We had the good fortune of connecting with Shelley Williams and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shelley, what matters most to you?
Being an ethical business owner, is an important business practice. Our company does not put profit over people. We have a duty to provide our clients with superb, personalized services, understanding our client’s needs and exceeding their expectations. Practicing ethical standards also involves, hiring individuals who are passionate about providing these essential services to our clients is very important as well. This requires us to provide our associates a clean, friendly, and comfortable environment conducive to giving professional trusting service. Lastly, but not less is to contribute positively to the communities and environment. We are an active and vocal member of the community and provide continual re-investment through participation in community activities and financial contributions. We have not always gotten it right, but when this happens it is important to acknowledge, understand the issues, implement corrective actions and restart. These ethical business practices are important because we care about our customers, associates, and our community. We believe we have a moral obligation to uphold with all three for their continued support of our business.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
To say our company has been in the tour and travel industry for over twenty years is a huge accomplishment. I am very proud of what our company has been able to accomplish, by expanding our brand in other destinations. Although the global pandemic has strongly hindered our economic growth, I truly believe 2022 will be a record-breaking year for tourism. I believe we have been able to sustain our company thus far through Covid, by making necessary cuts in personnel, cutting operational expenses, deferring projects, and taking advantage of SBA assistance. The travel and tourism industry are billions of dollar industry, although hit extremely hard by Covid it will bounce back. Our company is one of a selective few woman and black own tour companies in the industry, I personally would like to see more black own tour companies, for this to happen, we advocate for the removal of systemic racism in the industry. Last year I wrote to Expedia’s CEO, Mr. Peter M. Kern to address an issue our company was having within the organization, but not just my company alone, Expedia being the largest online travel company in the world, in my opinion Expedia has a responsibility to address systemic racism within its organization and throughout the travel industry. Currently we are looking to collaborate with other industry sectors.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Any trip I plan is a mixture of uptown and town experiences, and it must include local culture consisting of history, food and drink, shopping. A must to do for any visitor to Atlanta is a tour exploring the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. We have a wonderful tour given by Ms. Stephanie a local historian. Ms. Stephanie, has lived and worked in Atlanta for thirty plus years and worked for three Mayors of Atlanta. She gives a detailed overview of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. filled with plenty of knowledge and firsthand account of segregation. I would also recommend a visit, to the Apex museum also located on Auburn Ave, along the way stop and take a photo of the late civil rights leader John Lewis mural. After a day of touring, we head over to Busy Bee Cafe for a delicious Soul Food lunch, one of my favorite places in Atlanta to eat. Day two, is all about the posh Buckhead, known for having the best of the best. We first head to the Atlanta History Center. There we can tour the Museum and the Swan House. The Swan House allows visitors an opportunity to peek inside one of the beautiful mansions Buckhead is known for, step back in history and elegance. Afterwards we head over to the Swan Coach House for lunch, were the ladies who lunch stop to chat about weekly events or celebrate important millstones. Shopping is the main objective after lunch, visit Buckhead Village, Phipps Plaza, and Lenox Square. While at Phipps Plaza, do not forget to stop by Love and Hip Hop’s Rasheeda’s Pressed located at Phipps, pick-up a little something something, for day six. Day three early morning excursion to Midtown Atlanta, known as the culture and art hub of Atlanta. First stop breakfast at the Flying Biscuit Cafe, for coffee and breakfast. After breakfast walk over to Piedmont Park, we take a relaxing stroll through the park, and enjoy the beautiful nature of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. After working up an appetite grab a southern food lunch at the iconic Mary Mac’s Tea Room. Day four is a continued civil rights education at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights a truly an educational experience, afterwards, head over to another historic favorite, Paschal’s restaurant known for serving lunch to Dr. King, and other civil rights dignitary like John Lewis. Day five, we are walking the beltline. We began our afternoon journey at the Krog Street Market a collective of old and new, funky, and hip retail stores and food outlets, we stop to pick-up ice cream at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream to enjoy on our 1.4-mile journey to Ponce City Market. Upon arriving at Ponce City Market, we indulge in shopping therapy making sure to stop by The Bombchel Factory to select unique gifts made of authentic African prints. After all the walking and shopping it is time for cocktails and dinner, for this we skip over to the trendy midtown area of Poncey Highlands to the Sweet Auburn BBQ, both a local and tourist favorite. Day six, night life in Casselberry Hill, known for celebrity own shops, restaurants, and bars. The area comprises the largest selection of black owned business, in Atlanta. We began our soon to be late night crawl with a celebrity beer tasting, at Atlantucky a black owned brewery with a wide-ranging selection of tasty brews, owned by the Nappy Roots, all the beer tasting will work up a hunger, next stop down home cooking with a twist, The Old Lady Gang, owned by RHOA Kandis Burruss turned restaurateur. After we chow down, we continue our celebrity pursuit three blocks up, with cocktails, at the Frost Bistro. The Bistro owners are Kirk and Rasheeda Frost, stars of Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta, Margaritas are a popular drink among us ladies. We call an Uber to head to the ultra-trendy Suite Food Lounge, this place has been featured in multiple reality shows, the VIP section is recommended, we order another round of cocktails, their DJ always set the right atmosphere our party doesn’t stop until two. Day Seven recovery day. Selfcare is in order, we head back to Castleberry Hill to the iwi fresh farm-to-skin-Spa. We pick from a wide -ranging natural and homemade treatments and spa packages consisting of various prices, comprising of facial, massage and manicure & pedicure. They also offer a variety of male packages. Next stop Lunch at No Mas! Cantina Restaurant located a few blocks and walking distance from the spa, up the road. We finish our day and trip in Castleberry Hill at the black owned Indulge Gourmet Popcorn, we pick-up snacks for later, and souvenirs for the family. I love their caramel and cheese mix.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
A year later our business is still being profoundly effective by Covid 19, Seventy percent of our sales came from the Cruise Ship industry. Because of the no sail mandate, we had to shut down operations temporarily, lay off associates, and stop providing tours. Although the economic impact of COVID-19 has differed depending on industry, black and women owned business have been hit particularly hard. Data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce research shows that 66% of minority-owned businesses are concerned about permanently closing because of the pandemic. And a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that 41% of Black-owned businesses have already closed from February to April 2020. Great Exploration Tours is both a women and minority-owned small businesses. The challenges faced have been great, but we are still standing, and I am thankful to my team, my family and most importantly our clients. Recently, in the Atlanta market I was saddened to hear, a friend closed their business for good, Atlanta Movie Tours, Inc. The business was also a woman owned tour company, much larger than ours, also in the market much longer. Being an entrepreneur, is an exciting venture, but many people do not understand the blood, sweat, tears and capital that goes into developing a successful company. I truly commend those entrepreneurs who voluntarily walk through the fire, building something out of nothing.