It was an adventure for six years, but Sweet, the eco-lesbian travel company, is calling it quits on its “do-goodery” vacations.
Shannon Wentworth, founder and CEO of Sweet Ventures LLC, posted a short note on the company website last month announcing that she was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
“I write this with a heavy heart,” writes Shannon, who bought out co-founder Jen Rainin in September 2012. “Due to poor sales and our inability to raise enough capital to continue operations, Sweet has no choice but to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. All operations cease immediately.”
Shannon adds that a bankruptcy trustee would oversee the liquidation and the refunds for scheduled trips.
Sweet’s 2014 trips were being marketed up until the abrupt shutdown February 3.
As of press time, Shannon, a 41-year-old lesbian, hasn’t filed the paperwork in bankruptcy court, according to a search of case filings.
Sweet set sail on its 28th and final cruise to the Western Caribbean in November 2013, Shannon writes in an email to the Girls That Roam.
Sweet is registered with the California Attorney General’s office under the California Sellers of Travel Act and the California Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation, which only protects California travelers who book vacations in California.
The consumer restitution office didn’t respond to the Girls That Roam’s request if any travelers have filed complaints against the company.
Shannon declined to respond to the Girls That Roam’s request for comment until after the legal process is completed, she writes in an email.
On January 13, prior to Shannon’s decision to dissolve the company, she sent out an S.O.S. message to “Sweeties,” as Sweet called its guests, asking for help to raise $25,000 by January 17 and urged them to book their trip to Cozumel as soon as possible. Overall, in order to keep operating in 2014, Shannon needed to raise $150,000 and sell out the Cozumel vacation by the end of January, according to the email announcement.
Supporters cried out, “Save our Sweet!” to lesbian Ellen DeGeneres, host of the Ellen Show, and other potential investors by spreading the word on Facebook.
Unfortunately, Sweet couldn’t be saved.
“We all feel bad about it. We all worked so hard,” says Babs Daitch, who was the director of programming for Sweet, who took a sabbatical from the company in May 2013.
Babs, a lesbian travel industry expert and owner and tour guide of Thanks Babs! The Day Tripper in Las Vegas, says that Shannon tried every way possible to make Sweet work, but in the end there weren’t enough women booking vacations.
“I felt really sad,” says Crystal Phears, a 32-year-old lesbian, about when she learned that Sweet was bankrupt. “I really enjoyed going on these Sweet trips.”
She had traveled several times with Sweet and adopted a cat and dog during two separate Sweet trips and was planning on taking her wife Rocio Penaloza, 38, on a Sweet trip in September when she learned of the company’s problems.
Crystal told the Girls That Roam that she’s been on trips where resorts were completely sold out by Sweeties. Yet, the last cruise she went on Shannon couldn’t charter the entire ship, so Sweet’s guests mixed with other passengers.
“I know a lot of people are very devastated,” says Crystal. “It’s a shame that this is happening because they do so much for the community. Wherever they go they give back and that’s what I liked about Sweet a lot.”
Good Will Travel
Social justice is in Shannon’s blood. A Bay Area native, Shannon and her younger sister were raised by their mother, a phone company service representative, in Contra Costa County. Protecting the environment and equal rights grabbed her early in life and became a philosophy to live by. At the end of last year Shannon moved with her young son, Theron, to the Sierra Nevada foothills outside of Yosemite.
Sweet was Shannon’s way of getting people on board with changing the world while seeing it and having fun. She spoon-fed change to lesbian travelers and their friends with “voluntourism” excursions that lasted from an hour and a half to four-hours wherever Sweet traveled. The excursions included cleaning up beaches, painting children’s hospitals and schools, planting trees and restoring wetlands, helping animals in shelters, and more.
In total, Sweeties logged more than 5,500 hours of community service in five years since the inaugural cruise to the Caribbean in November 2009.
Her brand of vacationing brought queer women together with locals at destinations in countries where homosexuality is more often than not criminalized. The voluntourism excursions left locals and vacationers feeling good and a little more knowledgeable about each other.
By the end of Sweet’s “do-goodery” adventure, Sweeties removed more than 500 bags of trash from beaches, planted more than 7,000 trees, escorted nearly 1,000 baby sea turtles back into the ocean, passed out 24,000 pencils to students so they wouldn’t have to share them, trapped feral cats for spaying and found homes for nearly 100 shelter dogs, and made sock puppets with children whose families exist by scavenging the dumps in Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta.
In addition to the excursions, each Sweet vacation was designed to have as little impact on the environment as possible by reducing vacationers’ carbon footprints in partnership with Carbonfund.org, a carbon reduction and offset organization.
Shannon, along with Sweeties, also donated more than $650,000 to local community and LGBT organizations abroad and domestically, she writes.
For all the giving Sweeties did, Shannon made travel affordable offering Sweet travelers payment plans and organized vacations around all-inclusive resorts and cruises to be softer on vacationers’ purses.
“This is not the future of lesbian travel, this is the future of all travel led by lesbians,” Charlie Rounds, owner of Brand g Vacations, a Minneapolis-based gay travel company, praised Shannon for her visionary ideas for travel during the inaugural Caribbean cruise in 2009.
Girls That Roam witnessed the infectiousness of Shannon’s vision that took hold of some of the women who didn’t have an interest in packaged travel or cruises during that first cruise that sailed with 1,200 queer women in 2009.
Shannon inspired a new market of women travelers who aren’t letting her vision sail away into oblivion. While Sweet may not survive, Shannon’s way of traveling just might live on through its Sweeties.
In an unusual turn of events and as testament to Shannon, Sweeties are already planning vacations together on Sweet’s forum. Some of her loyal guests are planning a Sweet reunion in Isla Mujeres, Mexico in September and they are inviting the Sweet staff to thank them, says Babs and Crystal.
“They’ve invited Shannon and the staff to come with them so they can say, ‘Thank you,’ for Shannon being so nice,” says Babs. “That’s the amazing part of this thing, even though Sweet isn’t officially there anymore.”
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