May 22, 2024


Inspired By Travel

When Then Pandemic Closed A California Travel Agency, The Owners Looked To Their Backyards

For more than 10 years, Kelly English took people on expeditions all over California as part of her travel agency, Explore California. Her clients were either tourists wanting to experience the state’s most popular areas or companies looking for custom tours and special corporate events. Her business was flourishing, and she had large excursions planned, including an epic Golden State tour for four couples from Texas and a corporate event starring California wine country.

Then in March of 2020, everything came to a screeching halt, and her company had to annul $400,000 worth of contracts.

“We had to cancel big events and trips that we had scheduled all summer and fall — essentially our primary source of income vaporized,” English said.

So English and her business partner, Adam Ballard, went back to the drawing board to reinvent their business, seeking a concept they would both be passionate about.

Predicting that tourism wouldn’t start up again before May of 2021, they sold their 15-passenger van and other business assets to avoid hemorrhaging money, and managed to receive the first round of a PPP (Paycheck Protection Plan) loan.

Despite their best efforts, though, they had a lot of time on their hands. But the downtime proved useful as the pair became reacquainted with trails near their Marin County homes, and in November 2020, eight months after the start of the pandemic, they launched HikeFix.

The new online business provides details for hikes all over the Bay Area so residents spend less time searching through user-generated reviews and more time exploring attractions in their own neighborhoods.

“People get stuck at one trailhead, but what if you can go one mile up the road and discover a different trailhead with a completely new hike? Or two miles up the road, and we’ll tell you about a local pizza shop at the end of it,” English said. “It eliminates all the friction of choice.”

One HikeFix member, Kate Clark, recently moved to the East Bay from San Francisco and found herself in a hiking rut, always returning to the same three trails. She wanted options for day trips that were customized to her needs.

“I asked for ‘easy,’ dog-friendly hikes with wide trails for social distancing and received three perfect options — one in the East Bay, one in Marin and one in the South Bay,” Clark said.

HikeFix helps address the new-found or rekindled appreciation for the outdoors since the start of the pandemic. In many sleepy Bay Area neighborhoods, it seems like more residents than ever before are out and about, resulting in previously low-trafficked trails becoming a bit crowded — an apparently predictable side effect of the pandemic.

“Hiking, visiting parks and boating/fishing were the pursuits most likely to see a coronavirus-related boost,” concluded a study on the effects of cabin fever published early in the pandemic by the marketing group Civic Science — promising insight for the new hiking-related subscription service.

HikeFix, which offers three different membership packages that feature curated hikes and gear, has roughly 60 subscribers as of mid-January.

“I’m pretty excited about this whole concept,” said English, adding that she doesn’t really miss traveling and is enjoying spreading her wings in the local community. “There is so much that the Bay Area offers. Just to finally get to know it and dig in has been super fun.”

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