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COVID-19 grounds business for independent Vancouver travel company

"One thing is certain, none of us will come out of this the same.”
Keri Montgomery runs Finisterra Travel out of her Mount Pleasant apartment. Photo Dan Toulgoet

An independent Vancouver travel tour company owner is trying to remain positive while navigating the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which, she says, has been “absolutely devastating” to the travel industry.

Keri Montgomery who has worked in the travel industry for the last 16 years says she was bit by the travel bug early on.

“Always dreaming of far-away lands, people and places, I majored in anthropology in university,” she told the Courier in an email. “I took every opportunity that I could to hop on a place and explore somewhere exotic.”

In 2004, Montgomery saw a job posting for an international tour leader and with that her career in travel took off.

“I’ve since led hundreds of tours to destinations around the globe and my journeys have taken me to about 80 countries.”

In late 2012, Montgomery started her own company, Finisterra Travel, out of her Mount Pleasant apartment with the aim of creating “tailor-made experiences to the further-flung corners of the globe” specializing in adventures such as photography tours, culinary trips and wildlife safaris.

Montgomery said she and business partner, Nicola Wilson, first started noticing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in early February.

She said many clients that were booked into destinations in South East Asia started looking to cancel or postpone their trips. However, as the pandemic has continued to spread, business has all but dried up.

“We are relieved that as of [March 18], all of our travellers had returned back home safely. We even pre-emptively postponed group trips scheduled for May without any fuss from our customers. They understand especially now with most international flights being cancelled and borders closing without notice,” Montgomery said.

Now, she said, it will likely be several months before people start booking trips again. For now, Wilson and Montgomery are passing the time getting caught up on all the behind the scenes stuff — the website and accounting.

She said they’ve also been trying to persuade travellers to re-book or postpone trips instead of outright cancelling their plans.

“We are trying to find that delicate balance between being as flexible as possible for our clients, and acting responsibly towards the people who depend on us and tourism to feed and educate their families.”

Here at home, Montgomery said she is grateful Finisterra is a smaller operation, and she does not have any employees to worry about.

“We work with several contractors, but don't have any employees at the moment, thankfully, as we would definitely have to let them go,” Montgomery said.

She said the pandemic’s impact on the travel industry is as damaging as it is widespread. 

“We've spoken to many of our partners around the globe about the impacts of COVID-19 and though we are all trying to stay positive, it is soul destroying as tour operators, guides, drivers, and others who work in the travel industry have already lost their jobs.

“It's a time of uncertainty and unpredictability, and we understand the collective anxiety. One thing is certain, none of us will come out of this the same.”

Montgomery said she doesn’t see things changing in the industry for at least a few months.

“We are trying to remain positive about the long-term. Humans are curious beings and it is a big wide world out there. When the time is right, we will encourage people to travel again,” she said.

Montgomery said she has heard that domestic tourists have already started travelling again in China “which is a great sign.”

In places like Italy, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, travel professionals believe that domestic tourists will start travelling again in one to two months, with international tourists starting to return in two to three months.

“Italy is a resilient country, they will eventually recover.”

 In the meantime, Montgomery is remaining positive from an acceptable social distance.

“This too shall pass. For now all we can do is breathe, stay positive and plan our next adventure.”



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