Ep. 35 — Meet Bryan Bou of Spotin Tours Puerto Rico

10 mins with Bryan Bou of Spotin Tours. Bryan sat down with Tourpreneur Podcast Host Shane Whaley and revealed how his company moved from being an app to a tour operator.

He also shares with us insights and tips for other tour operators including which booking platform they work with and why.

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.

Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode of Tourpreneur.

Interview with Bryan Bou of Spotin Tours Transcript.

Shane: Hi, and welcome to TourPreneur at Arrival presented by Checkfront. We’re joined by Bryan Bou of…?

Bryan: Spotin Tours.

Shane: Spotin Tours. Whereabouts in the world are you based?

Bryan: We’re based in Puerto Rico. The beautiful island of Puerto Rico.

Shane: Fantastic. So, how did you guys get started?

Bryan: So, actually we started in a not traditional way. We, my background is in engineering. So, I started with an app for cool spots to visit in Puerto Rico. That was the initial product we launched in 2017, then came Hurricane Maria. That didn’t go well, so we changed the model. We did a big crossover to experiences in those spots that we had in the app. So, now we are a full experience platform.

Shane: Right? So full experience. How did you know there would be a demand for this kind of activity and experience?

Bryan: So, that’s the research that we got from the app. So, one thing led to another. When we had that app, they had people visiting. We would get so much, “Hey, do you have somebody that can take me to this place?” Because we have a focus on nature spots, those secret gems in the island that you don’t know how to get to.

Bryan: So, people would, instead of saying how to get there, they would ask us to take there. So it’s, well, there’s a market for that and here we are.

Shane: Fantastic. What do you find the most rewarding about working in the tour and experiences business?

Bryan: So, nature is my office. Working with people every day, it’s challenging, but it’s so rewarding at the same time and my hobby all my life has been adventure.

Bryan: So, I get to do that for a living. I can’t ask for better things.

Shane: Fantastic. What would you say is the biggest challenge your business has had to overcome?

Bryan: So, I’d say in Puerto Rico we are a small market. We are not that travel destination that everyone is looking to go to. But once they do come, they are always just blown, mind blown.

Shane: Yeah.

Bryan: So, that challenge of just getting people into Puerto Rico, it’s a challenge because once they’re there, we just take over.

Shane: Yeah. And how much of your business is the cruise market? Because I know quite a lot of cruises stop off in Puerto Rico, right?

Bryan: So, in the market at the island, the cruise market is really big.

Shane: Yeah.

Bryan: For us, since we are an adventure operator, that’s not a niche for it, so we tend to work more with OTAs and the more traditional places.

Shane: Right. So how long is your average tour, would you say?

Bryan: Yeah, we easily spend seven, eight hours.

Bryan: So, it’s a break for the cruises
Shane: I’m being very selfish because I’m on a cruise in January and we stop at Puerto Rico. So-

Bryan: Oh.

Shane: But I don’t think we’re there that long. So, I think that’s the challenge, right?

Bryan: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. Right on the mark.

Shane: I think maybe it’s three hours or something. Absolutely. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you started working in tours?

Bryan: The change of life. Like I said, my background’s engineering, so I’m used to the office. I’m used to the equations, doing coding all day. So, just actually being in the outdoors, doing what I love, making a change for my Island. That’s something that I did not expect. With my company, I can actually expand and actually hit the economy right directly. I cannot say that before.

Bryan: So, I can work at something that I love, but at the same time I can actually help my local economy. And that’s the best of both worlds.

Shane: It’s a wonderful feeling isn’t it?

Bryan: It’s something else.

Shane: When you see how many jobs are created, I’m not sure of the numbers in Puerto Rico, but through tourism.

Bryan: Yes. And it’s everywhere. The guides that we have now, the local stores, restaurants that we impact, it’s just amazing.

Shane: What does your distribution mix look like? So, the percentage of your business that’s OTAs, direct, et cetera. What does that look like for you?

Bryan: So, right now, easily we’re in the 70 to 72% on OTAs. The rest in 28-30% comes through social media or traditional word of mouth channels.

Shane: Yeah. Sure. And is there one OTA, in particular, that’s very strong for you? Or?

Bryan: Viator and Airbnb Experiences?

Bryan: Those are the big ones for us.

Shane: And in terms of online booking, so direct, which booking platform do you use?

Bryan: So, we are using Adventure Bucket List.

Shane: Adventure?

Bryan: Bucket List.
Shane: Okay.

