Turning A Passion Into A Boutique Travel Business: Don’t Think, Just Do

The dream of many people is to one day open a bar, a restaurant, a restaurant, whatever, when they are older, instead of retiring. They toil all their working lives and maybe they don’t love it, they don’t like it, but they save some good money along the way. What will be done with it? If you squirreled away enough, you probably have a port to list something like starting a business.

Kathy Coleman Wood has always enjoyed traveling. His father was in the US Army, then the National Security Agency, and, as such, Wood lived in various places, including Munich, Germany, where he was born, and Melbourne, Australia. Eventually, the family settled in Laurel, Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Ft. Meade. There, he led the life of a normal teenager growing up in the suburbs in the 1960s (think “The Wonder Years”), attending Laurel junior high public school.

But the plant is always a doer. As a senior, she was class secretary, homecoming queen and yearbook editor. After graduation, he attended a small college in Tennessee, Tusculum, where he graduated with a perfect 4.0 average. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and earned an MBA from the Wharton Graduate School of Business. Wood continued to hold human services in many companies, from large – Union Carbide / Martin Marietta, now part of Lockheed-Martin – and medium, Plasti-Line / ImagePoint – and small – CTI, Inc. . His schedule for many of his jobs is as rigorous — “a 60-hour work week,” he declares — as many middle- to upper-level management positions require.

For example, she and her husband, Charley, took a short trip to France in early 2003. The couple enjoyed the experience so much that they decided to return for months with some of their savings over the years. 14. 2004-05, a sabbatical from life, if you will. Wood said it was there that he planned to open a boutique travel agency. He has made many connections with the French community already, and knows the land. Why can’t others get the same wealth he discovered, and make money at the same time?

Wood designed a company brochure and, instead of sending a Christmas card that year, sent the newsletter to his entire mailing list. Surprise: He only got nine! But Wood was having fun, and firmly believed in his ideas.

As in any good story, random things happen – call it luck – that change the course of life. A USA Today writer was doing research in the Luberon, France, Provence Wood’s specialty region, and wanted advice. The 2006 film starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott, “The Good Year,” caught the journalist’s attention. The following USA Today story appeared on the top of the page in a travel section, and included the name of Wood’s company. The answer: More than 800 leads, almost more than she and her husband can handle.

Experience Europe, the name of the Wood company, continued to grow, and, in 2019, had the best year – 186 customers. But the COVID-19 hit, and all the money of wood for travel will return to customers because International travel is prohibited. Wood is lucky that his company, unlike a hotel or restaurant, needs less money and capital to keep it afloat. He also had the money that he had saved in times of weakness, and was collecting pensions from some of the companies he worked for. The European experience is not advertised, and new business is often through word of mouth. To overcome this disease and get healthy, Wood holds webinars with his clients on topics ranging from cooking, French cheese, to olive oil, all for free.

Now that the world finally seems to be coming out of COVID, Wood’s business is heating up again. So far this year, he has registered 293 customers on 27 different trips. Half of repeat customers, and two-thirds are women. In 2023, he hopes to do even better.

When will Wood retire? Her husband, 77, is returning to the business. “Maybe in three or four years,” he says, admitting that the older he gets, the harder the job gets. “And now I’m doing what I love, working hard and meeting interesting people from all over the world.” Once Wood retires, he plans to sell his company.

Moral of the story: Dreamers can live a dream, with a little luck and courage to pursue a passion, take a risk, start a company. Tree quest is a journey. What is yours?


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