As a tour operator, you’re likely all too familiar with challenging weather, but we’re here to reassure you that a bit of cold and snow doesn’t have to be a reason to cancel your tours. In fact, quite the opposite, winter and cold weather tours are a great opportunity for tour operators to offer seasonal tours, create additional appeal to locals, and help you make the most of the whole year and not just the peak season! So whether you live in an area with a few months of cold weather, or if you happen to be somewhere with a colder climate in general, check out these tips to ensure your guides and guests are happy.
There is something quite magical about a fresh blanket of snow covering a city, with the reflection of street lights providing a bit of extra sparkle. And for people who live in cold-weather cities, a bit of snow does not mean an end to its standard hustle and bustle. When it comes to cold cities, Detroit, Michigan is certainly on the list, and accordingly, we spoke with Karin, owner of and tour guide for City Tour Detroit(opens in a new tab), who had some great tips to share!:
“Bundle up, duck into buildings to get warm, and include a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in your tour price. Sometimes winter walking tours can be even more enjoyable than summer tours when it’s way too hot and muggy. As long as people are dressed appropriately – heavy coats, snowsuits, hats, scarves, mittens during single-digit temps, tours can be fun during the cold months. Typically holiday decorations are still up, so it’s pretty festive despite frigid temps. If it snows during the tour, it’s even more magical at no extra charge.”
Consider a potential modification to your traditional tour route when you can all take a small pause in an indoor location where you can answer questions, or provide additional information or an anecdote. That way everyone can warm up, and it won’t create an awkward break in the tour. Offering a change from your normal tour route, or a special holiday tour(opens in a new tab) can be a great way to drum up extra business. It’s also a perfect opportunity to additionally target locals who are looking for family fun or a couples activity.
Information is Key
For those who are unfamiliar with the cold weather, or even just unfamiliar with your particular destination, transparency and information are essential to your guests booking with confidence and having the best experience possible.
The reality is, if you’re not familiar with cold weather, you really don’t know what to expect, which means that guests will likely underestimate the reality of the cold. As an operator, your website is your number one tool for informing your guests about what they can expect. There are a variety of ways of going about it. For starters FAQs are a great option for answering the most common questions about what type of clothes you recommend guests wear, or any other valuable information. Your most popular FAQs can be integrated directly into your tour page, and you can also go into greater detail on your FAQ page(opens in a new tab).
Another option is to set up a city or landing page(opens in a new tab). This is a useful tool for not only providing information about your location, but also to give your guests tips about getting around and managing the weather!
Another consequence of cold weather tours is rescheduling and cancellations. Your terms and conditions are vital in properly conveying your policy when it comes to rescheduling, cancellations, and refunds. You need to determine your level of flexibility when it comes to customers who have a sudden change of heart and maintain a balance between keeping guests happy but not putting your business at risk due to problematic cancellations.
When it comes to getting advice on offering tours in cold weather, who better to ask than Doug Toelle from Running Reindeer Ranch(opens in a new tab) in Fairbanks, Alaska. Having run tours in temperatures as low as -60F (-51C), they had some hot tips (no pun intended!) on keeping guests happy in extreme temperatures. Running Reindeer has their own policy which allows customers to withdraw themselves from the tour if temperatures drop below -20F, although they are more than happy to proceed as usual as well!
Proper winter attire is not just a must for your customers, but also your guides! If your guides have a specific dress code, be sure to adapt it for the season. For example, if in the warmer months they usually wear a branded t-shirt or sweatshirt, consider a branded jacket if possible, or for a lower-cost alternative, a branded scarf or winter hat, which will both keep them warm and allow your guests to easily identify their guide. When it comes to your guests, even though by the start of the tour you’ve informed them to dress accordingly on your website and in your confirmation, there will always be one customer who underestimates the cold and overestimates their tolerance to it. There’s nothing worse than one customer having a bad time to bring down the good vibes not only within their own party but of the overall tour group.
If possible (and if budget permits) depending on the type of tour you offer, you could look to provide or loan them winter gear. If you run a small family business like Doug, then you can even collect winter gear to loan your guests during the tour, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy as the priority here is warmth! Then just be sure to have your sanitizing process in place for in-between uses.
When it comes to outdoor adventure tours that include activities such as snowshoeing, ice climbing, trekking, or even winter biking then the appropriate gear has an even greater importance. A key misconception when it comes to being active is overdressing. If the tour is quite active, the body will naturally heat up and there is the risk of overheating. As with any other clothes or gear suggestions, never assume your customers know what to expect, so your experience and tips matter that much more!
Be Ready to Adapt
Consider an adjusted schedule. The reality is, unfortunately not everyone will enjoy a winter tour. That being said you may have to reduce your number of guides and/or the frequency of your tours. In Karin’s case she offers tours the week after Christmas, and then only offers private tours from January to March.
In addition to providing information as part of the confirmation emails, Doug explained that Running Reindeer decided to adapt their pre-tour experience due to a combination of the pandemic and to account for the cold temperatures their guests experience as part of their tour. Previously their tours started with the group all gathering indoors where an introduction took place and all necessary safety information was provided. However, a clever adaptation which is both cold weather and pandemic friendly, is modifying this part of the tour and sending their guests videos that cover all of the same safety and introductory material. That way, when guests arrive they’re ready to go and can get started with the tour right away.
Let it Snow!
The two main takeaways when it comes to winter and cold weather tours is to do your best at planning ahead, and accept that there are certain factors you simply can’t control. Whether it’s a sudden change in the weather, an unpleasable guest, the most important thing you can do is maintain calm, and lead with positivity for the sake of the tour group. It may end up being a learning experience(opens in a new tab) that will give you insight into additional adjustments to make.
Offering tours when others aren’t is a great way to find your niche’ whereas in the summer there is more competition, as fewer tours are offered in the winter you can make the most of this time of year! And be sure to feature photos of your winter offerings on your websites so guests know what they can expect, including ones with happy customers!(opens in a new tab) Winter and cold weather tours are a great opportunity to try something new, and who knows maybe it’ll become a regular offering!
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