Ep. 40 — Meet Nicole Will of Asheville Wellness Tours

10 minutes with Nicole Will of Asheville Wellness Tours.

Nicole Will sat down with Tourpreneur Podcast Host Shane Whaley and shared why she decided to start her own tour business having worked as a tour guide for many years.

We also discuss some of the challenges she has faced since launching her Asheville Wellness tours business which includes working with 50+ partners. Nicole also reveals why she picked Xola as her booking software partner and we learn more about her marketing and OTA strategy.

This episode and interview of Tourpreneur@Arival is presented by Checkfront. The booking platform trusted by over 5,000 tour and activity operators around the world. You can start your own free 21-day trial over at Checkfront.com.

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Links and Resources Mentioned on This Episode of Tourpreneur – the podcast for tour operators.

Interview with Nicole Woll of Asheville Wellness Tours. Full transcript.

Shane:                    And welcome to TourPreneur at Arival, presented by Checkfront. We are joined on today’s episode by Nicole Will. How are you, Nicole?

Nicole:                    Doing well.

Shane:                    Fantastic. What’s the name of your tour company?

Nicole:                    Asheville Wellness Tours.

Shane:                    I always like to see Asheville represented here. This podcast owes a lot to Asheville because it was Toryn and Alice that I interviewed on episode one, and I don’t know if many listeners know this, but it was actually Alice that I emailed before when I had this idea and I wanted to reach out to somebody who was fairly new to the business to ask if they’d want to listen to a podcast about tour operators. And she was all for it. So Alice, we owe you a great deal.

Nicole:                    Can I tell you a story about Alice, a very fast one?

Shane:                    Go on.

Nicole:                    She is also a nurse and my business partner just had a baby and Alice attended to her and the baby in the emergency room. And our business partner credits her with saving her life and the life of her baby. I mean, Asheville is very small, but that’s pretty small.

Shane:                    Yeah, but that’s pretty amazing.

Nicole:                    She’s a lady of many talents.

Shane:                    Absolutely. So, your tour, how did you get started and when did you get started?

Nicole:                    We started in 2017 as a walking tour downtown, and yoga hikes in the area. And it really was a collaboration in the beginning, a Yogi, a tea house, and a salt cave. Had a dream of bringing people into that wellness scene in Asheville, it’s been part of our history for a very long time.

Shane:                    Fantastic. And when did you start up?

Nicole:                    2017.

Shane:                    How did you know … so obviously you’re very passionate about wellness. How did you know there would be a demand for your tour and activity?

Nicole:                    Well, we didn’t really. I’ve been a hiking guide for 15 years now and just watching how people connected to nature and then, as they were coming into Asheville, connecting also with that quirky kind of mountain town vibe of just … we have a lot of alternative healers available and people wanting to know, “What else is out there, what’s available to me?” They’re on vacation, they’re willing to push that comfort zone a little bit. And so it really was starting with those two basic offerings. We just listened and had conversations and said, “Oh, well you want a little bit more,” and so we’ve really morphed since that time.

Shane:                    Fantastic. What do you find the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

Nicole:                    Oh man, that’s a tough one to answer. So many pieces. Connection, I would say. Yeah. People really connecting to the place they’re visiting, to each other, unplugging, connecting to the mountains, the really beautiful environment we have. It’s really powerful.

Shane:                    Yeah, absolutely. What would you say, in your business, what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

Nicole:                    The biggest challenge. Right now our biggest challenge is we have over 50 local partners we work with and I think crafting each of those conversations can be interesting. It’s a wild variety of business models and experience types. So I’m human, I’m not always going to get that conversation right, and I’d say that that’s probably our biggest challenge at this moment.

Shane:                    So how do you go about researching? So if you’ve got 50 plus partners, how do you know what makes each one tick? How do you go about that? What would be your tip to tour operators who are listening in to the show that need to do the same thing?

Nicole:                    Yeah. Really experiencing what they have to offer and sitting down and getting to know, asking them that question, you know what I mean? Just having a space for conversation. And then realizing too that that conversation is going to shift over time and just reminding ourselves to always be open to re-having the conversation.

Shane:                    Yeah, absolutely. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?

Nicole:                    You know, I would think it goes back to the connection piece. The best thing is just watching people coming from all over the country, maybe they don’t all know each other, they’re a group and they’re joining to celebrate a birthday girl or a bachelorette, and really just letting loose. And then each time they come they push their comfort zone just a little bit more. And these are tools and tricks and avenues to wellness that they can bring home with them. And that to me has been really touching.

