Full disclosure: I’ve never started a tour business. I do have business experience though, and I travel as often as I can, so don’t rush to write off my advice! Here are my 10 tips for starting your tour business. Or for improving your tour business. Even if you’ve been a tour operator for years, you should be sure that you’re doing all of these things.
1. Get an idea
This may seem like a ridiculous tip to include, but you’d be surprised. We often get clients who are starting a business and know they want to give tours in a certain area, but haven’t quite nailed down the specifics. That’s okay. Don’t rush into it just to be done. Really think about your location and market(opens in a new tab). What kind of tours would work well? Is the market saturated? What can you do to set yourself apart from those other tours? One solution is to do the same tour in a fun way. Maybe wearing cockroach costumes? (I would 100% go on your tour.)
2. Make it legal
Be smart. Get registered. Keep your books. Follow labor laws. Consult with a lawyer now to figure out what you need to do. It’s worth the cost to avoid paying for lawsuits or fines later.
3. Hire a good staff
You need people who can both share their knowledge and keep people entertained(opens in a new tab). It’s a tall order! These people are going to represent your business, so you are allowed to be picky when choosing your staff(opens in a new tab). I can’t tell you what questions to ask, but I do suggest that you think about your mission statement and who you want to be as a tour company. My dad says I’m funny, but that won’t get me a job as a museum tour guide. Unless they were cockroach tours, I bet those guides are full of jokes.
4. Be on social media
Right now, your potential clients are on Instagram(opens in a new tab) looking at photos of your area. They’re on Twitter(opens in a new tab) looking at news and weather to adjust their expectations. They’re on Snapchat, but trust me, they’re not looking at tours there. You want them to see you on those social media networks. Post photos from tours. Post schedule updates in case of emergency. Post blogs. Post testimonials. Post staff pictures. Just post and get yourself seen.
5. Make yourself Instagram-friendly
A lot of people like to pooh-pooh millenials and their need to document everything for social media. Those people never sat through Grandma and Grandpa’s slide shows. Wanting great pictures to remember a trip (narcissism, if you’re a pessimist) is not a new phenomenon! If you can show tourists that you’ll give them great pictures(opens in a new tab), they’ll be likely to book with you. Every Grand Canyon tour is going to come with loads of beautiful pictures. That’s just a given. But if you show people that yours does, it might make them doubt if your competitors’ will.
6. Figure out your brand identity
Driving down the road late at night, you see a sign in front of you. It’s a fast food restaurant. How do you know which one it is? Would you go there if you were hungry? Absent a food poisoning incident, that’s largely because of their brand identity(opens in a new tab). It is incredibly important for tour operators to develop their own brand identity! You often only get one chance with these tourists. You need them to see what makes you special. The blog post I linked earlier in this section can help you get started. If you are looking for professional help, the designers at Tourism Tiger would be happy to work with you(opens in a new tab)!
7. Get a good website
You had to have known that this tip was coming! If you want to sell tours, you need a website that sells tours. Your website will show people that you’re professional. You’re committed to your business. You’re not going to disappear with their money. You can build your website yourself (follow these tips(opens in a new tab)!) or you can contact a professional web design company (maybe one committed to helping tour operators succeed(opens in a new tab)?).
8. Use a good booking software
We’ve written before about the importance of good booking software(opens in a new tab). So what is a good booking software? I have no idea. It depends on your business type, your tour types, your location, your preferred payment type, and a million other things. Spend some time evaluating reservation systems(opens in a new tab) to be sure that you get the right one for you. Really take your time with it and consult many sources(opens in a new tab) to be sure that you’re making the right choice for you and your tour business.
9. Start a blog
Once you have a tour website, start a blog. This is incredibly important(opens in a new tab). Start it now(opens in a new tab), even if you’re not sure what to write(opens in a new tab). What makes it so important? Ask yourself this: how do you learn about places you’ve never been? You go visit them, right? Of course! But before that, how do you know where to go? Which museums are worth the time? When is the best time to raft that river? You Google it and, often, read a blog post (or several) on it. By having a blog, you’ll set yourself up as the local expert. When those people arrive in your location, they’ll come to your tour company. Writing can be a challenge though. If you’re not up for it, we can help(opens in a new tab)!
10. Don’t take my word for it
I truly believe that my advice will help you. That said, I’m not a tour operator. I’m not a business owner. So what do I know? You’re wise to doubt me. You know who is both of those things? Tour Operators United(opens in a new tab), a Facebook group full of people who are eager to help your business succeed. They’ve all been there before and can help you avoid common pitfalls. You can also check out your local and national associations(opens in a new tab) for the same reason.
So there you have it: your 10 tips to start (or improve) your tour business. Good luck!
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