Asheville Wellness Tours



In this quick call, we check in with Nicole Will, the tour operator behind Asheville Wellness Tours in North Carolina to learn how she is coping with the COVID-19 lockdown and how she plans to come back stronger.

Nicole shares with us why she thinks it is ok to pause and get back to basics with your tour business. We also talk about how motivating it is to see our tour industry pulling together and much more.

Nicole also reveals more about her new video series Bite Sized Moments of Zen.

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 74 of 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?
Asheville Wellness Tours

Listen to our profile of Nicole Will of Asheville Wellness Tours recorded at Arival Orlando 2019.

Transcript – Nicole Will of Asheville Wellness Tours on the Tourpreneur Podcast.

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 3:

Welcome to The TourPreneur Podcast, travel industry veteran Shane Whaley will take you on a journey with fellow tourpreneurers sharing their tips, ideas, insights and success stories to inspire you to make your tour business the best it can be and now, here is your host Shane Whaley.

Shane:

Hi Nicole. How are things down in Asheville?

Nicole:

Hi Shane. Today, they’re rainy and gorgeous. We’re in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So, I can’t really complain.

Shane:

Well, maybe the rain will keep people indoors. That’s what I always think.

Nicole:

That’s what I think too. Yeah. I thrive in our wild places. So, if I’m honest with you I’m a little cranky today, but I will still, after this call, get out in my rain gear and walk some trails.

Shane:

Good for you. I’m just back from doing the same with my dogs. It’s freezing cold up here in Vermont, but I’m like, “No, I need to go get my three mile walk in before I start the day.”

Nicole:

I am impressed with you. I believe that is critical to our sanity. Yeah.

Shane:

Yeah and that’s why I was really interested to talk with you today because obviously your business is wellness and we talked back in, when was it? October in Orlando at Arrival and we talked about how you built your business around wellness, but now of course we’re in a situation where tourpreneurers are cooped up at home. There is more stress on us than ever before. I mean, the world has completely changed since you and I sat down in Orlando.

Nicole:

In so many ways. Yeah.

Shane:

So, what are you doing during the quarantine, during the lockdown? What have you been doing with your business?

Nicole:

So, I’ll tell you it’s been inspiring to hear from other tourpreneurers who have really jumped in with both feet and made some quick pivots and I love seeing that and really for our business we went the opposite direction. We took an intentional pause and a step back and we’ve really been quiet for the last several weeks and revisiting our foundations, our values, taking a longterm look at allowing ourselves to process this current crisis and with the belief and the trust that we’re going to be around after it. We’ve really just enjoyed a moment to connect with our community of local partners and to move inward before we felt really ready to move beyond that.

Shane:

Yeah and I read on your website that you’re offering virtual experiences?

Nicole:

We are, yeah. We’re fortunate in that a lot of the experiences we offer are experiences that go to people wherever they are. So, typically that looks like a human obviously going to do a tarot reading, a yoga class. Well, we were able to pretty quickly pivot all of that to offer online. So, we can do a virtual group taro reading no matter where everyone is for groups who really want to have that sense of connection, but aren’t looking to navigate a Zoom happy hour on their own.

Shane:

Yeah, no. That makes a lot of sense. So, what platform are you using?

Nicole:

We’re using Zoom.

Shane:

And how are you finding people? Because I know there was a bit of a learning curve to that for a lot of people initially, but I think by the end of this we’re all going to be Zoom experts, right?

Nicole:

We’re pros. Yeah. It’s interesting. There wasn’t much of a curve for us. We have a lot of yoga instructors and the tarot readers, even the chefs to do the cooking classes virtually now, they were previously using the platform. So, we were fortunate in that we could just put it out there and begin offering it and I’ll be honest with you, we have not put focus on selling those experiences. We wanted to remain present by saying, “Hey, if you want to do this,” but it has not felt appropriate for our business to push them at this time.

Shane:

Yeah, because I am seeing this big rush from a lot of tour operators to create virtual tours and I’m worried that many tour operators think this is a way to generate revenue during the lockdown rather than… Sorry, carry on.

Nicole:

Yeah. For us it’s about presence and the continuity and connection. So, it’s just a statement of we are here if you’d like to connect with us, but our expectation was not that it was going to be a revenue producer for us and as such we haven’t put as much effort into that. We have been putting effort into a video series that I’m excited about.

Shane:

Great. Tell us more.

Nicole:

It is the Asheville Wellness Community is coming together in really lovely ways just to offer their expertise. So, it’s called Bite Sized Moments Of Zen and these wellness professionals have been showing up in incredible ways. So, they’ll come on and they’ll offer a 15 minute practice tip insight, something we can all lean into during these times and it’s just been a fun way from our living rooms, out to living rooms around the globe actually so far we’ve been able to connect with folks and that to me speaks more clearly to the mission of our business and the longterm goals that we have.

Shane:

Sure and so, are they free videos or paid videos?

Nicole:

No, they’re free. Yeah.

Shane:

Wow.

