Lockdown Economy France in a Travel Business with Dr Monique Y. Wells
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Agapi Yang
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Karen Rickers, we meet Dr. Monique Y. Wells, the co-owner of Entrée to Black Paris, a travel service in Paris. In her second interview with Lockdown Economy, Monique describes how she had to re-design her business model due to global travel restrictions. In collaboration with experts and partners, she designed a virtual Black Paris experience that customers can enjoy from the comfort of their own home. She continues to work closely with these partners to expand Entrée to Black Paris’ offerings and build upon what they are already doing. Likewise, they continue to shift their focus on local customers, offering tours in French, to complement their services tailored to the African-American market.
How has the business been affected by the pandemic?
Monique: We have had a stroke of good fortune in the sense that as a result of the walking tour that we did with Oliver G. of the Eiffel tower last June, we have been able to put together a new offer, a new service which is called the virtual black Paris experience. And that has really caught on. It was totally unexpected it was not on our radar. It is something we feel is going to drive our business for the bulk of 2021 and beyond because it directly addresses the inability of people to travel. This virtual experience is not like anything I have ever seen before. It is a combination of video and live curated content. It has been incredible. We have had incredible responses to it.
Could you tell us a bit more about the transition to this online virtual experience?
Monique: Anytime anybody was doing Facebook lives and these kinds of things it was Oliver’s idea to do a live stream of walking tours for his audience. Oliver is an Australian that lives in Paris and his audience really did not know anything about Black Paris and he really did not know much about it either. So we did this walking tour actually to raise money for my US non-profit which is called the Wells International Foundation. Oliver generously put that live stream up on Youtube and gave us his blessing to do anything we wanted with it. A few months later I came across a woman who runs a non-profit in the US and she thought for a project that she was doing that this would be a perfect thing.
So we did this combination of video and streaming. It was on Youtube, it was not really streaming, it was playing the video that was on Youtube and having Oliver and I give commentary to this group of students in Atlanta Georgia. And it was just phenomenal. We could not have imagined how well that would be received. We have gone forward from there. Now I am working with a company that creates online experiences so it is not just me. Oliver is not doing this with us anymore, it was his way of giving back to this school. But he said, “This can build your business so go for it”. So we are doing that and we are working with a company that has created an online experience.
It is not like virtual reality because you are not actually physically in the space, it is kind of hard to describe. But it is like you board a plane fly to Paris and you get off the plane and then you do my tour. Then there are all kinds of bells and whistles that can go with those extras, if you will, so you can have a sky lounge experience and you can have an after party and all of these kinds of things which are just extremely creative. Nothing that I would have ever come up with on my own. I have just been blessed to have these people come into my life and see the value in what we do and have these creative ideas that can build upon what we are already doing.
How is the communication with the customers?
Monique: We reach out to our customers weekly with an announcement about the Entrée to Black Paris blog and then probably once a month or maybe twice, depending on how much is going on what is new at Entrée black Paris, we send out to our mailing list. When people learned about this they were just very excited.
We have actually gotten some very good press as well as the biggest article that was published, I think on February 12th, it was by the black enterprise in the United States and that is really huge. It was an exclusive on what we are doing and our clients have just been “How can I do this”. So we are offering it to groups right now and so individuals who want to do this we are putting them on a list and we are actually talking with a travel agent who wants to offer this as part of her new offering because she also is having to figure out how to pivot. She is out of Chicago and she cannot do her regular bus tours even in Chicago or elsewhere. She does them in certain places around the U.S and Canada. But she thinks that this virtual tour is fantastic and she can absorb those individuals that want to do our tour to join hers. So it is a win-win.
Would you say that collaboration has been more of a factor in these past months?
Monique: Absolutely. Not only with regard to the clients and the organization, so the collaboration with Oliver and with the company that is putting the experience, the collaboration with other non-profits because we have started doing this with other nonprofits, but now the virtual Black Paris experience is a collaborative program that we are doing with my U.S non-profit the Wells International Foundation. And so that has opened up an entirely new sphere of activity and influence and possibilities for us.
What would you say are the greatest learnings of these past months?
Monique: Silver linings. No matter how bad things appear and no matter how bad things are, there is something that we can glean from it, there is something good that can come of it. We simply have to, and it is not even so simple, but we have to be of the mindset and we have to have the openness of spirit to look and be open to what comes in for us during these times. It is sort of a cliche that during the Great Depression the most millionaires were created or however you would say that. Because in that horrible horrible time they saw an opportunity. That does not mean that you take advantage of people in a bad way, but you see that the opportunities arise and you see how you can fit into them and how you can use them. So that is what we are doing and it is working.
