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Many who have spent time in Europe, may have at some point or another attended a free tour. This tip-based tour model has become popular across the European continent in the 21st century. These tours are often led by English speakers, students, and artists looking for extra income and a flexible schedule. Free walking tours exist in all major European cities and now the concept is becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

The premise is simple. The tour meets at a set time, usually every day, and often in the central plaza or just outside a key tourist destination. Free tours rarely require reservations and even if they do, there’s little collateral obligating guests to show up. Guides provide the best tour they can and ask that guests tip based on the value that they feel they received from the experience. Often these tours give a general overview of the city or a specific neighborhood of unique interest to tourists.

The Benefits of Free Tours

Free Tours Are Equitable

Tourism is a growing industry across the globe. As more and more of the world’s population enters the leisure class more people are taking trips. This raises the debate about inclusive tourist opportunities versus overcrowding in key destinations. The free tour model chooses the side of equity. Without setting a price threshold for participation, you allow everyone to experience the history and culture of major destinations. Further developing this idea, free tour guides should do their best to make guests feel truly welcome whether they are able to leave a hefty tip or not.

Free Tours Can Provide a Stable Income

For the most part, guiding companies that run free tours find that this model, when run correctly, can be a steady revenue stream. John O’Sullivan the owner of Depot Adventures in Melbourne has found this.(opens in a new tab) Unlike other tip-dependent professions, if you average the tips brought in by guides, per tour over a month, you will find that revenue from free tours can be more or less predictable. Sure there are always going to be high and low seasons. Generally, however, a guide who works a set number of tours can expect relative stability.

The Sky’s the Limit

When you put the power in guests’ hands to determine the value of their experience, they will often pay more than you might have charged. The sky is the limit! Many tour guides find thrill in the possibility of one day receiving an outlandishly large tip. And at some point in their careers as free tour guides, most of them will! The constant chase of higher-earnings also encourages guides to give their all on every tour. Who knows if this is the day that an exceptionally wealthy couple of retired history buffs has chosen to join the tour? It’s a win-win situation.

Free Tours Can Help Sell Your Paid Experiences

If you are a guiding service that offers a diverse selection of experiences, free tours can be a great way to market your paid options. Generally, people go on free tours to get a general overview of a new city. If they enjoy their experience, they’ll be more likely to choose your company for a more in-depth look. You can perhaps entice them with a certain aspect of the area’s culture or a day trip out of town. We have lots of ideas(opens in a new tab) about more specific tours you might offer. Once you have built their trust, at no risk to them, they are a great group to market your more spendy products to. Of course, not all free tour guests will consider paid tours, but many might! Add on a museum tour after your free city walking tour!

Make sure guides are equipped with print materials and knowledge to promote the other experiences that you offer. Furthermore, you want to ensure your tour offerings are well outlined online, so when people return to their hotel after the free tour they can easily find and reserve a paid tour with you. If you think your website might need some work, get in touch with us.(opens in a new tab) Tour websites are what we at Tourism Tiger do best!

Some Things to Keep in Mind With Free Tours

You Are Going to Worry About the Weather

Unfortunately, along with the thrill of uncapped earning comes the downside of rainy days. Free tours are susceptible to externalities such as the weather. It is important to have a good idea of what a skilled guide might earn and help your guides to keep their eyes on the prize. That way, even on days when their group is two study abroad students who disappeared without a word at the final stop, they’ll still provide a memorable tour.

The Guide Matters

When it comes to earning on free tours, skilled and passionate guides hands down bring in more money. People who care about what they are doing, love history, and feel comfortable presenting their knowledge are going to bring in more tips. Guiding a free tour takes a certain amount of ease navigating crowded city streets, keeping an eye on the group, and projecting your voice. Furthermore, if guides succeed at making guests feel comfortable with whatever amount they choose to tip, they will be inclined to tip more than when they feel pressured. Having a set training process for guides and setting aside time for newer guides to shadow higher earners can help close the income gap.

You Might Still Want to Charge for Groups

Even if you are opting for the free-tour model it might be advantageous to have a small surcharge for larger groups. Often groups leave a single tip and can fill up a tour. Removing this externality helps give your guides the potential to earn at their highest capacity.

It may feel counter-intuitive, but especially in the uncertain times we are now living free tours might be just what your business needs!


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