Nick Wilson shares with us how he leveraged his experience working at a luxury hotel to create Wicked Wine Tours and more recently the Wicked Weed Tour.
Nick loves wine and always wanted to build how own business, in this espresso episode of the Tourpreneur Podcast with Shane Whaley, Nick reveals how five years ago, he started Wicked Wine tours in British Columbia and recently a Kelowna Weed Tour!
How To Start a Weed Tour Business.
Nick tells us that weed tours are similar to wine tours, there’s no consumption in the vehicles. They take their guests to either a grow operation or an extraction facility,
“A lot of people, maybe, have had experience with cannabis but they really don’t know a heck of a lot about it. Very similar to our wine guests. “I like to drink wine but I don’t know a lot about it.” says Nick.
He continued: “We educate them on the plant, male, females, indica, sativa, CBD, THC, all that kind of stuff. Now they’re armed with a little bit of knowledge.
Off we go to the dispensaries. They have private appointments with the budtenders.
They can purchase their product, and many of our guests are from out of town so they don’t want to fly with their cannabis which is legal in Canada, but if you’re an international guest, obviously it isn’t.
They get to do a little shopping for their product while they’re in town for a few days, and the feedback’s been amazing.”
Why You Should Do Your Homework Before Starting a Weed Tour Business.
Nick first got chatting to another cannabis tour operator. He knew legislation was coming to Canada.
“So I took a few tours in the states, did my homework and I’ve been patiently biding and waiting for shops to open so we could start our tours.”
Nick told us that negotiating government rules around weed has been challenging.
“I think the pendulum is on the extreme end of legislation, so advertising is very restrictive. Even the colors. You can’t have animals, anything that would appeal to children, and the rollout’s been rather painful. By that I mean, dispensaries opening up, facilities getting their product lines in line.
We legalized a year ago and my neighborhood only got its first legal dispensary August of this year, so almost a year later was when the first shop opened up in our neighborhood because the government made it quite difficult.”
“I really enjoy wine, found myself in Kelowna enjoying the wine, enjoying the beauty and just one thing led to another, light bulb moment, looked at the competition, felt I had an opportunity to make my mark, and we did.“
Nick Wilson – Wicked Wine Tours – Wicked Weed Tours
What you will learn…
- Why Nick wasn’t scared to start a wine tour business despite the fierce competition in Kelowna.
- How Wicked Wine Tours have made their mark whilst competing against 30 competitors in their market.
- Why amazing people and branding are essential for a tour operator to succeed.
- Why he prefers to buy buses for his wine and weed tours rather than lease.
- Why Nick loves working with Checkfront for his online bookings.
- How to start a weed tour business, what were some of the challenges of starting a weed tour operator business.
- How did Nick know there would be a demand for a weed tour in Kelowna?
- Why Nick loves being his own boss.
- Arival, why does Nick attend Arival and why it’s worth the investment for his tour business.
- As a tourpreneur, what did Nick think of the great tech debate between the booking platform companies at Arival?
- Why Nick feels that looking after team members is the crucial element of running a successful tour operator business.
About Nick Wilson
After studying Hotel & Restaurant Management, Nicholas amassed over 25 years of hospitality experience, primarily in luxury restaurants, hotels, and spas, in a wide variety of stunning properties around the world. Nurturing a long-running passion for wine, Nicholas launched Wicked Wine Tours in 2014, and Wicked Weed Tours in 2018.
Wicked Wine Tours offer the best Kelowna wine tours, craft tours, food tours, and with Wicked Weed Tours, cannabis tours. We deliver innovative and exceptional tour experiences, and inform, inspire, and create memories for our guests and team. We are collaborative, and continually seek to enhance our expertise and partnerships. Kelowna Wine Tours, year-round.
Visit www.wickedwinetours.com to book now.
Wicked Wine Tours is a fully-licensed operator with the Passenger Transportation Authority of British Columbia and meets or exceeds all government regulations and safety requirements.
Speaker 1: Today’s episode is brought to you 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.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the Tourpreneur Podcast. Travel industry veteran Shane Whaley will take you on a journey with fellow tourpreneurs, sharing their tips, ideas, insights and success stories to inspire you to make your tour business the best it can be. And now, please welcome your host, Shane.
Shane: Welcome to Tourpreneur at Arival, presented by Checkfront. Today, we are joined on the show by Nick Wilson of Wicked Wine Tours. How are you?
Nick: I’m fantastic, how are you?
Nick: Thanks for having me.
Shane: I’m really good. No, it’s good to talk to you because I see your tweets.
Nick: Yeah, thank you.
Shane: Absolutely. You have Wicked Wine Tours and you have Wicked Weed Tours.
Nick: Yeah, we just launched that this year with the legalization of cannabis in Canada last year.
Shane: Fantastic. Whereabouts in Canada are your tours?
Nick: We are in Kelowna, BC, which is essentially the NAPA valley of Canada. It’s about three hours east of Vancouver, and about 300 wineries up in there.
Shane: When did the wine tours start?
Nick: Five years ago, 2015.
Shane: Great, and how did you get started?