I think it takes a certain amount of vision. But before you can even have the vision you have to be open that the thing can happen. If your mentality is that this is just a horrible thing and everybody is going down the tubes, then you won’t be able to see those opportunities. If, on the other hand, you say things are really bad now and you do not know what is going to happen but open to possibility, that is the only way that those kinds of things can come into your psyche into your spirit. And it is the only way that you will be able to evaluate them and act on them.
What are your thoughts and vision of where the Entrée to Black Paris will be in the future?
Monique: I hope we will be building upon this new virtual Black Paris experience which is one walk. We have so many other walks that we can model in this way. At the end of the call with the group that we did the first tour for the first virtual experience, I said to the educators and to the students that there are three additional walks that I have in mind to do for them, so to stay tuned. When those things will actually come to fruition that is another question, but they are hot in my mind and they are burning in my heart and in my spirit. I know that these girls will benefit from experiencing the material I am going to put into these new virtual Black Paris tours and I cannot wait to get them out.
Are you thinking of any other services that could complement these virtual experiences, if there is the chance to move the tour offline again?
Monique: We are doing our most popular walk in French. Because US Americans cannot travel to France we are turning to the French. There is an interest in this topic among the French so we will be delivering this in French. When things open up a little bit, even if the borders do not open we will open this up to a new audience.
Will you continue to collaborate with your partners in the future in a post-crisis scenario?
Monique: Absolutely, because what we are doing and the work we have always done for-profit and the work that my non-profit does are in perfect alignment. And I have just recently come to realize that there is no point in keeping them apart and we should be working together as much as we possibly can. The non-profit arena offers a lot of additional opportunities that a for-profit arena does not. So I think both will grow individually and then together. They will be synergy and the whole thing will blossom.
Could you name three things that you could need help with in pursuing your goals?
Monique: First thing is the technical expertise to create more of these walks. We have some sort of a template right now. But I believe we will serve better by doing this walk in just a little bit of a different way depending on the audience, on the age group, the topics and also depending on the materials that we have. Because we do not have a video for everything. So we will need to use some still photos and there are all kinds of things and I do not have the technical expertise to know what is possible and what is really feasible. So the technical expertise is one thing.
We also need to continue to publicize what we are doing. So getting more press and doing a better job with social media. We are very active on social media but we are not so much focused on building the social media following just as getting the information out there. So that is another area, publicity and promotion.
And the third thing is funding. Because we are doing this in tandem and in partnership or collaboration with the non-profit, funding is something that the non-profit can go after to make this opportunity available to people who could not otherwise afford it. And that is a very important part of what I want to do. In the for-profit, you cannot be benevolent in the sense that you have to earn money or your business goes under. But in the non-profit arena people can fund you and make these opportunities available to people that could not pay you otherwise. That is extremely important to me. So we will be looking for funding and we will need help in identifying who funds these kinds of things and what would make us attractive to them outside of just the general principle.
Do you have any last words for our audience?
Monique: If you do not know anything about the history, culture and contemporary life of African-Americans and the larger African diaspora in Paris, check out Entrée to Black Paris. We are a wealth of information and we love to share it. We just look forward to hearing from you. And as soon as the borders open we will be happy to welcome you back to the city of lights, but in the interim look for our online experiences and enjoy!
About the Guest
A native of Houston, Texas, Dr. Monique Y. Wells has resided in Paris, France since 1992. She is the founder and CEO of the Wells International Foundation (WIF) and co-owner of Entrée to Black Paris, a travel service that specializes in walking tours and activities on African Diaspora Paris and gourmet Paris.
Dr. Wells’ thirteen distinct Entrée to Black ParisTM tours are the hallmark of her travel business. Her training course for destination specialists, entitled Paris — An Afro-centric Perspective, is the only continuing education course for travel professionals that features Paris as an Afro-centric travel destination.
A visionary, a change maker, and a steward of legacy, Dr. Wells has founded two nonprofit organizations. Through her entrepreneurial work as a veterinary pathologist and toxicologist and her work as an award-winning travel professional and writer, speaker, and mentor, she embraces and harnesses the power of education to change lives.
Dr. Wells launched the Wells International Foundation (WIF) in October 2015. WIF’s inaugural event, an art exhibition called Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color, combined three of the foundation’s Strategic Focus Areas (SFAs) — the Arts, Travel/Study Abroad, and STEAM Education.
To fulfill its Women’s Empowerment SFA, WIF held a two-day International Women’s Day conference/retreat in Paris on March 7–8, 2019, entitled The Successful Woman: Lifestyle, Legacy, and Leading by Example.