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Tour Operator COVID-19 Check-In – Grace Della of Miami Culinary Tours (70)

COVID Check In Featured Food Tours Podcast Episodes

Tour Operator COVID-19 Check-In – Grace Della of Miami Culinary Tours (70)

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Miami Culinary Tours

In a quick call, Grace Della of Miami Culinary Tours shares with us how she is using the experience of dealing with hurricanes and Zika to build her business and bulletproof her mindset during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Today’s episode is kindly sponsored by Checkfront.

Checkfront is the booking platform trusted by over 5000 tour and activity operators around the world. You can start your own free 21-day trial over at Checkfront.com.

Hello, and welcome to episode 70 Tourpreneur, the world’s only weekly independent podcast for tour operators.

This week we’re doing something a little different on the show. Monday to Friday, each weekday, I’m going to be calling a tour operator from around the world, and taking the pulse on where they are in terms of their business, finding out how their tour business is dealing with the Coronavirus crisis,

  • What are their action plans during quarantine,
  • What’s the daily routine,
  • What’s their message to other tourpreneurs around the world,
  • What are they learning, to make sure their business comes out of this stronger than before?

Today we are talking with Grace Della. Grace is the tourpreneur behind Miami Culinary Tours.

I thought this was a really good tour operator check in to start with because Grace has had to deal with disasters in the past, particularly with hurricanes, with Zika, and now with COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

So she’s actually very upbeat and positive. So it’s a good one for us to start with.

Transcript – Grace Della of Miami Culinary Tours on the Tourpreneur Podcast.

How are things with you right now? So you’re down in Miami, correct?

Grace:

Yes, we’re in Miami, and I’m happy to see that folks are following city ordinance, and people are staying inside, the clappings at 8:00 PM are happening. So yeah, in sunny Miami.

Shane Whaley:

Yeah. So how are you getting through this? Because obviously, like all of us, you’ve had to stop offering tours. Your business is on hold. How are you getting through it?

Grace:

One thought that I started to have, the first two weeks, we were in the state of shocking, right? We’ve been through hurricanes, and we’ve been through Zika before. But one of the things for tour operators out there, that I kept focusing on was yes, this is times of uncertainty, and we’re all scared about what’s going to happen? But really, if you think about, those were the same feelings, or similar feelings that we had at the beginning, when we started our companies. So I’m going back to the drawing board in many ways, thinking, when I first started Miami Culinary Tours, I really did not know the future. I really did not know how things were going to turn out, and it was a time for action.

Grace:

So, I had a period of complete, I think we were the first tour company in the state of Florida that closed their tours. Our vendors were like, “You’re so abrupt. What’s going on?” It was really a time to think our guys are out there, and it was a difficult choice, but it was a needed choice. And then I had about, I will say two weeks of complete shock, but going back, slowly going back to, “What am I going to use this time?” I’ve been through this time before, hurricanes, Zika. And then really, when I first started, that time of I did not know that this was going to work. I did not know that we were going to become a 14 tour guide tour company. So I’m focusing on that.

Shane Whaley:

So you have 14 tour guides?

Grace:

Yes, correct. 14 guides.

Shane Whaley:

Wow. And how are they reacting?

Grace:

My team, they’ve been with me for many, many years. I’m lucky. I have really great locals who believed in my idea when I first started, and we’ve been together through different difficult stages. It’s amazing how a team can come together. And the first thing that I did was create, we always communicate through WhatsApp. The first thing I did is communicate a thread for everybody just to put their fears, their comments, their funny things, and so through that helping each other, because one of the things that I focus when I’m low, when I’m down, one of the things that I focus is I have a great team. Yes, they’re looking at me to see what’s the next step? What’s going to happen? I mean nobody knows what’s going to happen, but they always looked at me for the future.

Grace:

So that thread that I created keeps us in communication. I think that that’s a very important thing for a tour operator to do. Your guides are your company. So keeping that group together. I now do weekly face-to-face chatting sessions with them. I don’t like to call them meetings, it’s chatting sessions, where they can either bounce ideas, or tell me their fears, and I think that feeling of we’re stronger together and hearing the ideas from them had really helped me to continue the path that I was able to start, I will say a few days ago. So just recently, I put these are my A, B, C, D, E, F, that I have to follow to really start disconnecting. Whatever is going to happen, it’s going to happen. But what’s my plan to move forward, and keep my team engaged?

Shane Whaley:

What do you think, because we have this time, and I’m really quite impressed with your positivity, I have to say. So I can understand why your tour guides are feeling maybe better than some others I’ve spoken to. But what are you working on in this downtime that we have that will improve your business once we get through the crisis?

Grace:

So what I’ve been doing is I’ve been putting a schedule on how I’m going to, I like to call it keep the communication going with my audience or not be forgotten. That brings a little bit more fear to think not to be forgotten out there. But how I can have a contact and our clients and our guest, our local market, which is something that I’m going to start focusing more.

Shane Whaley:

Smart.

Grace:

How they can have a connection with us? We don’t want to be forgotten, of course. And so we’re coming up with ideas on how to, besides some marketing campaigns that I’m putting into place, but coming up with ideas. As tour operators, it’s not that you have a product that you can demonstrate, “Oh, well, this is how you make a café Cubano.” I mean, you could do things like that, but coming up with ideas that include my guides, and the happy times of Miami and food, by the way. I mean, we do food tours, we’re Miami Culinary Tours. So it relates to food and culture. Even the simplest, the silly ideas, it doesn’t matter.

