February 22, 2021
COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport
When Cheryl O’Brien plans a travel experience, she wants her guests to relax, kick back, and enjoy the ride. Her tours offer opportunities for guests to connect with each other while discovering something beautiful and unique to the Pacific Northwest.
O'Brien started her 10-year career in tourism as a guide on the Double Decker tours in Seattle. In 2011, she started Cheryl’s Northwest Tours. Today she's the only full-time employee and employs six drivers who introduce guests from around the world to our region’s most treasured destinations.
O’Brien's company transports small groups in SUVs on full-day or half-day tours to see iconic Northwest places and the itineraries to iconic Pacific Northwest destinations are always evolving. Recent destinations include Puget Sound lighthouses, the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Whidbey Island and Deception Pass, and National and State Parks.
The tours are perfect for cruise passengers who want to spend a morning, afternoon, or full day exploring the Pacific Northwest before or after their Alaska cruise. With cruise passengers making up 70 percent of her business, the guides pick up or drop off passengers at the airport, cruise terminal, or their hotel.
The cruise industry fuels regional companies that provision ships, travel agents, local tour companies, and even professionals who tune pianos onboard. In 2019 the Port of Seattle’s cruise business created nearly $900 million a year in total local business revenue, with each homeport ship call contributing an average $4.2 million to the state’s economy and supporting over 5,500 jobs.
When COVID-19 cancelled the Alaska cruise season in 2020 and greatly reduced recreational travel, O’Brien’s business, along with many other tourism-related businesses, took a huge hit. She has adopted a wait-and-see approach for 2021, hoping to operate tours this spring or summer if it is safe to do so.
The Port of Seattle has long been a supporter of small business growth and workforce development, and has made contracting with small firms, including disadvantaged, minority and women-owned businesses a priority.
O’Brien was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and is an encyclopedia of the region's past and present. She's passionate and loves teaching her travelers about the region's history, heritage, geology, and culture.
She spotlights destinations that capture the essence of the PNW and shows the wonders that make this region different and unique. Today, her most popular tour is called “Waterfalls, Mountains, and Bavaria” and includes stops at Snoqualmie Falls, Stevens Pass, and Leavenworth. O’Brien takes her cues from her customers and is always dreaming of ways to keep things fresh for customers.
“I listen carefully as to why they picked a particular tour and try to understand what they want; I’m always willing to be flexible,” she said.
Many potential customers find O’Brien through Trip Advisor, where nearly all of her tours receive “Excellent” ratings from former guests.
“The tours are very interactive, and we are all friends by the end of the tour; that really resonates with people,” she said. “It’s a nice, relaxing day and we are in smaller groups so we can get to know each other.”
O’Brien said the biggest comment she hears from guests is that they don’t want to be herded around on buses that limit visits to 10 minutes per stop. By keeping the tours small, guides can personalize the tour according to guests' feedback, and they can get to know each other.
Growing up, O’Brien’s father instilled in her a love for adventure and travel. They camped, visited the ocean, and explored different parks.
Over the years, O’Brien has been able to explore much of the United States, the Philippines, Australia, Tunisia, New Caledonia, Fiji, the United Kingdom, and Europe, learning that each place has something unique and beautiful to offer. Today, she’s able to share her knowledge and passion for the Pacific Northwest with visitors from around the world.
For now, O’Brien is holding off from operating tours until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and she feels confident that it is safe to open.
Looking further into the future, O’Brien dreams of one day operating three Cheryl’s Northwest Tours locations, expanding to Spokane and Portland to add tours focused on Idaho and Oregon sites.
February 22, 2021
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