Cilla Utne

Cilla Utne is pausing to rethink biz under Covid-19

Like a lot of island entrepreneurs, Cilla Utne lost customers and potential income as the impacts of the coronavirus settled in.

But unlike many other business owners – on the island and throughout the country – she’s taking a positive approach to the Covid-19 crisis.

“It feels like a fantastic opportunity to get things right,” says Utne, who owns and operates Cross Cultural Journeys, a boutique travel business focused on offering socially and environmentally responsible travel options for individuals and groups.

Since coronavirus restrictions went into place in early March, Utne says travel plans for at least 120 customers have been dashed; and that she could lose somewhere between $40,000 to $50,000 in foreign travel arrangements.

“There’s no guarantee these trips will ever be done again,” she says matter-of-factly. “Who knows what’s going to happen.”

Utne has applied for federal small business assistance and is hoping to receive some compensation. But rather than fretting over the relief package, she’s instead trying to refocus and realign her business.

She’s Zooming with customers and associates in other countries in an effort to discover the “essence of what my business is. … If my only focus is money, I lose (out on) what my purpose is.”

To that end, Utne is taking a deeper dive into Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation that serves as a vehicle for participants to “give back” to the communities in which they’ve traveled.

One recent example of the foundation’s work occurred last year when a group of Bainbridge select soccer players visited Manchester, England, where legendary soccer star Michael Carrick, who has his own foundation, introduced them to at-risk street kids and exposed them to a whole different subculture.

Many of the participants later donated to Carrick’s cause and will continue to do so through the CCJ Foundation going forward, as all travelers are asked to do.

“To have an exchange and to learn from other cultures and figure out how we’re all connected” is what her foundation is all about, says Utne. “I haven’t had enough time to learn about it.” Covid-19 has given her that opportunity.

The time off has also allowed her to better assess her business relationships and to look harder at travel place recommendations and operational matters, like what is the best travel insurance for her company to purchase.

“I’ve found out who my friends and partners are” so far during the crisis, she says. “I’m a tiny little company and maybe that’s lucky for me.”

The 51-year-old Utne is no stranger to financial downturns. Some three years ago, roughly 75 percent of Cross Cultural Journeys’ business was focused on travel to Cuba. That quickly vanished when the Trump Administration clamped down on travel access to our neighbor island nation to the south.

Utne had to lay off staff and pay down debt. She then built up reserves and was “just ready to ramp up” when the coronavirus took hold. Private trips abroad organized for special groups like the one that was recently canceled for the Bainbridge High School Jazz Band are what pay the lion’s share of Utne’s bills, but those arrangements may be the thing of the past.

“We’re moving towards something different that is not business as usual,” she says, looking forward. “I see it as an opportunity not to go back to the way things were, (but to be) more aware of ourselves and the planet.”

Only time will tell if Utne’s vision comes true. For more information on Cross Cultural Journeys visit:

Kevin Dwyer
Kevin Dwyer & Associates
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