The GoTo Profiles in Resilience series celebrates businesses navigating uncertainty to unlock innovation and long-term growth. Our first episode features Durham Travel co-founders John Wood and Sarah Moore. We sat down with them during Small Business Week to learn how they have kept their business resilient over more than 20 years in the ever-changing travel industry.
There is nothing "small" about small businesses. Small businesses have created 12.9 million new jobs in the U.S. over the past 25 years, accounting for 66% of jobs added to the economy and playing a vital role in our economic growth and innovation.
However, economic uncertainty impacts small businesses differently than their larger peers. There's often no tried-and-true playbook to follow. They must be extra creative and agile to adapt to shifting circumstances during tough times.
Our new series, Profiles In Resilience, showcases companies that have unlocked innovation and growth while navigating adversity. To celebrate Small Business Week, our first profile features a company that embodies the ethos of resiliency and agility.
John Wood and Sarah Moore are the co-founders of Durham Travel, a travel agency based in Ontario, Canada. They sat down with us to share the lessons they have learned from over 20 years in the business.
Founded on a lifelong love for travel
Durham Travel was founded in 1999 by John and Sarah, a father and daughter team who share a lifelong love for travel. "Traveling has given me so many new experiences. It's the best education I've ever had. I always wanted to give this gift to my children — and I can do that by entering the travel industry," said John, president, and co-founder.
John had a successful career in banking before starting Durham Travel. Part of his work involved managing financial planners, and after sitting on planning sessions, he noticed that the one thing his clients were not willing to give up was their vacations, even during uncertain times. He realized the travel industry was more recession-proof than many believed.
Durham Travel is known for providing its clients with exceptional services before, during, and after their trips. Its dedicated team of agents brings extensive knowledge, experience, and industry connections to create customized, bespoke trips for its clients.
With 23 years of experience in an ever-changing industry, John, Sarah, and their team have overcome their fair share of challenges. No matter your business's operational maturity you can learn from their experience to cultivate resilience in times of uncertainty.
Your true north: The foundation for navigating uncertain times
Small businesses must set a solid foundation by defining their mission. Then, they must identify what sets them apart and focus on enhancing their unique positioning.
Compared to their larger competitors, Durham Travel realized early on that clients stay with them because of their exceptional, personalized services and has worked relentlessly to maintain and augment that market positioning. John and Sarah also believe in and invest in their employees, many of whom have been with the company for over a decade.
The staff's dedication to delivering high-quality services gives its clients peace of mind that assistance is just a phone call away, no matter where they are and what time it is. This bespoke experience sets Durham Travel apart from its competitors and discount travel sites.
“The most important thing for us is serving clients in our community,” said John. "We're proud to be family-owned and operated. We have close relationships with our employees. [We’ve had] very low turnover because we listened to the people we hire, and that has served us really well.”
Another critical factor that helped John and Sarah ride out market ups and downs over the years is their love of travel and helping others experience the world. "As a small business owner, you'll work more hours and put a lot of yourself into the company. If you don't love the work, you can't invest the time and effort to make the business succeed," said Sarah.
How to navigate challenges
The travel industry has seen no shortage of challenges during the past couple of decades: From external events like 9/11 and the Covid-19 pandemic to industry changes that forced agencies to revise their business models and increased competition from discount ticket sites. Durham Travel, like all successful small businesses, must adapt to each challenge and meet customer expectations to stay relevant.
In particular, building and maintaining customer trust is essential, especially during uncertain times. Like Durham Travel, successful businesses invest in tools and employee training to improve customer retention and build brand affinity.
"Many travel agencies laid off their staff when they closed their storefronts during Covid. We kept our employees on and set them up with the right technology to work from home — answering calls and serving customers just like they were in the office. Our customers knew that they could get help from us, and many have returned for future bookings," said Sarah.
How to cultivate resilience
Durham Travel remains resilient by adapting to the shifting business environment and market expectations. Besides a talented and dedicated team, John and Sarah credit their success to the company's ability to identify opportunities and meet evolving customer needs.
Resilience starts with a forward-looking mindset, which allows businesses to anticipate and adapt to the unknown. It’s about making sure you have the right team and the right tools to capitalize on opportunities, while consistently managing costs to avoid the need for drastic cuts when times are lean. When it comes to tools, it's more important than ever to ensure your tech stack can support your future success in a technology-driven environment.
Most importantly, Durham Travel has stayed true to its mission. This effort is paying off in the post-Covid world, where consumers seek bespoke and worry-free travel experiences. "Many former customers have returned to ask us to plan their trips as they realize that we provide exceptional value. They know they can call us any time if there's a problem," said Sarah.
Forging a path forward
Running a small business isn’t always easy but Durham Travel has found a formula that works well for them. So, no matter what lies ahead for your small business, it's never a bad time to cultivate resiliency and focus on what matters most.
"Focus on your purpose, and don't sweat the small stuff. Worrying about every little thing will kill the joy of going to work. No matter how bad the problem is, there's usually a solution. It's just a matter of finding and implementing it," said John.