Being a tourist-based business in Maine is nothing new, but the quarantine limitations and restrictions place on it this tourist season definitely is.
Rachel Sağıroğlu, a client of the CEI Women’s Business Center, who works in the tourism business, shared how she is adjusting to the “new normal” this season. Rachel has just started her new venture, Experience Maine, a destination concierge and event planning service, in August 2019.
“Having my WBC advisor’s advice and mentorship when I was getting started was so helpful with all of the minutia of starting the businesses. It’s not the kind of thing most people know off the top of their heads and CEI was right there. I was also able to take advantage of a CEI Wicked Fast Loan to bootstrap the company, working with [CEI Loan Officer] Bethany Richards and she was fantastic.”
Rachel was taking clients and recruiting members for her website, ExperienceMaine.com. Everyone in the industry was enthusiastically making plans for 2020: “2020 was supposed to be a banner year for Maine tourism – we were looking forward to the bicentennial, being a stop on the PGA’s top developmental tour, a visit from one of American Sail Training Association’s Tall Ships – there were plenty of things to draw people to Maine.”
In the early months of 2020, Rachel’s work calendar was filling up with commitments for conferences, meetings and events, but when COVID hit, all her confirmed work cancelled and her plans were gone in the blink of an eye.
As a solo entrepreneur, many of the Federal support offerings, like unemployment and the Payroll Protection Program, weren’t well suited to Rachel. However, Rachel was able to get payment relief on her CEI Wicked Fast Loan, when CEI provided access to SBA funding that provided financial support to qualifying microloans. This flexibility was vital as Rachel pivoted her business from out-of-state and corporate clients to a two-pronged approach for sharing and enhancing the Maine experience for those who already love the state.
First, when the impacts of COVID-19 were just becoming apparent, Rachel was already deep in the process of launching Experience Maine Treasure Boxes – a curated gift box filled with Maine-made foods and gift items. While originally designed to be a bonus offering for her corporate clients, Rachel realized that the Treasure Boxes and ExperienceMaineMade.com could have a wider audience and help support other Maine businesses impacted by the shutdown and quarantines. The box launched in May and for the first two months, Experience Maine donated 20% of all profits to the Maine Tourism Relief Fund. Rachel was surprised to find that the bulk of the orders were from Maine residents to friends and loved ones out of state. “A lot of the notes that went out with the boxes had statements like “Sorry you can’t make it out this year – here’s some Maine to tide you over until next time.”
Rachel’s second shift was to focus on the out-of-staters with Maine ties, namely those who owned summer homes or frequented rental properties. By connecting with rental property managers, she was able to connect with families that intended to stay quarantined in Maine and enhance their home-away-from-home experience by providing them with things like a rental trampoline for the kids or scheduling a private charter to maintain social distancing – helping people make the experience as enjoyable, and safe, as possible.
In the midst of adapting with these new business lines, Rachel continues to make connections for her original business model, with a method that supports both her business and other Maine hospitality businesses impact by COVID-19. Typically a paid-membership site, Rachel has waived membership fees for tourism and hospitality businesses on ExperienceMaine.com for 2020 and is in frequent discussions with strategic partners about cross-promotional opportunities. Visits to the site have started to increase again and rebooking requests, primarily for social events, have begun to come in.
As someone with 20 years of experience in planning meetings and events, Rachel has built her career on forging connections, adapting to the unexpected, and seizing unique opportunities, tools that put her in an excellent position to survive and thrive, even in these unprecedent times.
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Check out the full range of CEIs Business Advising offerings at https://www.ceimaine.org/advising