Bryan: They’re based in Canada.
Shane: Yeah.
Bryan: Really good guys.

Shane: Oh, I need to read up on them. You see, there’s so many. There’s 160 plus.

Bryan: I know.

Shane: So, we are four minutes into Arival and already I’ve learned something new. What do you like about working with that platform?

Bryan: Well, the service is super customizable. I know the guys one on one, so, if I have something, just go directly to them. If I need something, they just make it up on the moment. So, it’s a service that’s way higher than the other platforms. So, that’s why I love.

Shane: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And how do you stay up to date with, the great thing, and I guess it’s also a headache in the tour industry, travel industry, so many changes, so many things happening, that’s what makes it exciting, but how do you stay up to date with all the new trends?

Bryan: So, of course, attending Arival is a good one.

Shane: Yes.

Bryan: That’s a must. But doing things like that, just straight shows, being onsite on everything, online, OTAs are not going to stop. So, it’s just researching every day, not just online, but seeing mentors and what other places are going. I was in the ITB conference two weeks ago, so it’s just keeping on the trend, not just in States, but everywhere.

Bryan: It’s a must if you want to survive in this industry.

Shane: Yeah. That’s great that you get to go to all the conferences because I know it’s a lot of money, even Arrival. It’s not cheap to come.

Bryan: No.

Shane: Hotels, flights, food, everything else. But for you, you get a return out of it?

Bryan: Yes. Yes. The ROI is excellent because you just make partnerships, you learn so much and it opens your eyes.

Shane: Yeah.

Bryan: That’s the third factor that nobody, sometimes pays too much attention, but it opens your eyes to so many things and that’s always a good return.

Shane: Brilliant. And in terms of your OTA mix, so with being around 70%, is that something that worries you? Is that something you want to bring down or are you as a business happy with that?

Bryan: At the moment, we are happy with that.

Bryan: That’s something that, of course, OTA business is here for the long term. So, we are definitely working to expanding and just getting more direct.

Bryan: We’re fairly new in the industry, so right now we’re okay with the OTAs having that big of a ground, but definitely we’re looking into expanding and adding more channels that can maybe lower that percentage.

Shane: And are you directly managing that relationship with the OTA?

Bryan: Yes, sir.

Shane: What advice would you have them for TourPreneurs out there who are wanting to work with an OTA? They never worked with an OTA before. Are there any tips you could share?

Bryan: Pick the one that best suits your tour operator activity. I used to just go for everyone.

Shane: Yeah.

Bryan: Mistake. Because then I would put so much time into it, but I would never see the return in bookings. So, that’s my advice, just make sure you research the one that actually fits your industry, your expertise and that’s going to be really good for the long haul.

Shane: Excellent. What is one of the resources you use the most? It could be an app, it could be personal, for productivity or something you use in the business. What would you be lost without?

Bryan: Well, lost without? Oh, Gmail. I would die without Gmail.

Shane: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That’s so true.

Bryan: But also, man, Slack, I use Slack so much.
Shane: You do?

Bryan: Yeah. For almost everything.

Shane: What’s the benefit of using Slack?

Bryan: So, I just coordinate myself through Slack at the point I stop using it, it always goes bananas. So, just the coordination and it just helps so much.

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

Bryan: Oh, god. The work.

Shane: Yeah. Yeah.

Bryan: Actually, the customer experience sometimes gets lost so much and the difficulty actually just making it. It’s a service industry and it’s changing all the time. So, those are the factors that not everybody thinks to mind.

Shane: Yeah. What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you? And that could be about the tour business or just in your career.

Bryan: I’d say the 80-20 principle. Just focus on those that bring the most to you. So, I’d say double down on what you’re good at and don’t try to cover everything. That’s something that I did at the start, just trying to do a hundred tours in Puerto Rico. I wanted to cover the whole island.

Shane: Yeah.

Bryan: Big mistake. Then now, which is narrowed down to the toughest experiences that my clients actually love, that I get the most feedback from, that I get the most bookings from and just doubling down on what you’re good at, just works way better.

Shane: Yeah, that’s sound advice. What words of wisdom do you have for other tour operators?

Bryan: Make sure you love what you do. This is an industry that demands a lot, is always changing. You’re working with people. There’s so many risk, but at the end of the day, if you love it, it’s all worth it.

Shane: Fantastic. Bryan, thank you for joining TourPreneur at Arrival presented by Checkfront.

Bryan: Awesome.