Nick: I spent most of my career in luxury hotels, but my family’s very entrepreneurial, so I always have that entrepreneurial bug to lose the suit, frankly, and start my own shop. I really enjoyed wine, found myself in Kelowna enjoying the wine, enjoying the beauty and just one thing led to another, light bulb moment, looked at the competition, felt I had an opportunity to make my mark, and we did.
Shane: Absolutely. How much competition was there when you started up?
Nick: It’s still pretty fierce. There’s probably a good 30 operators in the marketplace.
Nick: People really come for their wine, but I have to say I think we’ve become the biggest fish now in the pond, there.
Shane: Talk me through … We’ve got a lot of our listeners, they got a really cool idea for a tour, they got a passion for going, “Oh, there’s other people doing it. Will the market support yet another tour of this kind?” What advice would you have for listeners that are in that space right now?
Nick: Absolutely. I think it’s three things, three key elements. First, amazing people, you have to have amazing people whether it’s yourself or your team. We’re incredibly selective with the tour guides we hire, whereas most of our competition aren’t. They’re looking more for the credentials and drivers licenses.
Nick: I want the personality and then I want the credentials afterwards. That’s the backup. Branding is key to stand out in a crowded marketplace. We were very careful with our branding and consistent, and consistency, execution. There’s a reason luxury hotels nail it, because they execute every single time, so I’m fortunate that I have that experience that we can execute on our tours.
Shane: Where did the name Wicked come from?
Nick: When I decided to start the company and I was coming up with the name, I knew the name was incredibly important for the brand. I wanted it short, I wanted it memorable, I wanted it be punchy, but I also wanted it to reflect me. Your listeners can’t see me, but if they saw me they would understand, yes, it’s definitely my DNA baked in there, yeah.
Shane: I want to talk a little bit about the weed tours because I haven’t spoke to a weed tourpreneur before.
Nick: No? Awesome.
Shane: You’re the first.
Shane: How does that work in terms of … I’m not up to date with legislation in your part of the world, but how does that look for you?
Nick: Yeah. Our cannabis tours are similar to wine, there’s no consumption in the vehicles, much like we don’t consume wine, but we take our guests to either a grow operation or an extraction facility, we educate them on the plant. A lot of people, maybe, have had experience with cannabis but they really don’t know a heck of a lot about it. Very similar to our wine guests. “I like to drink wine but I don’t know a lot about it.”
Nick: We educate them on the plant, male, females, indica, sativa, CBD, THC, all that kind of stuff. Now they’re armed with a little bit of knowledge. Off we go to the dispensaries. They have private appointments with the bud tenders. They can purchase their product, and many of our guests are from out of town so they don’t want to fly with their cannabis which is legal in Canada, but if you’re an international guest, obviously it isn’t. They get to do a little shopping for their product while they’re in town for a few days, and the feedback’s been amazing.
Shane: Yeah, I could imagine. How did you know there’d be a demand for the weed tour?
Nick: It was from Arrival. A couple years ago, I had met another cannabis tour operator, and at that point, obviously, legalization was on the map for Canada, so I took a few tours in the states, did my homework and I’ve been patiently biding and waiting for shops to open so we could start our tours.
Shane: Yeah. Is the local government or the authorities, are they making you jump through hoops when it comes to …?
Nick: It’s not easy. Yeah, as we were speaking before we started this, I think the pendulum is on the extreme end of legislation, so advertising is very restrictive. Even the colors. You can’t have animals, anything that would appeal to children, and the rollout’s been rather painful. By that I mean, dispensaries opening up, facilities getting their product lines in line.
Nick: We legalized a year ago and my neighborhood only got its first legal dispensary August of this year, so almost a year later was when the first shop opened up in our neighborhood because the government made it quite difficult.
Shane: Yeah. It was interesting. I was in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and I walked past a dispensary. They were lining up around the corner.
Nick: Cannabis tourism in Toronto is actually kind of booming. I just read an article about that today, but British Columbia has something we call BC Bud that is kind of a brand. If anybody knows cannabis around the world, we already kind of have a brand name for it.
Shane: Oh, really?
Nick: I believe BC could be a boom for cannabis tourism.
Shane: What do you find is the most rewarding about being a tourpreneur, running a tour business?
Nick: I love being my own boss and setting my own agenda and my own goals. I’m rather ambitious and nobody holds me back. Certainly the freedom is fantastic, and just being able to execute on your vision. It’s very satisfying when guests thank you and you put all this hard work into it, and you’ve blown them away and given them a great experience and a great memory.
Shane: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
Nick: I’m very proud of the growth of the organization because of the growth of my team. I’m now employing a lot of people in the marketplace. More and more people are joining us and I’m just seeing that grow. I think that’s the greatest satisfaction I’ve had, is really just seeing my new team members come onboard.
Shane: How many do you have?
Nick: We’re up to six this year, but next year we’re going to be growing pretty expansively, so I’m guessing around 10 to 15, actually.
Nick: Yeah, yeah.
Shane: How does it work with the buses? Are you owning them? Are you outsourcing it?
