2021 Checkfront Operator Highlights & Stories

While 2021 has been another tumultuous year for travel and tourism, there have been many positive stories that have come out of it. And it may not have been the fresh start many of us were looking for, but it’s taught us all many things — namely — the value of human connection.

And as a company based in Victoria, B.C., on the West Coast of Canada, we couldn’t be more proud to hear from our dedicated and talented operators from around the globe. 

This celebration of highlights from this year is for every single experience provider, adventure seeker and memory maker. You deserve the utmost credit for persevering through another year of changes, pandemic-related restrictions and an ever-changing tourism landscape. 

So, fill up a mug of something toasty to enjoy a wrap-up of “feel-good” stories to cap 2021 on a positive note. Let’s spread some good cheer and positive wishes for a warm, wonderful start to 2022!

Stories worth sharing

Throughout your responses, I noticed how many of you kept your focus on the bright side, sharing stories of moments that filled your heart and left a lasting impression.

When it comes to the end of the year, it’s heartwarming to see the memories that stood out to you this year. Especially since so many tour businesses were partially shut down or severely impacted as a result of the ongoing saga of COVID-19.

With travel-related restrictions, more than one of you said you’re most looking forward to a year filled with more customers, opportunities for connection and a better work-life balance. 

Looking at the next year, every single one of you is optimistic that it will be better. Sure, there will be some bumps and roadblocks along the way, but what do we have if not hope?   

In 2022, many of you said how much you’re looking forward to ramping up business again to welcoming more guests. Speaking of guests, you just never know who’s going to hop aboard. 

Putting the pieces together

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

When asked about his favourite memory from this year, Duncan Spear of Puzzling World gives credit to his crew, commenting on “the sheer awesomeness of our team to adapt to an ever-changing work environment, to give us energy and ideas for new projects (new website, e-shop, cafe offerings etc.) and stick with us (2 x 10th year anniversaries) has been humbling.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“As more markets open up for travel – more business, and revenue to fund new developments for 2022 and 2023 – our 50th year of business.”

Awarding amazing experiences

Amazing Jerusalem Bike Tour

And in the same vein, Menno de Vries shares his experience with Amazing Jerusalem. Having closed the borders to tourists in March 2020, Menno and his team became recipients of an award that could provide little perks due to timing.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“Our country, Israel, closed its borders for tourists in March 2020. In the summer of [2020} we were notified that we were listed in the Top 10 Best Experiences in The Middle East, by TripAdvisor’s Travelers Choice.

Great news, very happy and proud, but the border was still closed for tourists, so there was no way to benefit from it. As time passed by, we got a bit nervous that another tourist-less year would pass.

While neighbouring countries were opening, this would mean we would disappear from the list.

Luckily, TripAdvisor changed its rules a bit and decided that the 2021 awards would be based on reviews from January and February 2020, when we were full in business.

So my favourite memory of this year was seeing our Jerusalem Boutique Tour appear in the new Top 10 list again, even on a higher spot this time.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“We were able to do one — yes only 1 — Jerusalem Boutique Tour in 2021.

After Israel finally opened its borders for tourists again, it almost immediately closed them again.

So you don’t have to be a prophet to say that 2022 will be much better.

Because individual tourists are more flexible than groups, they will return faster.

While pilgrims groups are usually the majority of people going through the tiny Old City of Jerusalem, the first half of 2022, at least, will be a blessing for our tour in Jerusalem, because there will be no huge crowds at the major holy sites.

So we are very excited to show Jerusalem like it was after the first pandemic in the Roman Empire: uncrowded. That pandemic happened at the end of the 2nd century AD.”

Familiar connections

Stagecoach Wine Tours

For Stagecoach Wine Tours, Tyler Tombin shares how they took a family out and shared how they took a family out on tour. And one encounter crossed the boundary between past and present.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“I took a lovely couple out on a private wine tour, we had an amazing day and came to find out we had a crazy connection. The wife’s name was Yvonne, I said, ‘What a lovely name, we are kindred, my mom’s name is Yvonne.’

We proceeded through our day getting to know each other. She said, ‘We live in La Habra Heights.’ I started to feel a strange connection. I said my mom, Yvonne, grew up near there and went to El Rancho High. She said her dad also went to El Rancho. I then showed her a picture of my mom, the 1960 Homecoming Queen. She said, is your mom’s maiden name *******?.

My jaw literally dropped, only my bank knows my mother’s maiden name. She told me she has this picture, her dad gave it to her when she was young. She proceeded to tell me that she was named after my mom! What!? I came to find out her mom and dad went to El Rancho High and her dad had a high school crush on my mom.

