First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: We are all doing fine, thanks. Fortunately, no one in the family has been affected (health-wise) by the COVID-19.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Galiwonders.com.
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: After a couple of years of living abroad and working in different areas of the tourism industry, I noticed an increasing interest in my region (Galicia, in Spain) as a tourist destination. This is mostly due to the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route that is walked by thousands of pilgrims every year that finishes in the capital city of my region, Santiago de Compostela. This is how, in 2016, I came back home and founded Galiwonders.com.
How does Galiwonders.com innovate?
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: We sell tailor-made tours on the Camino de Santiago, and we do it online. This could seem quite common now, but very few companies were offering a similar service when we started. We are “global,” we are focused on international travelers, but operating from Galicia. We always adapt our itineraries to the needs of our clients (not the other way). Flexibility, online, and international focus are the main innovations of our company.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: It had a huge impact on our business; 2020 was supposed to be the best year ever. Back in March, our sales had doubled our expectations for the year. We were in the process of recruiting new staff and moving to a bigger office. But in just one week, all these bookings turned into cancellations. We had to work from home during the quarantine in Spain, and our business was almost frozen. We decided to dedicate all this time (that usually would be devoted to processing new bookings, sales, etc.) to create new content on our website and social media. Also, we decided to focus on national travelers, as international tourists were not allowed into our country.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: Yes, the most difficult choice was to restructure our staff and terminate some contracts; also, when we had to decide to start working from home, due to the circumstances. About the lessons learned that it is important to understand that we can’t control everything. We tend to believe that things can be under control with the right protocols, organization, etc. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do to control the circumstances, and we must understand our limitations.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: Good question… These months have been an emotional rollercoaster. I tried to focus on the idea that nothing lasts forever, good times, and bad times. Also, I think it’s very important to keep moving, to make the most of my time. Write new content on the blog, or try a new Newsletter, or translating this and that… Things that we usually don’t have the time to do as we are focused on day-to-day issues (calls from clients, suppliers, urgent travel problems, etc.). In short, doing something with my workday to be ready when the market is open to travel again.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: The are other companies organizing tours on the Camino de Santiago, but at the moment, the sector is kind of chaotic. Like after an earthquake, we are still trying to figure out who has survived, who is still around us… We plan to contain our spending during these times of uncertainty (as our country is still under movement restriction policies), concentrate on creating a more diverse offer, and focus on the closest markets. And have all the resources ready to invest in promotion once we start to receive good news about the evolution of the virus, and tourists are open to travel again.
Your final thoughts?
Sabela Ruiz Gippini: This situation appeared unexpectedly and caused huge damage to the tourism industry (and many other sectors). But, as the writer Rainer Maria Rilke said in one of his poems: “Let everything happen to you Beauty and terror Just keep going No feeling is final.” This situation has an end, even if we can’t see it right now. I understand it’s important to make choices (even the most difficult ones) in order to survive and be there once things are better. People will always want to travel, but this might not be the best time to plan it. However, when the interest persists, the ability and freedom to do so after COVID-19 will be really appreciated.