Shane:                    Yeah, absolutely. I can imagine. What does your distribution mix look like? So how are you selling your tours online right now?

Nicole:                    We have just now tiptoed into the OTA world. And so we’re listed with Viator, TripAdvisor Experiences and our website. We have listed with our marketing, our DMO, our Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, but they don’t sell the tours, it’s just like a marketing channel. But really other than that we don’t have much of an online footprint.

Shane:                    Okay. And are you looking to increase that, or are you happy with it as is?

Nicole:                    Yeah, I mean we’d love to find more partners and we’re just really starting to explore that world and figuring out the give and take, right?

Shane:                    And how are you using social media?

Nicole:                    Oh, well we’re on Instagram and my business partner is really more of the social media presence. So we’re trying to keep the stories active and on Facebook we try to share interesting articles and posts and we’re just really in this zone of trying to figure out which kind of content to push to which channel. And then I personally love the Pinterest boards.

Shane:                    Okay, Pinterest, why’s that?

Nicole:                    Just idea sharing, it feels less like I’m supposed to sell something and more like I’m supposed to be inspired and share that inspiration with other people.

Shane:                    Absolutely.

Nicole:                    I like that.

Shane:                    And in terms of booking, so do you work with a booking platform that can take online bookings for you?

Nicole:                    We do. We work with Xola.

Shane:                    With Xola. And how is that working out?

Nicole:                    It’s working out great. Each time we’ve run up against something that they didn’t do, it’s either in the pipeline or they’ve really considered it and pushed it towards their product development team. And I’ve appreciated that about them.

Shane:                    Sure. And what made you pick Xola? Because there’s 160 plus booking software companies out there.

Nicole:                    I know. At first I think it looked pretty to me on the checkout end, that appealed to me and they offered everything that we needed them to. Like we do a lot of invoicing, split payments, that sort of thing. So they checked the boxes.

Shane:                    So if the Xola directors are listening into this interview today, which I’m sure they are, what would you like to see them change or improve that would help your business?

Nicole:                    I would love to see the review, the automatic review email, go out to every member of the group instead of just the organizer.

Shane:                    Interesting. Do you know if other booking software companies do that, or is it-

Nicole:                    Yeah, yeah, Peek does.

Shane:                    They do that?

Nicole:                    Yeah.

Shane:                    Okay. So take note. How do you go about staying up to date with the trends in the industry?

Nicole:                    Well, TourPreneur, of course.

Shane:                    Of course.

Nicole:                    Yeah, duh.

Shane:                    I’ll buy you a beer later on. Yeah, yeah.

Nicole:                    Definitely coming across resources like this, I like Be A Better Guide, I think there’s great resources there. And then following along with other tour operators, following their newsletters as well in different parts of the country doing similar things. Yeah.

Shane:                    Great. What is one of the resources that you use the most, that could be a tool or an app, to help you run your business?

Nicole:                    I would say bringing that booking software on was the big move for us. It’s the most recent automation.

Shane:                    Okay. And we have a lot of people who listen to the show who I call tourpreneurs in waiting, that they want to launch their own tour and they’re listening to the show to educate themselves. What would you say is one thing that many people don’t realize about running your own small business?

Nicole:                    Oh, that it’s totally different than being a guide. Oftentimes you start and you’re able to lead and you see the end result, but I think the biggest challenge for me, because I’ve been a guide for so long, is to have to now step behind the computer screen and to not see the end result and not witness firsthand that connection and just needing to trust that it’s still happening.

Shane:                    Yeah. What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

Nicole:                    Oh, I had a humanities teacher in high school, this was a long time ago, and she was really inspiring because she had a multifaceted approach to her discipline. So she studied, she explored and she shared. And I loved having that deep dive. Like she would study something but then travel to see it and experience it and then come back and share it with other people. And I think that that’s a really beautiful way to approach a business or a life.

Shane:                    Fantastic. And where can people find your tours?

Nicole:                    Ashevillewellnesstours.com.

Shane:                    Fantastic. And I hope you will want to come back on the show in the future because I want to know all about salt caves.

Nicole:                    Yeah, who doesn’t?

Shane:                    I know nothing about salt caves. And you said the magic word tea, right? So I love tea, so-

Nicole:                    Oh man, oils, let’s talk about Tarot, we’ve got some options.

Shane:                    Right, we’ll do it. Thank you for coming on the show.

Nicole:                    Thanks Shane.

Speaker 2:            Thanks for listening to the TourPreneur podcast. Be sure to visit tourpreneur.com to join the conversation and access the show notes, including links to the resources mentioned on today’s episode. This is TourPreneur.