Nick: No, I’m not a big believer in leasing. I think you’re just renting for perpetuity and not building up any assets. No, we buy all of our vehicles brand new.
Nick: At the beginning I started with a used older model, but I was actually the first one in my marketplace to bring in Ford Transits rather than the Mercedes Sprinter vans. Most of tour companies have followed suit with us now, but again, execution. We buy brand new vehicles, impeccably maintained, give your team the best tools you can and then they’ll execute.
Shane: Sure. What does your distribution list look like?
Nick: Rather unique. I’m fortunate in that I haven’t had to play with the OTAs yet.
Nick: They’re not as ubiquitous in Canada as they are in the states. Most of my bookings come direct.
Shane: Is that because you’re using AdWords or Facebook Ads?
Nick: In terms of that social, yes, I do have some Google ninjas working for me. They keep me up at the top of the page.
Shane: They’re great. I see the tweets, yeah. I knew straightaway, yeah, [crosstalk 00:08:02].
Nick: Yeah, and then SEO, I’ve been pounding the SEO for the last few years and we’re just very careful to consider that in everything we do, so that SEO is always there, so organically and paid search, we’re at the top all the time.
Shane: In terms of SEO, how do you stay on top of all the changes, because you read the brief and when I see something I put it … Even if it’s not related to tours, I say, “Oh, that’s a change I think people should be aware of.”
Shane: How do you keep up to date with it all?
Nick: A lot of newsletters, podcasts and folks like yourself in the industry, but frankly, I think it’s also important to know what you don’t know, and it’s getting to the point now where I’m here at Arival for a reason. It’s a fantastic conference, but also shopping for marketing agencies that are experts in that. I fully plan on hiring somebody this winter to basically take all that over and let them handle it.
Shane: Sure. For those tourpreneurs who didn’t make it to Arival, how was that experience for you? Did you find there’s plenty of marketing people here for you to chat to?
Nick: Unbelievable. This conference, I’ve been in hospitality all my life and this is one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to in hospitality. If you’re a tour operator … It sounds like I work for Arival or something, but I think you’re crazy not to be here.
says that to me all the time. Yeah, yeah.
Nick: Particularly, the networking’s great, the workshops here are solid. The theater sessions are great, but for me, it’s meeting the vendors and partners and software companies that are going to help take my business to the next level.
Shane: Fantastic. Talking of vendors and companies, which booking platform do you use?
Nick: Checkfront, love them, yeah.
Shane: What is it about them that you love?
Nick: Partly, frankly, pricing model. I don’t believe in a commissionable model for software. I’m buying a product to solve my problem. As I grow my business, they shouldn’t get a bigger slice of the pie in my humble opinion. They have a flat pricing structure and they fairly vehemently believe in that, as well.
Nick: Secondly, they’re Canadian, they’re in my province, and most other platforms aren’t. They speak my language, they’re in my backyard, and they understand my market intuitively, obviously.
Shane: Yeah, did you go to the debate yesterday?
Nick: I did, yeah, it was fantastic, yeah.
Shane: What was your takeaways from that?
Nick: I should be careful what I say here, I guess.
Shane: No, you don’t have to be careful.
Nick: I thought Jason did a great job in taking the high road and not taking the bait that I think a few of the other CEOs threw at him.
Shane: Jason is the CEO of Checkfront, for those who don’t know.
Nick: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It was great. Watch the video, I guess, is what I’d say to your listeners.
Shane: Hopefully we will be airing the session on a future …
Nick: Culture starts at the top and I thought that was very obvious with those CEOs. I thought, you got a sense of what kind of branding and what their sales people are like based on the culture of those people up there.
Shane: Yeah, and what’s interesting is, you say that, but we were talking to somebody earlier on today on the show, and they said, “We are …” I’m going to name it. “We’re a FareHarbor customer, we love working with FareHarbor. What we saw on the stage yesterday did not represent my experience with my FareHarbor management and the salespeople,” which I thought was really telling.
Nick: Yeah, actually, and I’ve heard that a few times. My experience with a couple of those companies, their salespeople just don’t take no for an answer. I’ve started blocking some of their numbers because they just keep calling me and calling me. It’s one thing to say no thank you but if you just keep persisting and just don’t accept the no, you’re going to turn that person off and make them anti-you in the long run, is kind of my opinion.
Nick: Yeah, but it was an interesting debate. It was spirited. People were talking about it a lot last night.
Shane: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. What’s the best piece of business advice anyone has ever given you?
Nick: Take care of your team. I’ve really learned that hotels but it’s advice I got at the beginning of my career. Don’t focus on the bottom line. Don’t even focus on your guests first. You take care of your team and then your team will take care of your guests, and then bottom line will come at the end of the day. That’s what luxury hotels do. They’re amazing, taking care of their team, give them the right tools, get out of their way and let them do their job.
Shane: Let them do it, fantastic. Where can people find your tours online?
Shane: For the weed tours?
Shane: That’s fantastic, brilliant. Thank you very much for joining us today, really appreciate it, Nick.
Nick: Thank you very much for having me, I appreciate it.
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.