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Tour Operator COVID-19 Check-In – Staci Giovino of Carmel Food Tours (71)

COVID Check In Featured Food Tours Podcast Episodes

Tour Operator COVID-19 Check-In – Staci Giovino of Carmel Food Tours (71)

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Carmel Food Tours

In this quick call, we check in with Staci Giovino, the tour operator behind Carmel Food Tours to learn how they are coping with 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 71 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?

Transcript – Staci Giovino of Carmel Food Tours on the Tourpreneur Podcast.


Shane:

Hello everybody and welcome to episode 71 of the Tourpreneur Podcast. Today we have our second of our tour operator check-ins. That’s where I’m calling tour operators around the world to see how they’re coping during the COVID-19 lockdown and how our tour operators are preparing to come out of this stronger.

Shane:

Today I’m going to call Stacy Giovino. She’s in Carmel, California and she is the tourpreneur behind carmelfoodtours.com. Welcome to tourpreneur Staci, how are you doing?

Staci:

Well, Carmel Food Tours is on a definite pause right now. We are working hard to stay relevant and that’s about the best we can do.

Shane:

How are you going about that?

Staci:

Well, we’ve beefed up our social media presence, but we also launched a program in partnership with our retail stops that we have on the tour. We created a gift box of shelf stable items. We’re offering it basically at our cost and you can buy it to give to yourself or send to a friend or you can donate it back to us and we’ll make sure that somebody on the front line of healthcare workers at our local hospital receives it.

Shane:

Excellent. I saw that on your website. I was curious to know what the response had been to the gift box initiative.

Staci:

It’s been pretty great. We’re getting ready to send out our first shipment of 20 boxes today. It’s a start and hopefully we can just boost a little bit of awareness about our retail partners and of course, about us over the next few weeks.

Shane:

Are those gift boxes going to pass the customers or supporters?

Staci:

Some of them are, yes. And some of them are buying two and three boxes and donating one back. We’re getting quite a wide variety of customers on this one.

Shane:

Excellent. I did see the company down in Atlanta that we’re creating almost a food tour at your door where they were picking up various items from the restaurants and then there was a video, I think a DVD from some of the chefs and just that was such a great idea.

Staci:

Oh absolutely. And I wish we had the capacity to do that, but most of our food tour items just don’t travel well.

Shane:

What kind of items are they?

Staci:

We have honey from our local honey producer in business. He actually started the business when he was in fifth grade, when I started the idea in fifth grade. He’s now a senior in high school. We have olive oil and vinegar from our local olive oil and vinegar shop and we have caramels from a local confectioner. They all travel pretty well.

Shane:

Fantastic. Tell us about your daily routine because you’ve been in business since 2012, so eight years where you’ve been running tours, suddenly tours have stopped and you’re working with the gift box, but what are you doing on a daily basis to keep yourself sane?

Staci:

Well, probably not enough. Honestly, I did some of the operations work. I did primarily the marketing and there’s a limit to what you can do in marketing right now because you don’t want to come across as tone deaf. So trying to come up with ideas to stay relevant is challenging. I know that my team is just sitting back and waiting and my operations person doesn’t have a whole lot to do.

Staci:

My side hustle is teaching spin classes and the healthcare industry has also taken a major hit. So I try to find routine wherever I can and sometimes the biggest step in that is just getting up and actually taking a shower and putting on real clothes.

Shane:

No, I thank you for being so genuine with us because that is the reality. I think for most of us right now, certainly, the first couple of weeks, just speaking for myself, I was in a funk. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to turn. And like you say, it’s difficult when you’re producing content to make sure that you’re not tone deaf either.

Shane:

But also it’s like, okay, we’re in this situation, we’re all in the same boat. It’s not as if there is one region that’s doing well or one vertical is doing well. We’re all in this together and I think the importance of, you’re active on various Facebook groups. I’ve seen you posting on listening to the podcast, watching some of the summits and webinars that are being put on right now. Have you joined any of those?

Staci:

I am participating in more webinars than I have ever, ever had on my calendar.

Shane:

[inaudible 00:05:13] you.

Staci:

Well, it’s good news, bad news. I’m generally half listening, but there’s always something that comes out of it, which is great. One of the other things that I’ve found to be really effective is just reaching out to people and checking to see if they’re okay. Having that connection it keeps you relevant.

Shane:

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s part of the reason why we’re doing these check-ins on tourpreneurs because not everybody in our industry knows other people who are tour operators. So to be able to listen to these and hear from tour operators around the world, that solidarity that we are all in this together, we’re all suffering, but what are we doing to come through it and make our businesses stronger?

Shane:

Is there anything from all the webinars you’ve been on that is front of mind, something that you want to implement or learning that you’ve picked up?