Nicole:

We have belly dancing, we have mental health therapists, we have taro readings, some cooking demonstrations. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s been a lovely way-

Shane:

Yeah, I can hear it in your voice and what I’m thinking to myself and I have been thinking this for the last couple of weeks that during this lockdown, during this crisis, it’s awful because I know a lot of our listeners are going to struggle to survive, but the one thing that gives me hope is the amount of tourpreneurers out there that are producing free content or they’re consulting or they’re talking to other tour operators and trying to help each other through and that has given me a lot of inspiration, how as a community, as an industry, we’re very different from many other industries that are out there when it comes to getting together to help each other out.

Nicole:

That’s so true. Right away, after we went on lockdown here in Asheville, I saw lovely posts popping up from tour operators that had something to offer, tour in of the flying bike had bicycles and he said, “Gosh, how can I use these to do food delivery?” And there was a wave of that outpouring. Miranda with her free yoga videos, Namaste in Nature and yeah, I just, I love that about our community here in Asheville and I love noticing that it’s true for the tourism community as a whole. It’s just really heartwarming.

Shane:

It really is. I shared on an earlier check-in how I got an email from Miranda that just said, “I’m here to help.” That was the headline and it was on a day that I was feeling very overwhelmed. I know we’re all going through this and it was very helpful even though I’m not really a yoga guy. I’ve tried it, but I’m like Mr. Bean, right? But I still welcome the advice and the very fact she reached out to help without asking for anything.

Nicole:

I love that.

Shane:

It wasn’t like, “Yeah, absolutely.” So, you were saying you were looking at longterm goals, you were using this opportunity. Can you share with us your thinking on that for other tour operators who are listening in that want to go through the similar process?

Nicole:

Of course. Yeah. What’s been really challenging for us is to breathe through and pause through the panic and to remember we don’t have to change pace as quickly as the world around us right now. I firmly believe that. I do believe it’s important to go back to the basics. What are your longterm goals? For us that looks like a lot of the check-ins that you’ve done so far, working on SEO and the website, but one of our core values at our foundation is connection and that for us is look, connecting through this video series to our local partners.

Nicole:

We have over 50 local partners who have valuable things to offer and are willing to offer them. Connection to our past guests. We’ve been in touch with them via social media and email marketing. It’s not even marketing or it doesn’t feel like it right now, but I think for us being on pause, I really understand that a lot of folks are being ingenious with their revenue streams. We’re very lucky not to have a lot of overhead. So, I recognize too that we’re in a fortunate position to not have as many things that are pressing down on us. So, I don’t want to sound at all like I de-value the virtual experiences because I admire the operators that are going for it and I think it’s an incredibly valuable thing that technology is offering to us.

Shane:

It is. I’m still on the fence about it. I do worry about tour operators that might be spending too much money and too much resource on that instead of things like you’re saying, SEO or how to improve photographs or copy and really do an audit of their business in terms of what’s working on the website, what’s not. I mean, I was talking to some tour operators a few days ago that don’t have Google Analytics and they don’t have Google Search Console and I’m like, “No, these things, I get it. They’re scary when you don’t know it and they sound technical, but there are resources out there and to get Google Analytics connected so you can see what pages are most popular and then you can analyze them. Why are they popular? What have I done right on those pages that I need to add to others, whatever it may be?” So, I think that’s very [crosstalk 00:10:40]… Yeah, absolutely. How are you getting on or have you applied for any of the SBA loans or PPP?

Nicole:

I’m so sorry to laugh in the middle of your sentence, but yes-

Shane:

Why?

Nicole:

I did, but to no avail. I mean, I got to tell you that first week or two I was just in webinars and filling out documents and nothing came through and it’s either everything right now for me is either pending or denied, but I can tell you that it does feel good to have it off the to do list. I’ve done everything humanly possible and it’s out of my control.

Shane:

Yeah, absolutely. Although it’s frustrating because 90% of tourpreneurers I’m chatting with have not received any of the funding yet.

Nicole:

Yeah.

Shane:

Very few have received anything.

Nicole:

Well, we have unemployment here in the US, right? The system for us, it’s been wildly hit and I mean, that’s still pending for four weeks now online. So, it’s really a lot of things. It’s a good time to practice what I preach with the wellness, paying close attention to my self care and really I can’t hammer in enough this point that I believe that pausing is okay, that I believe that it’s okay to go back to the basics and we don’t have to do something incredibly new in our wellness practice or our businesses. It’s okay to go back to what you know, if your practice is eat breathing, great. If it’s going outside, great. You don’t have to fill your time with learning all these new things and when you feel like you have the capacity to do so. This will provide a space for you to do it. So, I think that’s important to just keep that in mind.

Shane:

Yeah, I think you’re right and there are so many webinars out there, especially that first week, like you say, everyone jumped on it and said, “Let’s produce webinars,” and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and I think also easy to stop comparing yourself with others, which is a very dangerous thing to do.

Nicole:

Yeah. We always say if today is the day that you need to lay on the couch, don’t lay on the couch every single day, but if you need to do that today, please go ahead and give yourself some permission. This is a crisis. Everybody’s grieving. Yeah. I just, I think it’s really important to allow space in all of the excitement and the innovation and the forward movement to pause.