Stagecoach Wine Tours

His wife wouldn’t let him name their first daughter Yvonne. She told me when the couple had her, their second daughter, she gave in and let him name her after my mom, what?!!

Tears came to my eyes…Is this real!? My mother passed away years ago, was this a message from her? I sat there and cried thinking, ‘I am sitting with a woman, my mother’s namesake, what a small world and what an amazing coincidence!’ I miss my mom, her legend lives on. The connections we make with people are my favourite part of conducting wine tours!”

How could this not leave you feeling like serendipitous moments happen during travel?

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

In 2022, Tyler and his team are “looking forward to forging new connections and new experiences for our wonderful guests, many of whom continue to come back year after year.”

Having repeat customers is a solid indication that you’re providing guests with the kind of experience that they enjoy. Stagecoach says that having Checkfront has worked wonders for them. ”

Wharewaka O Poneke

Full of heart

Christine Fox from Wharewaka o Pōneke Enterprises Limited shares her favourite memories from this year, echoing similar sentiments to fellow experience providers.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“While it has been an interesting year here in Aotearoa with all our borders closed to international visitors we have been focusing on education programmes and contributing to virtual engagements like APEC – haumi ē, hui ē, taiaki ē!”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

And in looking towards 2022, Christine points to international borders opening up in the spring, saying how at the end of April, she’s “looking forward to welcoming manuhiri (visitors) back to Aotearoa. Our Matariki (Māori New Year) celebrations happen in Wellington on 24 June – one of the best times of our year.”

Cruising on through

Jenny Kuo shares this video of her company, Breakaway Yachting showing how they spent 2021. It’s safe to say, they’re happy floating along into 2022.

Inspiring adventure

Adventure Room Canada

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

Lisa Thomas from Adventure Rooms Canada shares how much it brightens her day to be able to “welcome people “back together”. And whether in person, or virtually, after being separated due to the pandemic, or just unable to go out and experience something new and fun together. We are thrilled to be able to continue to help our guests create exciting memories together.

Isn’t this what it’s all about? Sure, this year has been rife with the need to adapt and overcome even more challenges, but it hasn’t caused Lisa and her team to lose hope.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

And in 2022, Lisa’s hoping for more opportunities for guests to build and share new memories by “continuing to offer both our in-person and virtual experiences, wherever possible, to help bring positive moments to our guests across Canada.

Like many of you, she says “we love what we do and we are grateful for the opportunity to continue to offer new and exciting adventures to our fans!”

Escape from reality

Escapade Puzzle Games

Sam Mannix from Escapade Puzzle Games introduced a new offer to his guests this year.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“Opening our brand new escape room Heirloom. It’s our most immersive and high production theme to date and people are loving it! After a tough year with lots of closures and a huge amount of time spent building Heirloom if feels amazing to finally release it to the public.”

In forging ahead into next year, Sam is gearing up for an uninterrupted year full of options that will lead to growing their operations.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“Hopefully an uninterrupted year where we can really build our business!”

I have a feeling Sam’s sentiment will be shared by many, even if 2022 ramps up slowly.

Bouncing around

Chris Thompson from Bounce Time Rentals credits this year for bringing joy to his guests.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“My favourite memory has to be delivering our equipment to a child’s house where you could tell the bounce house was going to provide a much-needed break from the world around them.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

As a result of spreading some joy and happiness, Chris has high hopes that 2022 will be destined to set the pace to continue our business growth and return to some sense of normalcy.

Wonders of nature

Naturalist of Science & Tourism, Dr. Zé Nuno shares their favourite memory from the year — potentially the result of a quieter travel landscape.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“A sperm whale was born in the Azores as we were observing and collecting data on the sperm whales, right in front of our eyes. Minutes before a large female had jumped close to our boat, so this really was an all-in expedition for all naturalists onboard! Nature at its best!”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

In 2022, Dr. Ze is anticipating “more expeditions with smart educated travelers eager to explore the best of nature in Portugal and the Azores!”

Exploring hidden gems

Cody Cave Tours

Dixie Anderson of Cody Cave Tours loved sharing the experience with students far and wide.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“We are grateful for an amazing season with so many stand-out memories but a highlight from our year is when we had 3 separate school groups from our community able to participate on tours on the same day. Seeing so many students sharing our passion for Geology and caving feels exciting.”

Embarking on more mysterious explorations of caves, Dixie Anderson is excited for what’s to come in 2022.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“Looking forward to more fun, more memories and plenty of adventures in the year ahead!”