Staci:

Well, this morning I was listening to a Fair Harbor webinar on social media and the impact and they talked a lot about the value of video. And honestly, mine is outdated. My first order of business when we can start getting back into our tour partners is to take some video, have some content created because it has at least according to Fair Harbor, about a 90% retention rate with the information. Even a short video can be much more impactful than a photo or an ad.

Shane:

Sure. And how are you recording videos currently?

Staci:

With my iPhone.

Shane:

But that’s the way to do it, right?

Staci:

It’s great. And if you’re not adept at putting it all together, fiber is great. Some really talented people on there and they can do anything you want.

Shane:

That’s a very good suggestion. I was looking at… I have another podcast, which is about books and I saw a publisher had this really cool video of how they had this camera go past this book and it had the coffee next to it, I wrote, some said, “How do you create that?” “Oh, we use this camera.” I forget what it’s called. And I went to Amazon was a $3,000 camera. Maybe I’ll just stick with my iPhone, right?

Staci:

Yeah. Yeah. The iPhone is good.

Shane:

Yeah. I think it’s one of these things that I don’t really use it to its full capability and I’m sure there’s a lot more I could do. If there’s anyone listening that’s got on an iPhone video photography course and you used it in your tour business, let us know because now is the time that we can practice with these things and learn them. Right?

Staci:

Absolutely. Or if you want to learn, let us know. We’ll have you put something together.

Shane:

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. That’s cool. Another question I wanted to ask you. In terms of dealing with refunds, how has that been looking for you?

Staci:

It’s a fine line and for the most part we’ve been able to issue gift cards that don’t expire. And generally people have been understanding and compassionate and a couple of people haven’t. And I think they’ll probably look back on it as a point in their life when they weren’t maybe their best selves. But I understand, I’m in the same boat.

Staci:

A lot of our gift certificates were issued a couple of weeks ago and we heard thanks and we understand and then, here we are a couple of weeks later with still nothing happening and we’re starting to see some things trickle in. Like, “I really do think I want that refund.”

Staci:

And it’s challenging for me to deal with personally because I’m in same boat and I’m waiting for some of the SBA things to materialize. And it’s not that I necessarily don’t have the money, it’s that I’m super protective of it. One of the best things that I’ve seen, I had to cancel a tour in Barcelona in May with Devour Tours and their response, I asked for a gift card, they said, “Well, we’ll refund it to 125% of your value on a gift card. And if you find that you’re not going to use it in the next two years, let us know. We’ll give you a full refund.”

Staci:

Going forward, that’s what I’ll be offering. I think it’s brilliant.

Shane:

Yeah. Fantastic. Well done James, if you’re listening. James [inaudible 00:09:40] Devour, I really liked that idea. Excellent. And you say you work with Fair Harbor. What’s your communication been like with Fair Harbor during this?

Staci:

It’s been good. I know they’ve been working from home for several weeks and even so my account rep has been very responsive. Support has been, as far as web support, has been a little bit harder to reach. But once they get the message, they’re totally on it. I would say overall they’ve been very successful.

Shane:

Fantastic. And do you work with any OTAs?

Staci:

I work with TripAdvisor and saying you work with TripAdvisor is an oxymoron. I’m not going to lie. Like everyone, it’s a love hate relationship with TripAdvisors.

Shane:

Have they been responsive to you in terms of cancellations that have coming in or any, are they giving you any information?

Staci:

No.

Shane:

Right.

Staci:

No.

Shane:

Okay.

Staci:

No. As I need to cancel tours, I’m canceling them. But honestly, I think there’s only been one reservation that I’ve had that the guest has actually canceled through TripAdvisor.

Shane:

Right. What would your message be to tour operators who are listening in from all around the world that they’re tuning into our conversation today. What would your message be to your fellow tourpreneurs?

Staci:

I would say the word is endurance. Endurance is fastly underrated and just hold on. Do what you can. Stay in your routine, bank your content and be ready to launch. We’re lucky because most of our business is local. It comes from within a 200 mile radius.

Staci:

We’re not relying on the international travelers and that puts us a step ahead. But even if you’re relying on the international travel, just if this is what you love, stick with it and find ways to be creative and make it work.

Shane:

Brilliant. Well, I would love to invite you back on the show when we’re through this crisis because I know local marketing is going to be so important for so many of us because there’s going to be a lot of people who are not going to want to do the long haul travel. And also, myself, I can’t wait to get of the self-isolation that we’re in and actually go on some of the tours in the state because they’re the tours I’m like, “Oh yeah, I’ll do that one day.” And then I never get round trip.

Shane:

Now I’m like, “Yeah, I’m totally doing those tours when we’re all out of this.”

Staci:

Wonderful.

Shane:

Marvelous. Well, thank you very much that’s staci@carmelfoodtour.com. Thank you Staci.

Staci:

Thanks Shane.

Speaker 2:

Thanks for listening to the tourpreneur podcast. Be sure to visit tourpreneur.com. To join the conversation have access to the show notes, including links to the resources mentioned on today’s episode. This is tourpreneur.


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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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