the first one, on journaling and “finding your inner child,” 20 people showed up.
Finding clients “has been organic, which is amazing,” Moyano said. “I think we were able to tap into a niche that was needed. I see lots of yoga retreats, but I don’t see people getting together to create and improve their creative talents.”
She is planning on hosting more workshops in the coming months, inviting memoirists, screenwriters and other artists to teach online classes. And, of course, there is always 2021 — Moyano will open her rescheduled Sicily trip to a few more wannabe-wanderers.
“People are coming to the workshops, but they’re also asking, ‘When are you traveling? Because we’re coming on your trip,’” Moyano said. “I think travel will be a lot more intentional.”