Risk pays off for graduate’s travel business

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Karen Cox, ValCox Photography

Aiyana Mathews ’02 (printing management and technology) is the founder and CEO of Gardner-Mathews Travel Concierge in Atlanta.

Aiyana Mathews ’02 (printing management and technology) has always had a penchant for travel. Now, it’s her business.

Mathews is the founder and CEO of Gardner-Mathews Travel Concierge, which is based in her hometown of Atlanta. She started her business in 2010 and has been able to stand out from the competition by focusing on building itineraries around cultural festivals like the Festival of Fire in Spain and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in South Africa. Gardner-Mathews also handles traditional leisure, business and government-related travel and has even started providing local tourism of Atlanta.

“I have the best job in the world,” said Mathews, who speaks Japanese, Spanish, Wolof and Swahili and has visited more than 30 countries. “All of the things that I’ve learned since coming to RIT set me up for success.”

The enterprising alumna indulged in her passion for international travel while she was a student at RIT. On her quarterly breaks, she took trips to South America and Europe. During her sophomore year, Mathews moved to Japan for seven months as part of a research scholar program.

“That was my introduction to Japanese culture and although I didn’t know it at the time, it laid the foundation for my future,” explains Mathews.

After returning to the states and completing her degree, Mathews worked for several major American printing companies and Delta Airlines. But in 2007, an opportunity to join the Japan Exchange and Teaching program presented itself to Mathews and she took it. Through JET, Mathews lived in Shikama, Japan, for three years and worked as a cultural ambassador throughout her town and the Miyagi Prefecture, even serving as co-director of an art and culture show in Miyagi’s capital city, Sendai. When she reached the end of her tenure in 2010, Mathews moved back to the U.S. and came face-to-face with the country’s faltering economy.

Unfazed, Mathews used the situation as a catalyst to combine her business acumen with her travel expertise. In late 2010, she established Gardner-Mathews Travel Concierge, named after her maternal and paternal family names, with nothing more than her personal savings. She earned her first customers two months later and business has been brisk ever since. Mathews plans at least five trips per month and is hiring a team of employees to help her meet customers’ demands.

Now entering her fifth year of business, it’s safe to say that the risk has paid off for Mathews both professionally and personally.

“Even now, I still love packing my suitcase, going to the airport and getting lost in a new place,” she said. “I believe that my passion for travel is what makes my clients confident in my ability to service their travel needs.”