Ep. 43 — How We Built a Movie Tour Business with Atlanta Movie Tours’ Founder Carrie Burns

Carrie Burns is a movie buff who built a tour operator business around films. She sat down with Tourpreneur Host Shane Whaley and explained how Atlanta Movie Tours started, how they market their movie tours, some of the challenges they face and much more.

Carries generously shares advice on how to get started creating your own movie tours in your city.

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 Carrie Burns, Co-Founder of Atlanta Movie Tours. Full transcript.

Shane:                    Welcome to Tourprenuer at Arival presented by Checkfront. We’re joined by Carrie Burns of-

Carrie:                    Atlanta Movie Tours.

Shane:                    Very excited to get to talk to you.

Carrie:                    Yes, this is great.

Shane:                    When did you guys get started?

Carrie:                    We got started with the idea in January of 2012, it took us about two months. March 21st of 2012 was our first media tour, followed about 10 days later by our public tour and they were all sold out and it was our big zombie tour based on Walking Dead and the rest is history.

Shane:                    Fantastic. So you make that sound so easy. So I’m going to ask you, how do you go from launching a tour to being sold out. What was the magic? What’s the secret?

Carrie:                    To be honest, we really reached out to a lot of our network. We got out there on social media the second we started the planning, came up with a really good brand and logo, which we tested out with our market and decided what everybody liked. It all just kind of really fell into place.

Carrie:                    So, as easy as it does sound for us, we really did luck out in a lot of ways and a lot of that may have just been in our heads and we were kind of just dumping it all and it caught on really quick. And I think the industry, it was a good timing for Georgia and for Georgia Film really taking off at that point. So people were anxious. Walking Dead was huge, huge at that time. And, now Stranger Things, we’re seeing the same thing. So.

Shane:                    So when you started marketing, did you market directly to fans of the Walking Dead?

Carrie:                    Yes. So we did. And on that first tour we even had a young couple, I’ll never forget because they were under 21 cause we were telling them, all these things to do and they’re like we’re not 21. They drove down from New Jersey just to be on the very first tour we ever had, and it was a combination of being huge Walking Dead fans wanting to come to Georgia. They didn’t stay, they took the tour and then they left and it was really, it was enlightening.

Carrie:                    We definitely marketed to the fan groups and got our name out there as much as we could with also respecting AMC and their property.

Shane:                    Yeah. How does that look for you? Did you have to go and get permission?

Carrie:                    Sure. We basically went to every place we wanted to go and said, we want to do this and we can offer you a percentage or a flat fee for the guests that’ll be on there. And we set up our location agreements and that was our very first one. We still do that today.

Carrie:                    We have some tours that we don’t go onto private property necessarily, or there’s no fees associated with it, but a lot of times it’s just negotiating. But we let everybody know we’re coming because that’s also a great marketing. If people come into a restaurant and it’s about Walking Dead or Stranger Things, they’ll say, Oh, by the way, there’s this tour and that’s [crosstalk 00:03:26]-

Shane:                    What advice would you have for tour operators who are listening in, or tour operators waiting that maybe there’s a big movie in that city, wherever it may be around the world? We have listeners in 85 countries. Wherever that may be, what would your advice be to them? It’s people who want to start a tour based on movie locations and approaching some of the private landlords.

Carrie:                    The first thing is we stay completely away from private homes, any residences. So speaking strictly, if it’s a park, you find the people in the city who your parks and rec department and different things like that. So you could have government entities.

Carrie:                    Those can be a little more challenging to work with because then you’re working with the government, but if you’ve got restaurants, especially restaurants that are used, if you’ve got filming happening in your city and you see, oh my gosh, they’re at this diner, the second they leave, go in there and start making friends with them and let them know you are already a tour operator.

Carrie:                    You’d like to put this as part of your tour and just start that dialogue. Then wait for the movie or TV show to come out to make sure it didn’t hit the cutting room floor and is actually in it because if it’s not in it, it’s not going to matter. And then once they can see it on the screen, especially if it’s a big piece that’s super fun. Especially for any tour. It doesn’t have to be a film tour, city tours, everything.

Shane:                    What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your business?

Carrie:                    You know, hiring, marketing strategy, revenue growth strategy, things like that. I’m even using this conference as a perfect example of meeting with people about those types of things and ideas for how different operators do it, how working with OTAs and resellers and I think that that goes for a lot of different professions. It’s not specific to travel. You’ve got people who are reselling products all over the place, whether you’re an Amazon seller and a lot of that. How do you grow? How do you really get to where you want to be? How, you know hiring? Having a really great second, which I now have a really great second.

Shane:                    What’s been the most surprising thing that you’ve heard or learned here at Arival?