Shining the night

Hot Holiday Party Australia

Connecting with Peter Stacey of Hot Holiday Party, he credits his customers for appreciating his team.

What is your favourite memory from this year?

“Emails and phone calls from customers who compliment us about our customer service.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“I’m looking forward to Australia’s borders opening up again to International Tourism and in the meantime, he shares how much they appreciate receiving “Emails and phone calls from customers who compliment us about our customer service.”

Supportive communities

Escape Reality Glasgow

Brian Scrymgeour from Escape Reality, Glasgow highlights the amount of positivity his team received.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“The overwhelming support we got from our groups and the people of Glasgow when we reopened our Escape Rooms after months of COVID lockdown. The support was tremendous and we couldn’t be happier to be back bringing joy and excitement back to people’s faces!

It was amazing to hear stories from our guests about how our activity was the first thing they did post lockdown and a memory that inspires us.”

Excitingly, 2022 shows no signs of slowing down either, as Bryan and his team have some big plans in the works.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“We have a lot of exciting news to bring our customers in 2022 which may… or may not but definitely is a brand new Escape Room coming in 2022 which we are all very hard at work building at the moment.”

Moving and shaking

Courtney Friedman from EcoPax shares how “this year was filled with so much residential and commercial moving.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“With so many people moving to the southeast – we stayed super busy taking some of the pain out of a rather painful experience — moving! We helped a lot of people move more efficiently but most importantly we kept a lot of cardboard (trees) from ending up in the landfill. This makes us very happy! We love our planet!”

For Courtney and her team, growth is on the horizon.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“We are franchising this model and it will be available to anyone soon in the entire USA!”

Reaching new heights

SWS Mountain Guides on snowy mountain

Timothy Keating from SWS Mountain Guides reflects on 2021 with fond memories.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“Here at SWS Mountain Guides, we had a great year guiding in the high mountains of California, especially Mt Shasta and Mt Whitney, getting back to climbing with our clients.”

“SWS clients are great working with us around all the challenges we had this past year, and incredibly proud of getting the clients from the Michael J Fox Foundation to the Summit of Mt Whitney as one of their foundation’s fundraisers. Thanks to all our great clients for coming out and climbing with SWS Mountain Guides.”

SWS Mountain Guides

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“In 2022, SWS Mountain Guide, with our sister companies California Rock Guides & California Ski Guides, are looking to many more exciting rock climbs. Teaching more Certified Avalanche courses keep folks safe in the winter snows.

“We are moving forward with our international expedition programs in 2022 to Nepal, Russia, Japan, and Argentina. We look forward to another 40 years of “Guiding the World’s Mountains” with all our fantastic clients.”

Connecting with locals

We caught up with Brian from Ocean River Sports, who like Checkfront is based in Victoria, BC.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“My favourite memory is of our staff, all busy on our kayak docks, putting people on the water. Everyone is smiling, laughing and joking. Nearly all of our clients are locals, who are now experiencing kayaking and Stand UP Paddle Boarding as a way to enjoy our incredible Vancouver Island.

Clients light up when they start to feel the glide and ease of this sport and start to experience a whole new world. Victoria has been voted the best city in North America to kayak, and it is.”

Looking ahead to a new year means having the opportunity to inspire and greet new guests.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“Our tourism clients have not really come over the last two seasons, but we hope to see more Canadians and soon, see some tourists start to come back. We hope to see our general tour business increase but keep our instructional courses busy.”

Admiring the Aurora Borealis

Greenlander Aurora Borealis

Markus from Greenlander shares both the benefits and downside of the slowdown — and found that only the most committed tour guides went out to visit the Aurora. 

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“Oh, it’s been a fab year! Financially quite terrible, but our little town of Tromsø got a bit of much needed rest from mass tourism. And was great in a way, only the true Aurora passionate guides went out touring, with or without guests.

Finally could visit the places, which usually get crowdy with big groups. (We) didn’t have to rush out to get a spot for Aurora viewing. The streets were calm and winter peace could be enjoyed. Finally no mad driving frenzy by tourists with rental cars.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“To have some good time outdoors and advocate nature to the guests again. Been a good life, expect it to stay this way for the future. Probably will be more bookings as well, I believe.”

Forging friendships with food

Feast Thailand Food Tours

Leigh Higgins from Feast Thailand Food Tours took a conservative route to manage the slowdown describing how “with our business being solely focussed on international visitors we knew it was going to be a tough road ahead. We decided to hibernate the business until we knew there were ‘bums on planes” coming back into Thailand.”

