Perhaps no business sector was harder hit during the COVID-19 pandemic than the cruise and travel industry.
Local, state, national and global mandates have been ongoing since the pandemic started in 2020, bringing with it social distancing needs, testing protocols, proof of vaccinations, forced closures, cancelled bookings, decommissioned ships and more.
The impacts have been brutal for small business owners specializing in cruises and trips.
Adam Martindale, who owns Cruise Planners – Martindale Travel & Tours, which since 2015 has specialized in luxury cruise travel with an emphasis on wine and food group cruises and tours.
His company is not just for seafarers, it also coordinates flights and land travel, specifically booking couple and group wine and food land excursions, escorted tours, transportation and hotel needs.
Besides wine and food travel and luxury travel for groups, the company also caters to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer travelers looking for memorable cruise and land travel experiences.
Martindale isn’t quite sure how he made it through the thick of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, but his company has found a way to thrive in 2022.
The Nightmare of COVID-19 for Cruisers
“Those were rough years, really difficult,” said Martindale, 56. “And 2019 was my best year ever. The first year in 2020, the first six months, people were cancelling, asking for refunds, upset with how long it was taking to get their refunds. We’d reschedule their trip for later in 2020, then we had to move it to 2021. Then we had to reschedule those. It was a nightmare.”
Martindale said he stayed positive, and he had also stayed in touch with the client base he had built up over the years. “I sent personal notes to them, I made phone calls, I never stopped marketing,” Martindale said. “I was really focusing on the end of this pandemic, knowing it was going to happen.”
Martindale said that the previous four years he had built up his clientele. He already had a thriving network of friends and colleagues he had worked with or for during 30 years in the food and beverage sector.
“We managed to get unemployment and the PPP funds, which helped me a lot,” he said.
“At one point, I almost looked for a job to survive,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a god idea to renew my lease where I lived in Banker’s Hill. A lot of business travel companies closed down, a lot of agencies gave up. I think I was working more at that time than I was before, but working in a different way.
“I got a lot of new clients through the pandemic, a lot of referrals. I took on a lot of clients for the long-term and it’s really worked out well. I’ve come out of this three times stronger than I was before.”
Recovery is Coming for Travel Industry
There have been signs of recovery in the cruise travel industry to be sure. In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its risk assessment of cruise travel after more than two years of warning travelers against the dangers of contracting COVID-19 on a cruise.
Starting June 12, the CDC no longer requires air passengers traveling from a foreign country to the United States to show a negative COVID-19 viral test or documentation of recovery from it before boarding a flight.
With the lightening up of mandates, things have gotten so busy for Martindale’s company that last October, he hired an administrative assistant.
“I’m just really busy now,” said Martindale, a board member with San Diego American Society of Travel Advisors.
Traveling Across the Globe
Born in England, he has lived in Miami, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Seattle, Santa Barbara and now San Diego. His travels have taken him to nearly every spot on Earth, from Capetown and Dubai to Napa and Ensenada.
Martindale said from a young age, he knew “I always wanted to work on cruise ship.” He left the United Kingdom for Miami when he was 19. By age 23 he was working as a food and beverage director for Carnival Cruise Line.
“I worked on 10 of their ships,” he said. “I was in charge of all the restaurants on the ship, ordering and making sure the operations would go smoothly. I think about it now and it’s crazy!”
He said growing up in the food and beverage industry and the travel industry, making connections and staying in touch with people he met back in the 1980s and 1990s — some of whom were colleagues “and are now vice presidents or directors” — has been a key to his continued success.
Getting through the pandemic validated his business plan and has given Martindale renewed energy and confidence to keep moving forward.
“Looking back, I’m not sure how I stayed positive through it all,” he said. “People were freaking out, there were re-bookings and then there would be another wave. I was worried behind the scenes. I don’t know how I did it, but I trained my mind to stay focused. You can either be negative or positive. I chose to be positive.”
Cruise Planners – Martindale Travel & Tours
OWNER: Adam Martindale
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
BUSINESS: Land and sea travel
WEBSITE: www.cruisewinetravel.com and www.martindaletravelandtours.com
CONTACT: (619) 879-3601
NOTABLE: One of Martindale’s upcoming trips is a June 30 to July 7 cruise to the Greek Islands and Turkey with the San Francisco Wine School with Master Sommelier David Glancy.