Carrie:                    Oh, I’ve had so much fun. No, you know, I really, I think probably some of the information on working with OTA is not TripAdvisor specifically, but just some of the advice for how to partner with them and to look at them a little differently maybe than some of us look at them.

Shane:                    How do you mean exactly?

Carrie:                    As a true partner, looking at them as a partner instead of just, you’re selling something and I’m losing this money. So there really is a big benefit. And we’ve been working on providing more content for them because we do blog posts and things like that, providing content that then feeds them content and us more sales.

Shane:                    So in terms of your distribution mix right now, how does that look for you?

Carrie:                    We’re still predominantly direct sales and then TripAdvisor’s is our next and I think that that’s, we’re number one in tours in Atlanta and we hold onto that even though we’re very good friends with the others. The categories split us all up in weird ways and then all the others and I’m also using Arival as a great time to meet with some of those other OTAs and everybody and decide who’s great partners, Airbnb Experiences, tickets, all of these folks who were kind of on our list to sign up with and strategies for making it easier to onboard them.

Shane:                    Which booking platform are you currently using?

Carrie:                    FareHarbor. We were a Rezgo maybe, in the beginning, very beginning, 2012, Zerve then approved with air quotes us to be with them and we switched off of Zerve prior to their going away and went to Peek. We had narrowed down between Peek and Fareharbor and we were with Peek for a number of years and then went to FareHarbor.

Shane:                    What made you switch from Peek to FareHarbor?

Carrie:                    Really, development. A lot of what I loved and still love about Peek are the founders, Rezwana and Oscar. I think they’re just amazing people and they are honestly what pushed me over the edge for Peek. Unfortunately, I just didn’t see a lot of development that we specifically had on our list and FareHarbor did no bad blood, you know? I mean who knows what happens in the future, but right now FareHarbor is great and we’ve been able to do a lot with them, lot of API integrations, which obviously makes OTAs and everything so much easier.

Shane:                    Yeah. So a lot of folks from Faireharbor listen to the show. What would you say to them about what you would like to see them do differently to help your business?

Carrie:                    I would like them to have a live chat feature. I’m one of the ones who just emails rather than calling. And a lot of my office manager and my director of operations, they don’t mind calling them, but I miss Peeks live chat, I just do. So, that would be an easy one. And then we’re working on some things with them that we could use a little bit of different integrations with website and booking flows. That’s very specific though.

Shane:                    Sure, so you’re at Arival, which is great. I love the fact you’re investing in yourself in terms of learning, but how do you stay up to date with trends in our industry?

Carrie:                    I love learning. I absolutely love learning. It’s why I’m here. It’s why I listen to podcasts. Tons and tons of podcasts like this one. I think that that’s the way to do it. Plus as many emails as we get, get the ones from these suppliers. I get the ones from Viator and TripAdvisor and FareHarbor and I really get a lot of tourism related emails and I’ll just flag them. I may not read them right now, but flag them and read them. That’s where your trends are.

Shane:                    What would you say is the one thing people don’t realize about running your own tour business?

Carrie:                    Oh, it costs a lot of money. If you’re hiring the right people, if you’ve got the right, especially if you’ve got a vehicle based business, even with a walking tour, there’s fees, there’s location fees. I think every business costs more than people think. And there’s always the, what it looks like on social media versus the what the bottom line looks like.

Carrie:                    And I think a lot of people don’t always realize that, especially if they’ve never run their own business. And, it is wonderful. It’s absolutely the most fun industry that I think you could ever work in. But it is, you know, it’s still expensive and you’ve got to pay to play and there’s a lot of opportunity but growth is a little different in this.

Shane:                    And how did you go about pricing your tours? Because obviously you are creating something… You’re first to market, right? So-

Carrie:                    We actually looked at kind of the price per hour and based it, did a comparison between some friends in New York with these types of tours and then just tours in general in Atlanta who we would be directly competing against and priced according to that. We’ve adjusted it a little over the years.

Carrie:                    We may adjust it a little bit more now, but the pricing strategy, dynamic pricing, things like that; there’s a lot to think about when you really look at a pricing strategy. You think marketing strategy, but there’s a whole revenue and pricing strategy that really is just as big and also takes time, which we never have enough of.

Shane:                    Yeah, absolutely. Where can people find your tours online?

Carrie:                    It’s easy. Atlanta Movie Tours.com.

Shane:                    Fantastic. Well, it’s been great to chat to you. I’d love to invite you back on the show so we can deep dive. I’ve got a million questions in my head. These espresso interviews are so short. Thank you very much for coming on today.

Carrie:                    Thanks so much Shane.

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