Expat puts 'Faith' into starting travel business
Published on: 08 Jul 2014 12:13 CET
Faith George, 47, made the move from the US to Malmö back in 2002 to be with her Swedish sambo (registered partner). Twelve years on she hasn't looked back, having established herself in Sweden as an in-demand businesswoman.
"I started off by doing SFI (Swedish for Immigrants language course), and it took me about a year before I found my first job," George told The Local.
"To bring in some extra money I started up my first business in 2005, doing proofreading and translation services in English for several companies in the area."
Her early forays into running a business were successful, but in 2008 she wrapped the firm up for other pursuits.
Like many skilled foreigners in Sweden's south, she landed a job with ST-Ericsson, initially working as a technical writer before taking on added responsibilities with the company.
In late 2013 George was laid off but decided not to let that be the end of it. Instead, she used her time away from the workplace to pursue another ambition - establish her own travel agency.
"I was fortunate that my redundancy package was quite generous, so that enabled me to really investigate what I wanted to do. Back in the States I used to work in the travel industry so it was something I wanted to pursue again," she said.
Establishing a business, such as a travel agency, in Sweden requires a great deal of form-filling, particularly in regards to licensing. And it's not cheap.
Fortunately for George, she was approved for a financial benefit known as 'Starta Eget Bidrag' (start your own business grant) to help get her new company off the ground.
This is a benefit available to a limited number of people every year who have been unemployed for some time before starting their companies. The grant is intended to help cover living costs while setting up the company. Those interested can apply for the benefit from their local employment agency (Arbetsförmedlingen).
"For me it is very important as it is a start-up company. In Sweden you get a lot of support when it comes to establishing a business," she says.
George hopes her prior knowledge of the travel industry will help her new agency succeed. She has chosen to target Swedes who are eager to see another slice of the US, as opposed to the standard fare usually offered.
"There is so much more to see, and for me the focus is on a market where there is a good niche. For instance, our main package is a trip to Louisiana, an area I know very well, and visitors will get to see something different with the whole Cajun experience," George explained.
"Another package is going to be heading out to Washington State. We don't want to do the major locations as those are well catered for by existing travel agencies," she says.
Setting up a travel agency in 2014 may seem a bit strange considering how much is done online, often cutting out the middleman.
"There is a lot of competition out, there but having done my market research, there is are opportunities. Swedes love to travel, especially to the US. If you ask somebody they will say with a lot of enthusiasm 'Oh I've been there.' There is plenty of interest is going to America," George said.
Communicating with the Swedes isn't a problem for the US native, as she has long got to grips with the Nordic tongue.
"At the start the language barrier was the hardest. I used to feel like I was in kindergarten when I was trying to speak to people. Now my Swedish is really good. I had to be sure of my level of Swedish before I could really approach the idea of starting this new business."
It's not just Swedes who want to visit America that she sees as her potential market. The businesswoman is also putting together a package for Americans who want to explore southern Sweden.
Right now George is just waiting for the green light for her business to go live. Her Swedish sambo has created the website and is also chipping in with some financial backing.
She also has office space sorted, which is provided as a member of a Malmö start-up incubator.
"The intention is to be up and running in August and really get the business moving then," George concluded.