How Jeremy turned his passion for NYC into a tour business.

Native New Yorker Stands Out by Offering Custom NYC Tours

Leveraging firsthand knowledge and personalization to gain interest, a native New Yorker takes small groups to the optimistic parts of New York City they might not otherwise experience.

At a Glance

NYC tour guide bucks traditional sites and tour sizes to offer Custom NYC Tours for small groups.

Tour Style: Walking

Tour Niche: New York City areas not normally covered by other tours.

Booking Platform: Fareharbor

Website: SquareSpace

Tour Customization Level: High; Specializing in small groups, customizable areas, points of interest and tour focus. 

Special Skills: Native New Yorker who knows an extraordinary amount about the various sections and “hidden pockets” of culture throughout the 5 bureaus of New York City. 

The Vision

After working for large tours in NYC, Jeremy Wilcox knew he wanted to offer something others didn’t. His ideal tour concept was one that was customized, with fewer guests and a more personalized experience.

With the ability and first-hand knowledge to take visitors to see other beautiful and culturally rich sites of New York most tours don’t cover, Jeremy knew he could do it.

Confident his idea was solid, he set out to learn all he could about how to get a tour successfully launched in an already heavily saturated market. Custom NYC Tours was born.

The Custom NYC Tours Story with Jeremy Wilcox and Shane Whaley

Episode 29 of the Tourpreneur Podcast with Shane Whaley

Inspired by his love for his native city, Jeremy Wilcox wanted to show visitors the things he was passionate about Brooklyn street art, the World’s Fair (Flushing Meadows) and the history and architecture of his own hometown, Flatbush Brooklyn. He figured that, from there, he would expand and adapt to what people wanted. 

So he set out to create what he wanted, after encouragement from family and friends. He obtained his official tour guide license and got heavily involved in Guides Association of New York City. He now serves on the board of GANYC.

During the months of getting his tour underway and getting the word out, Jeremy was able to rely on the income of his spouse. As tour operators (tourpreneurs), not everyone always has that luxury but all budding tour operators need that kind of support to be successful. 

“Without them [friends and family], I think many tour operators wouldn’t be in business today. And that’s not just financial support, but having you know, a spouse who understands that you’re gonna have to work a lot of hours to make the business work, you got to get out and network, you may have to do a tour late at night, you know, etc.”

Shane Whaley, Tourpreneur Host

Over time, Jeremy was able to expand his tour offerings and adapt to what people wanted.

He says about that process, “I started from my own passions, and then kind of actually worked backward from there, learning about what people were interested in. The main tour I do several times a week is now a Central Park walking tour, which was not in my original roster. But I learned that people were really actually kind of desperate to take a tour of the park that was different, more about the history and the landscaping architecture than that aspect of the park’s history.

So listening to the guests, they would get on my earlier tours and creating tours based on what they said they felt was missing from the tour offerings in the city.”

But how, exactly, did Jeremy stand out from the almost endless list of available New York City tours? 

First, and most importantly, Jeremy built a clean, easy to use website. He included a lot of photos and videos to give potential customers a sense of what to expect. Once he had that in place, he learned how to use the algorithms of Google and Tripadvisor, rather than try to fight them. 

To support all this, he flooded his own Instagram and other social media with photos and garnered honest, personalized reviews from his satisfied guests. Jeremy believes Instagram is the most ideal social media for tour operators to get in front of potential guests because it’s so visual.

He recommends tapping into the niches within Instagram that match what you’re doing and to attract people interested in that specific topic. 

When asked about the threat of self-guided tour apps, Jeremy replied:

“What I think someone like myself can do to combat that is to say, Hey, I’m offering you a personal experience that those things can’t. I’m going to be with you. You can walk through Central Park without headphones in, so you can experience the sound of the birds and the sounds of the city,” Jeremy states. 

He goes on to add that only a live guide can answer questions about where to eat lunch, what to see next and more. He recommends that other tour operators emphasize this benefit of live tours.

To really grow your business, Jeremy not only encourages other tourpreneurs to obtain positive reviews from guests, but he also encourages them to network. To not see other tour companies as the competition but as an asset where you can help them and they can maybe someday help you.

Don’t have any kind of association in your area with other tour operators? Consider starting one, casually at first, over pizza or drinks. You can help one another, support one another.

Finally, Jeremy recommends experiencing tours in other areas that are similar to yours. See what they do well and what they don’t do well.

Observe the guests. Are they getting restless? Bored? Starting to check their phones and look at their watches?

All those things will help you improve your own tour style and pace.

This will allow you to craft your tours to meet the expectations of your guests even better. You’re a part of their vacation memories.

“That’s why… I say we make New York City memories. It’s not just about checking stuff off of a bucket list. I want to be a part of your vacation memories. And I recognize how important that is.”

Jeremy Wilcox

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Links Mentioned in this Episode

Guides Association of New York City – where Jeremy is on the board

Custom NYC Tours – Jeremy’s business, where he helps make New York City memories

Jeremy Wilcox Linkedin

Custom NYC Tours Instagram – check out Jeremy’s strategy of feeding his Instagram!