Shane Whaley:

And how are you communicating that to your customers?

Grace:

Email marketing.

hane Whaley:

Right.

Grace:

Which is a great time right now. As a tour operator, that I manage operations on a daily basis, there’s many things that I don’t focus on. Now I’m bringing those things in-house. Instead of having the email marketing manager do this or that, obviously financially I have to bring all that in-house, which is me, which, me and Paul by the way. So I’m going to start to do an email marketing campaign. Email marketing is very effective, even sending a recipe, just thinking about food tours, but sending a recipe of the empanadas that they had when they took the Little Havana tour.

Shane Whaley:

Yeah.

Grace:

Something like that. Something that will remind them of that good feeling they had a few months ago. For me, and for my team, it’s not about selling. I know that there’s a lot of tour companies, they are trying to see how they can monetize in this downtime. I’m not there yet. For me, is to have our past clients and future clients, try to have a connection with them, instead of trying to sell them something, at the moment. I’m on that stage.

Grace:

Another thing that we do is inspirational quotes, with things that are local, like locate the frying pans, [inaudible 00:09:54] and things that that relate to what’s going on. But not in a dramatic, in a pessimistic way, but something a little, I’m a very hopeful person, so I’m trying to give that angle. So all our social media has been hopeful. And Facebook. Yes, go ahead.

Shane Whaley:

Yeah, I will add all of those to the show notes for today’s episode, if you get to tourpreneur.com and go to podcast and scroll down, I’ll all these check-ins there, so I’ll add all the links to your social media so that other tour operators can take a look at what you’re doing and how you’re communicating. And I guess what I would also ask you is there’s a lot of webinars that have been, or our free webinars, which we’re all very grateful for. Is there anything that you’re particularly focusing on or anything you’ve learned from any webinars that you’ve been on over the last couple of weeks that, “Oh, yeah, I need to do that in my business.”

Grace:

I saw that this summit, I think it was by Be a Better Guide, I think.

Shane Whaley:

Yeah, with Kelsey Tonner.

Grace:

Yes. It was a difficult one. The first one, it talks all about financials, and what money you should have as your bottom line, I’m not going below that. That was an impactful webinar for me.

All the replays, everybody can listen to them. It was a checklist that you have to do internally with your financials, it wasn’t a stunning one. I also listened to the marketing one and I think we’re all on the same page. I use FareHarbor as a booking system, they’re being incredibly helpful in giving ideas.

Actually one of the great things that I was discovering this morning is these virtual tours that you can do on Google, I think it’s called Google Tour. They send these link with this information and I just spent about an hour creating a virtual tour of actual tour of Little Havana.

Grace:

I mean, it’s fun. You can put all the addresses, it shows you the actual locations. You can actually do a narration. Again, I’m not trying to monetize these because I think that if you’re going to go the virtual tour route, it has to be a different software, has to be professional, if you want to monetize that.

Shane Whaley:

Yes.

Grace:

But I think that for promotion and for us, for tour operators, I think that doing something on the computer, even if you can just start with a little bit, like an email or a post on Facebook, it takes you out of that panic state, which I was, at moments, it’s helping me move on and say, “Okay, my company has a future.” Which by the way, when when the storm stops, I saw this hurricanes and Zika, it’s amazing how it comes back two or three fold. People need that human connection. I always tell myself tours are something that will never go away. We saw it, in the last I will say five years, saw it, that everything online was growing so much and people cannot disconnect from their phones. But guess what? Those tours were sold out.

Grace:

People crave that human connection. Our industry is not going anywhere. That I’m very, very sure about that. I’ve seen it happen. I don’t know if I’m going off topic.

Shane Whaley:

No, no. We need to hear this, because you know, we read about it and I think some of us are questioning whether this will happen. But I agree with you, no. Yes, I think depending on travel restrictions, we talked about this earlier on where we’ll be focusing quite a lot on the podcast about how you market locally, because I do feel that people will want to do something locally. We’re all stuck in our houses. We might not be flying anywhere for a while depending on travel restrictions, but we’ll want to do something locally. So I totally agree with you. So, Grace, thank you for coming on the show and sharing some of your insight and observations with us. I would love to catch up with you in say a month’s time and hear what else you’ve learned over the last couple of weeks for your tour business.

Grace:

Wonderful. Thank you. And thank you so much for giving so much content. It’s been so really useful. So thank you. Thank you very much for keeping us all together.

Shane Whaley:

See, so today you’re making me blush. And also today you’ve made me hungry because I was looking at your excellent website before we jumped on the call and now I’m starving hungry for some good food. Luckily it’s lunchtime. But yeah, I love the idea of your recipes as well, because so many of us are stuck at home, and I think we’re getting to the point where not so inspired with cooking. So maybe a recipe in the inbox, like “I’ve got the ingredients for that. I’m going to cook it tonight and surprise everybody.”

Grace:

Wonderful. Food always brings that beautiful comfort to your heart.

Shane Whaley:

Definitely. Thank you, Grace.

Grace:

Thank you so much. Thank you.




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Miami Culinary Tours

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Shane Whaley

Shane Whaley is the Producer and Host of the Tourpreneur Podcast. He is also the curator in chief for the Tourpreneur Daily Brief. Shane has worked in the travel industry for almost twenty years.

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