But rather than stopping everything altogether, Leigh points out how they instead, chose to keep “our social media channels operating. We wanted to keep our team of 4 who have been with us since we commenced the business 5 years ago. Through this period, we needed to keep them not only employed but engaged and hence we searched for ways to do this.”

Her team, collectively, has gained more skills “like graphic design, photography and editing as well as improved translation skills. All of which has helped with keeping our social media channels alive.”

“We also had another income stream into our core business from the start which now plays a large role in that business as it is paying the bills currently.

So this is my favourite memory is about how we supported each other through the tough times, learning and keeping our heads, minds and hearts moving towards the future.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“Like many of us hoping for a better year ahead, Leigh says she is excited for a year that is ” potentially different, in a good way, than the last 2 years.”

In search of adventure

Louis from WildCoast Adventures highlights this year with a video of guests enjoying their zipline outdoors.

Brewing with the best of ’em

Austin Brewery Tours

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

Shane Orr of Austin Brewery Tours notes that his “favourite memory of 2021 was showing travel thirsty guests a great time on our brewery tours of Austin. People seemed really thankful for the experience this year.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

And heading into 2022, Shane says he’s “most excited about new opportunities to grow in 2022. We see it gearing up as a big year.”

Revving up for good time

Horizon Adventures two motorbikes

Joao Soares from Horizon Adventures looks back on this year fondly.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“We are happy to have very good memories with our customers this year! Things are slowly getting back to normal (after difficult Covid times).

We have worked on new itineraries and had a massive response to our local customers (while foreigners had travel restrictions). After the summer break, we had our first international group after Covid with Danish customers that did their 4th tour with us!

And guess what? They will be coming back again in 2022! Yeah … we hope this is just the beginning of a promising re-start for Horizon Adventures!”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

“We’re looking forward to welcoming more and more groups of international customers and showing them our beautiful country – Portugal!

It’s the last kept secret for motorbike off-road guided tours, with endless tracks, amazing scenery, warm people, top-class accommodation, and last but not least our passion for motorbike riding and making new friends! If you can only choose one country to visit on your off-road holidays, Portugal is definitely the answer … with Horizon Adventures, obviously.”

Chance encounter

Caribe Activo Tours

Omar Lopez from Caribe Activo Tours says this year was special, namely how they spotted a unique visitor.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

I remember a family that did our private Saona VIP tour, it was the first time they had traveled outside of Spain, and of course their first time in the Caribbean. That day, not only them, but I (who was with them on the tour), saw a manatee approach us on the beach we visited.

It was an incredible experience, with an animal so difficult to see and so kind. He was with us for a long time, happy to be caressed.

In the 7 years that we have been operating tours in Punta Cana, I have never seen a manatee in the wild, and in such a wonderful way. Without a doubt, that day has been the best of this year.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

By 2022 I hope to open a new destination (Mexico), and offer a large number of new experiences to our clients.

Exploring new horizons

Travelling Chicken guests 2021

And lastly, Lenka fromTravelling Chicken shares what made 2021 stand out in her mind.

What’s your favourite memory from this year?

“We were so great to see people how grateful were they to be able to travel again after the first and second wave of Covid-19. Canadian borders were closed for very long time so people who live in Canada were not able to travel abroad for almost two years.

They were all so grateful that we have organized the tours and they could explore Ontario and Alberta with us. For lot of local people it was a first time to see provincial parks near Toronto so we were happy that they got a chance to explore places where they’ve never been to even they are really close to their hometown.”

What are you looking forward to in 2022?:

“I am looking forward to welcoming international travelers to Canada again and to start plan our first international adventure to Mexico in 2022. We are also starting a new tour package in Banff, Alberta.”

Wrapping up

As each year comes to a close, we look back. Some moments are filled with joy, happiness and serendipitous encounters paired with a healthy dose of obstacles that help you appreciate the good times.

And, the best part is that you’re still standing. So when we ask, do you know what’s so amazing about being a tour operator? It’s every single one of you.

In the travel and tourism industry, where guests have endless choices, you’re the secret sauce and the heart behind every traveller’s stories. We know for a fact, that the defining part of each booking is you.

It’s clear that your dedication and passion are driving things forward. Even if you had to overcome hurdle after hurdle, you stayed the course.  What makes our work here at Checkfront so gratifying is seeing talented teams just like yours who continue to persevere and push forward. 

Here’s to a brilliant 2022 and beyond!

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