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I love working with tour operators.

And one of the things I love most about working with tour operators is seeing how everyone runs their business slightly differently. Lots of opportunities to learn(opens in a new tab)!

We’ve got a stack of multi-day tour operators, local day tours, activities like zip-lines, equipment rental and escape rooms…from 24 countries all over the world. And all of them are striving to get ahead.

One of our customers, though, is closing in on 7 figures — i.e., a major milestone of many businesses — and I thought I’d share how she did it.

Note: I’m not going to share who it is, and in some places I may be vague, so that I can speak freely about the methods being used and to stop her competition from copying her activities. Sharon is not her real name.

Here’s how Sharon is just about to hit $1m in revenue:

About Sharon:

Sharon decided to start a business for the same reason as many tour operators — a passion for a place. She has no online marketing background and no prior business experience. She’s just very keen to be the best she can be.

Here’s how she did it. Note that it was the cumulative effect of all these actions which has given her the success that she’s been able to have.

1. She found a less-tapped market. Sharon’s tours are in a destination which is known for 5-star luxury. Yet there are many people out there who want to a) visit this place and b) don’t have 5-star budgets.

2. She sells both multi-day tours and single-day tours. Most operators do one or the other. By having two pillars to her business, Sharon has more stable cash flow and uses private day tours to keep her guides busy. This may not be appropriate for your business, but it has worked for Sharon.

The day tours mean she can rank in TripAdvisor and also sell more lucrative multi-day tours. It’s a great one-two punch, which many people have used in a highly effective way.

3. She chose Tourism Tiger. Come on, don’t act surprised that I’m going to take at least some of the credit. Sharon’s business was growing anyway, so why did she need us? With a new site, we’ve helped her grow even faster — with a noticeable spike in enquiries and bookings. The return on investment for her site will be well over 100x within just a couple of years.

4. Finding many distribution channels. Sharon has followed the advice of my book(opens in a new tab) (which is kind of dated now but has a lot of great advice still). She made a massive list of websites that were relevant to her area:

  • Gap year websites
  • Local directories
  • Informational sites about her region

She’s trying to be everywhere she possibly can so that people browsing the internet can find her.

5. She’s been using social media. Facebook(opens in a new tab) has been a major component of her marketing, with thousands of likes and nearly 50 positive reviews on her Facebook page.

She has spent years meticulously building likes through many sources — even her email signature points to her Facebook page. She focuses very heavily on ensuring that as many people as possible who see her business also like her on Facebook.

6. She’s constantly training her staff. Sharon knows that the key of tourism is great product — which is why she signed up for Kelsey Tonner’s Be a Better Guide(opens in a new tab) program. This training program has enabled all of her staff to really grow and improve in a major way.

7. She’s always trying new things. Some things don’t work. So what? I talk to operators who are overly traumatized from spending $3,000 on something. It didn’t work, and five years later, they’re still scared to try anything.

These operators are doomed to spend the rest of their life giving margin to Groupon. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

8. Magazine advertising actually worked out! Advertising in magazines mostly doesn’t work. But guess what — one magazine gave her a great deal, and it lead to both consumer and B2B enquiries. Awesome!

(Note: We have another customer who generates MEGA revenue annually from a tiny ad in a monthly magazine. I nearly fell off my chair when she told me which magazine. I’d never heard of it…but I promised to keep the exact magazine a secret. Sorry! Just know that it’s not a travel magazine.)

9. She talked to operators around the globe to learn from them. I’ve got no idea why other operators don’t do this. And I’m really interested in solving this problem of getting people together to learn from each other. For now, we’ve got a Facebook group called Tour Operators United(opens in a new tab).

I’m also considering putting on an event (for established, serious operators only with $500k+ revenue) where we get 20 people in and everyone drops the kimono to share all their knowledge and secrets. If you’d be interested in that kind of thing, just let me know(opens in a new tab).

10. She attends trade shows with her country. I caught up with Sharon at ITB Berlin. She also goes to WTM London every year. Both shows have been consistent revenue generators.

11. She also acts as a DMC. You’re probably starting to realise…Sharon is doing everything she can to grow. She now acts as a local operator on behalf of some of the world’s biggest travel brands, and this represents 20% of her revenue. She contacted them, they responded, and away it went.

12. She actively works with travel agents. This doesn’t represent a huge part of her business, but it all adds up.

13. She found a local investor who has been able to smooth out cash flow fluctuations.

14. She responds to emails REALLY fast. I’d be really interested to know just how much this affects sales because Sharon is killing it here.

Any lead that comes in, she responds incredibly quickly…and I guarantee that this has an effect on her business. Maybe it won’t double her sales, but you know what — finding the ‘quick way to double your sales’ is a fool’s errand. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Sharon’s business is doing well and growing because she understands that a lot of little things add up to one big thing.

15. She knows her numbers. She can tell you exactly how many sales came from Facebook last month. Exactly how many day tours versus multi-day tours were sold in October 2015. It’s so nice to talk with someone who’s so on top of her business — most operators I speak to have very little idea of their numbers.

16. She’s just…very pleasant to deal with. Last but not least, Sharon is just wonderful to deal with. She tries to make sure that everyone comes away happy and pleased from their dealings with her. I know that I love getting in touch with her: she always makes me feel great. And I’ve got no doubt that this is a big key to her success.

In conclusion, Sharon:

  1. Is willing to try anything at least once
  2. Has a well-positioned product
  3. Does everything she can to take care of every step of the visitor experience to drive even more business.

And THAT is how it’s done. No need to be an expert. The best thing? This business is quite young…and several years away from celebrating its 10th birthday.

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