The slow season, shoulder season, a time which locals look forward to. They get their tiny mountain towns back to play and frolic through, the waves in a beach town are free of those pesky tourists, lineups in grocery stores are non-existent and it doesn’t take you 2 hours to crawl along the single lane highway that runs 4 km across town.
This time, as wonderful as it is for the average local, can be pretty devastating for a tour operator. With tourist numbers absolutely plummeting, weather patterns turning and the looming idea that this shoulder season could be the one to destroy something you have worked so hard for, its imperative that you find a way to survive.
In this article, I’m going to outline 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 dreaded seasons.
Offer Discounted Tours To Locals
I know, I know this sounds crazy, but think about it. Finally, the locals have some free time and want to get out and enjoy the place they live in. Not only will it help you develop a name in the community but it can also be a free marketing tool.
When I was living in Jasper, Alberta, Canada, the fall and spring seasons were always very slow and very tough. Many tour operators would take advantage of this time to offer local employees a discount on boat tours, rafting or guided hiking, and in turn, the locals would recommend these tours to their guests using their own experiences.
It helped these operators fill their tours during the shoulder season and gave them an advantage during high-season. Word of mouth in the tour industry is a quintessential part to success. It can make or break you, so to have locals backing your business gives you a really great leg up.
Danielle Mallen the COO of Acteavo suggests, “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.
Be Fiscally Responsible All Year Round
You know that feeling you get when a massive pay cheque lands and you pay off all your bills and are still left over with plenty of cash? You then make this choice to go out and buy all your friends a drink, or a brand new pair of ‘way out of my budget’ shoes? This applies to brand new tour operators all the time. The busy season was a 7 day a week, 4 months straight season, and the first moment they have for air, they rush to blow their cash on unnecessary things.
If you run a tour that physically cannot run during the ‘offseason’ eg. ski tours in the Canadian backcountry or surf tours in Thailand, it’s imperative to your success that you calculate your budget accordingly.
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, something to fall back on when times get tough and don’t kid yourself saying everything is going to be a ray of sunshine, there will be difficult times, so prepare for them.
Find Another Source Of Income
So let’s say you are financially responsible, close with the locals and offer packages, discounts and other like-minded ideas and you are still struggling to make ends meet. Don’t give up! The tour business is not always easy, especially when there is a niche season for your tour!
People still want to get out their and experience what you have to offer. You just need to find another way to supplement the slow season, it sounds like a lot of work especially after struggling to open what you’re currently operating. Let’s get creative in this process, look at the materials you have and envision using them in a different business. It doesn’t necessarily need to be another tour business, or even relate to what you are currently operating. A great example of this is one of our client’s stories.
Dave from Florida Outdoor Adventures is dedicated to sharing his passion for the outdoors with his clients, but when the summer rolls through Florida and it’s too hot to operate his tours Dave heads to the much cooler Alaska and works for another tour operator guiding kayak tours.
Get out there and talk with the local community, is there something everyone is lacking in this season? Is there a way for all of you to band together and help generate enough cash to get through these shoulder seasons. In my experience living in places that are really affected by the slow season, it’s something everyone deals with, who knows you could be the new local hero for coming up with an idea that helps everyone survive! Regardless of whether you choose to branch out on your own or create something with others, this is a solid opportunity for you to turn something from
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