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I’m a self-professed tour fanatic. I love nothing more than to let an expert guide me around a city where I’ve never been before. I’ve even been known to take specialty tours of places where I’m living just so I can see it through new eyes.

However, even for someone who enjoys tours as much as I do, it’s sometimes tough to tell the difference between one tour operator and another. I know that whatever company I end up choosing will take me to all the points of interest, so it’s often not a question of deciding based on the itinerary or route. Rather, my decisions are far more subjective and based on questions like:
“Would I have fun with this company?”
“Do their guides look like people I’d enjoy talking to?”
“Am I going to get my money’s worth?”

We’ve written before about how a tour guide can make or break your customer’s experience(opens in a new tab) and have lots of tips on setting the tone for an epic tour(opens in a new tab). Although having great guides is one of the keys to keeping your customers happy, they can’t shoulder the entire burden. They’re going to have off days, and there may be times that they don’t have all the answers. Even if there’s never been a poor word said about your guides, they can always use a little extra help. Whatever steps you take to make their jobs a little easier will have a reverberating impact on your visitors.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to make your tours extra special to help you stand apart from your competitors. They’re relatively simple ways to improve your guest’s time with you that won’t cost your business a lot of extra money.

1. Help Your Guests Make a Lasting Memory

Visitors often rely on their cameras to remember all the attractions they’ve visited in a day. If you’re taking them on a full-day walking tour of a city, these photos and memories often start to blend together. One way to combat this is by personalizing your guest’s interaction with a point of interest. For example: I once went on a walking tour with my parents that lasted about seven hours. We were having lots of fun, but after going from neighborhood to neighborhood, it was tough to tell one viewpoint from another.

Eventually, our tour guide took us to a bridge that he compared to the famous Pont des Arts in Paris (the one where couples attach a lock to the bridge and throw the key into the river below to symbolize their love). The tour company had prepared for this moment by purchasing a lock for my parents to place on the bridge and even had a permanent marker ready to inscribe their names on it. Ignoring for a moment that many cities are now requesting that residents don’t do that, it was a nice moment. My parents now have a small key as a souvenir of the lock that may still be hanging on that bridge.

2. Listen to Their Interests and Plan Stops Accordingly

Although this is easier to do with smaller groups, even guides leading large group tours can adjust their itinerary to suit their guests’ interests. Say that one of your visitors mentioned their goal of trying a new dish in every place they visit. You could show them your favorite local restaurant along the way or even walk them there after the day is done, provided it’s not too far. And don’t forget to tell them your favorite plate! It’s a thoughtful gesture that shows you’re not only listening to what your guests have to say but also willing to make adjustments based on their suggestions.

The same tour guide I spoke about above took my parents and me to an antique pharmacy after hearing that they were doctors. Both of them were excited to see the different packages and brand names for the medicines they knew back home, and it gave them an added level of familiarity with the city. With such fierce competition between tour operators, a personalized gesture like that goes a long way.

3. Make the Entire Process as Painless as Possible

This might sound like obvious advice, but we often need reminders that what is easy for us might not be easy for our customers. Making it simple for customers to book online is one of the first steps to creating a painless booking process. While you may prefer that guests call you to schedule a tour, many people (like me) will do anything they can to avoid this extra step. Booking forms pose a similar issue because if your clients are anything like me, they need instant confirmation that the day and time they want are available. I don’t want to go through the process of requesting a tour only to be told that you’ve been booked for weeks. If I’m trying to decide between two tour operators and one uses booking software that allows me to book instantly while the other has forms or worse, asks me to call them, I’m definitely going with the former.

It might be because I work for a web design company, but I also struggle with sites that make it difficult for me to find what I want. As someone who does about 95% of their vacation research on their phone, I come across a lot of websites that aren’t optimized for mobile. It’s exhausting having to pinch and zoom just to click links, and I’ve steered away from more than one tour operator because I couldn’t find their tours within the first five seconds of being on the site. I’m willing to admit that impatient—but I guarantee that I’m not the only one. Don’t do your customers a disservice by forcing them to jump through hoops to find what they need: make your website mobile-friendly (or better yet, responsive(opens in a new tab)). If you’re not sure how to do this yourself, feel free to contact us(opens in a new tab) about getting a website that works for you.

The same emphasis on convenience should extend to the tours themselves. While I understand that not everyone can provide pick-up and drop-off, you can make it as easy as possible for guests to find you, such as by wearing a company-branded hat, shirt, or other item(opens in a new tab). One of my favorite tours was one I did with a couple of friends in Buenos Aires. Our tour guide sent us a list of exact instructions on where to meet him, providing the names of cross streets and landmarks that we’d be able to spot if we were standing where the tour started. He also told us of a coffee shop in the area, and we opted to leave our accommodation early and have breakfast there so that we weren’t stressed about being late.

It was a small gesture that went a long way. Since we weren’t familiar with the city, we had no concept of how long it would take to get from point A to point B. Because we had the exact coordinates of where we were supposed to meet as well as the name of a cafe where we could have breakfast before our tour, we didn’t need to stress at all. And for three friends trying to fumble their way through a completely unknown city, that’s saying something!

4. Follow Up and Follow Through

The same tour guide that gave my friends and me perfect directions for how to meet them also mentioned an interesting book while we were exploring the city. I had expressed my interest in learning more about Peronism, and he told me about a book that described the system to non-Argentinians. To be honest, I had forgotten about it upon leaving the tour. However, when I got a follow-up message thanking my friends and me for choosing his company, he made sure to send along a photo of said book, its title and author, and suggestions for where to find it myself.

It was another personalized gesture that probably only took him a minute or so, but it demonstrated an extra level of concern for me and my friends. The most amazing thing was that this exchange happened after I had left him a review (I tend to write them immediately so as not to forget), so he wasn’t doing it in the hopes that I gave him five stars. He did it purely because he knew I wanted to read it. And believe me when I say that it’s made a difference. I’ve told everyone I know who’s headed to Buenos Aires to book a tour with him, and I’ll continue to do so until I run out of people to suggest it to.

Unless you’re the first and only tour operator in your area, you probably have some stiff competition. Implement a few extras like these to give your guests an exceptionally special experience. They’ll thank you for it, whether that’s with a 5-star review or referrals to their friends and family. I know I have.

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