Shane:

Yeah, I agree with that and also I would suggest with webinars is make your notes, write down your key learnings and really study them before moving onto the next one because I’m very guilty of this where I will read a business book and go, “Oh, that’s really good. There’s five things I want to implement.” Someone hands me another marketing book, I’m on that. I haven’t implemented it.

Nicole:

That’s right. Same. I really liked, you said this in another check-in and it really resonated with me. In fact, I wrote it down to remind myself, it said, like you just said, pick one or two things that really resonate with you. Implement and then introduce something new, but don’t, yeah. Don’t overload. The overload is really, I believe, dangerous right now. I think that any decisions we make from a fear place may not be the best ones for us in the long term.

Shane:

I agree with you. In fact, I had somebody reach out to me a few days ago, a tourpreneur who said, “I want to start a podcast. Can you help me out?” And I love helping people create podcasts, but I said, “Okay, what are your goals with the podcast? What do you want to get out of it? How is your SEO and how are your videos?” And we went through all that and I said, “Look, work on things that are going to generate business-

Nicole:

Yeah. Stage advice Shane Whaley, very nice-

Shane:

Well no, I get it because all of us, we all want the latest tech or we want the next shiny thing and I know that people who are listening to podcasts say, “Well, I would like to have a podcast,” and great. I really encourage people to start podcasts, but only when, for a business, when you’ve completed the basics and how’s your Instagram account? Oh, not very good. Well, maybe you want to focus on that before you build a podcast because very few people are booking tours because they’ve listened to a podcast.

Nicole:

That’s true. Yeah. I think it goes back to that, the foundational values, right? What are your core? Ours is connection and presence and so, we started this new video series because it’s something that we wanted to do previous to all of this anyway, to give a space for all of these wellness professionals to offer what they have to offer and it is saving my sanity to have this project and also it really speaks to our core values. So, I feel confident in moving forward with it.

Shane:

And where can people sign up for those videos Nicole?

Nicole:

Well, we’re going to be putting them on our YouTube channel, our brand new shiny YouTube channel. Our first one is up at The Taro Reading For Our Times, which is very exciting and the rest will be trickling in.

Shane:

Great. I will add that to the show notes. Tourpreneur.com/74 and add all the links for Asheville Wellness Tours. Is there a final message? Anything you’d like to share with your fellow tourpreneurers before we wrap up?

Nicole:

Gosh, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. We are all in it together. It has been so inspiring to hear everyone’s stories and even knowing that we’re struggling together and we might be a business that doesn’t make it out of this and that is scary to me and I’m sure it’s scary for a lot of people, but what a joy it has been so far and who knows what might come out of this period of time. If my business fails, maybe I’m on another project that’s an even bigger passion project than this and I just hope that we’re able to balance some of the uncertainty with hope and trust that you are a rock star and you’ve built this business already. You have more places to go.

Shane:

Yeah, I really like that advice Nicole and what I would add to that is I am seeing some people online saying, “Oh, pivot to local tours. What’s needed locally? If you’re running a food tour and you can’t do it anymore, why not run an ax throwing tour?” And I fundamentally disagree with this by the way because I feel that running a tour business is a lot of hard work. The margins are thin. You have to have a passion for your product, you have to have a passion. If you don’t have a passion for ax throwing or for food tours, whatever, don’t do it. Don’t just give up because you’re better off going to the supermarket and stacking shelves and making minimum wage and paying your bills and then come back to your business when we’re out of this rather than lead a tour for something that you’re just not passionate about.

Nicole:

I’m with you again. Again, those fear based decisions, anytime you feel like you’re making one, if you take three deep breaths and let it sit for a couple of days, I mean, we have time. The world is moving so quickly, but really that would be my message to everyone. You are already a rock star and you will be fine out of this and who knows what beauty will come out of this crisis. It might look totally different than how it looked before and uncertainty is hard, but that’s okay.

Shane:

It is. Well Nicole, thanks for coming on the show. I look forward, always a pleasure. I look forward to chatting to you when we’re out of this because I’m convinced you are going to survive this. Just your attitude, your outlook, your positivity and I look forward to bringing you back on the show so we can talk about your video series and what you’ve learned during the crisis and what you did to make your business stronger.

Nicole:

Thank you Shane. Thanks for doing this also. It’s been such a joy to hear everyone’s voices.

Shane:

It really is. It’s good therapy for me as well, I have to say.

Nicole:

Same.

Shane:

I am just blown away by whether everyone’s lying to me or not, I don’t know because it’s like a British thing. When we go to a restaurant and the food’s bad and they ask us how it was, we would always say, “Oh, it was great,” and I speak to tourpreneurers who are so positive. Yeah, I mean realist, but also like no, we’re going to get through this. We’re going to get through this and then I go online and read the doom and gloom from some quarters, but smaller tour operators I speak to are maybe, I’m not sure if optimistic is the right, positives the right, I’m not sure what the right word is. I think, yeah. It’s positive. Positive that we’re going to get through it.

Nicole:

Yeah. Yeah and who knows what it’ll look like, but I believe it’ll be beautiful. Yeah.

Shane:

Marvelous. Thank you, Nicole.

Nicole:

Thank you Shane. Have a nice day.

Speaker 3:

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


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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.