The slow season, also known as shoulder season, is a time that locals tend to look forward to. Their tiny mountain towns are theirs once again to relish, the waves of their beach town are free of tourists, lines in the grocery stores are non-existent, and it doesn’t take them 2 hours to crawl along the single lane highway that runs 4 km across town.
As wonderful as this time may be for the average local, it can be pretty devastating for a tour operator. With tourist numbers absolutely plummeting, weather patterns changing, and the possibility of severe losses looming, it’s imperative that you find a way to survive.
So, what are a few things that you can do as a tour operator to capture as many of these dwindling numbers as possible and turn a profit in these low-traffic seasons?
1. Offer Discounted Tours To Locals
This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. Locals finally have some free time to truly enjoy the wonderful place they live in, and a tour with you is one way to see their hometown with fresh eyes. This influx of locals may help you develop a name in the community as well as serve as a marketing tool. If locals have participated in the tours, they can therefore recommend your services to their seasonal guests using their own experiences. That jewel of a tip from a local may just bring you business you’ve been missing out on.
2. Test Out a Rewards Program
As Danielle Mallen, the COO of Acteavo, says, “Running rewards programs like ‘Book 3 activities and get one free’ can really boost your sales because it requires your customers to buy more of your product than they might normally for the opportunity to get a free one.” This is a great time to sell new packages and test out different ideas for the busy season. It’s a wonderful opportunity to promote some of your less popular tours and help people understand how fantastic all your products are.
3. Be Fiscally Responsible All Year Round
If your business is particularly seasonal, you likely earn your yearly income in a period of 4 months or less, meaning that the cash flow that you see coming in is huge. I understand how tempting it can be to spend that cash as a reward for all your hard work. However, remember to budget well and keep in mind that this is your main income for the year. That’s not to say that you don’t deserve something nice — whether it be personal or for your business — but make sure that the purchase is in your budget before committing. Struggling to make ends meet during the other 8 months of the year is not an experience to look forward to.
Terry Kyle, author of 400 Latest & Greatest Small Business Ideas, says, “The long-term financial maturity required in running a seasonal business is much, much greater than a conventional 9-to-5 employee that can rely on a regular paycheck.” Give yourself a buffer that you can fall back on when times get tough and prepare for those tough, less busy times. This is when you can do your idea testing and general maintenance of your business.
4. Find Another Source Of Income
Maybe you’ve already had these ideas, but you’re still struggling to make it through your slow season. Carry on! The tourism business is not always easy, especially when there is a niche season for your tours.
Find another way to supplement the slow season. It may be quite a bit of work, especially after you put so much effort into creating your business and getting it off the ground in the first place. Get creative! Look at the materials you have and envision using them in a different business, possibly outside the tourism industry or something completely unrelated to what you’re doing now. A client of ours, Dave from Florida Outdoor Adventures, does just this, and maybe his story will inspire you.
Dave is dedicated to sharing his passion for the outdoors with his clients in sunny Florida, but when the summer arrives and it’s too hot to operate his tours, he heads to the much cooler Alaska and works for another tour operator, guiding kayak tours. Maybe take a page from Dave’s book and join forces with another tour operator in your area (or outside it, as in Dave’s case). Talk with people in your community! Maybe there is something everyone is lacking this season. Find a way for all of you to band together and help generate enough cash to get through these shoulder seasons, as you are almost guaranteed not alone in this shoulder season struggle. So get working, and have faith!
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