GOLOCAL

Opening a new travel business specialising in cruising a month before the nation went into complete lockdown has certainly challenged Whangārei's Shannell Christmas.

But the optimistic 38-year-old has found the silver lining amid the Covid-19 crisis, with help from a fellow local business owner.

After 19 years in the travel industry, Christmas made the move to branch out on her own this year, and opened Travel and Cruise HQ on Bank St on February 17.

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She was on a weekly networking Zoom chat with local businesses from the Northland Referral Group during level 4 when another person from the group reached out.

She received an email from Adam Worley, the founder of 1768 Degrees web design and SEO agency, also in Whangārei, which read: "Knowing the absolute hell hole of a time you are having as an industry ... having opened just before Covid-19 hit, I would like to offer to build you a new website and waive all the costs and the hosting fees till such time as things pick up for you."

Christmas said: "I accepted the generous offer and he [Worley] has built me a stunning website.

"My website was very basic. I had done it myself and I'm no web designer. He saw it and ripped it apart."

Christmas said she was particularly "blown away" by the act of kindness because it's likely to be 18 months to two years before international travel and cruising are back.

"I'm thinking, I can't pay you for some time - like years - so I couldn't possibly accept it. But I spoke to my husband and friends, and they encouraged me to go with it, and he [Worley] was just so nice about it and really genuine."

Worley said he wanted to help because "it's the right thing to do".

Before lockdown began, Worley - who used to run business support for companies in the United Kingdom - reached out to all his clients to offer support.

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"Going out on your own is daunting at the best of times," he said.

"With the fact she had to pivot the whole business from cruising to domestic it just felt she wasn't going to be able to do that without a strong web presence."

Christmas said after the initial shock of Covid, and talking to other independent colleagues, she has learned she's in a good position.

"A lot of hard work went into starting a business, as it does," she said.

"But I'm independent with low overheads and no staff; if I hadn't opened when I did there's no way I would have been able to open in the future.

"My whole focus is New Zealand now and I'm actually doing all right. My biggest challenge is that people are so used to booking New Zealand holidays online themselves.

"I can do it for you, my rates are really competitive, and I'll save you lots of time and will be with you 24/7 for support."