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Starting a Tour Company: Here’s what worked (and what didn’t) in our first test tour.

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Starting a Tour Company: Here’s what worked (and what didn’t) in our first test tour.

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"It was much rougher than I first expected.”

She Shapes History

 

In part two of The Tour Operator Startup, we spoke with Ripley & Sita: two ambitious Aussies who are starting their own tour company, She Shapes History and want to make it the best it can be. 

So we’re following them on their journey starting a tour company from idea to execution. Here’s what worked (and what didn’t) in their very first test tour. 

This is a blog report on their journey so far, you can listen to Sita and Ripley share their thoughts on starting a tour business or read on.

New to our tour operator series – check out part one here

She Shapes History walking tours

Starting a tour company - the challenges that come with leading your first tour!

Things went smoother in their heads than it did in reality. And that’s happened to every tour guide, whether they’re just starting out or are decades into the business. 

Here are some specific challenges they encountered during the tour, that they wish they’d predicted in practice. 

 

  • Different vibes: They both deliver the tour together, which means the have to be more or less in unison. But while they planned out their content, they didn’t plan on their different personalities and delivery style. So at times, the tour felt a little disjointed. 

  • Lacking an overarching narrative: They didn’t have one narrative throughout the tour, from first stop to farewell. In upcoming iterations of their tour, they hope to have one, high-level story that starts within the first few moments, and draws to a conclusion at the end.


  • Nerves: They practiced reciting the tour material to each other, but not together, with an audience. On the day of, their nerves had more impact than they would have liked. 


  • Audience knowledge: As a tour guide, you’re immersed in your subject matter. But your customers probably aren’t. They expected people to have more familiarity with the material/stories than they actually did. Turns out, they could have provided more historical context. 


I really liked when you could tell we were expanding their world view.”

She Shapes History

What Worked Well Leading Our First Tour

She Shapes History


There are beautiful moments in leading every tour: even the very first one when there are more than a few kinks to be ironed out. Here are some of the high points from this particular walking tour. 

  • When they were in sync: It’s not always easy for two guides to not only coordinate their material and story-telling, but also match each other’s tone. But when it worked, their unified delivery was spot-on.

     

  • When they expressed their passion: There were times throughout the tour when the guides’ enthusiasm was obvious, and visitors picked up on their energy.

     

  • Honest feedback: Since this was a test run, the guides made a point to sit down over a cup of coffee with a few of their guests (mostly friends and family) to get feedback. They learned more in that quick feedback session than they ever could have guessed by just rehashing it themselves.

     

  • Inspiration from other tour operators: Others are surprisingly generous with their advice and feedback, rather than being cut-through competitive.

     

Tips for Tour Operators

There were so many actionable tips that came out of our conversation, but there were three common themes:

  • Practice (even more).

Ripley and Zita practiced their tour material by reciting it to each other. But they didn’t practice delivering it with each other (and yes, that’s an important distinction). 

 

Whenever you’re planning to launch a new tour, whether it’s just you or multiple guides, prep by delivering your material to a new audience, even before the first official test tour. You’ll find that you might speak a little differently, talk fast, or not provide enough detail. When you see the reaction of your audience, you can spot those nuances and plan for them, rather than finding out in the moment during your first ever tour. 


  • Invite interaction and feedback.

Engaging with your guests, even in small ways, keeps them interested and makes the tour feel more personal. Team them some fun local slang, or pick out members of your audience as examples in your stories. These tactics are tried and true for a reason: they’re easy to employ, and make a huge difference for your customers. 

 

And in your first few tours, don’t be shy: end by asking for direct feedback. Prompt your audience to share one thing that stood out to them. Their answers may surprise you (and help you develop a more effective tour next time around). 


  • Book time to plan.

That first tour has ended and you’re finally breathing the sigh of relief that’s so familiar to every passionate guide. 

 

But take some time to reflect on what went well, and what you want to change next time. And make sure to save time for yourself throughout your career to evaluate your tour product. Are you going the direction you wanted for yourself? Are you serving your mission? 

 

You’ll also need to continuously take an honest look at the financials of your work. At the beginning, determine how much you need to make each week to meet your goals, and plan for setbacks (as well as how to handle success: large groups and back-to-back bookings). 

 

And Now, We’re Looking for Feedback from Other Tour Businesses and Tour Guides

Hopefully the experience of these two talented Australians have helped you strategize your future tours. In return, we’re asking for a small favor. 

We want to know: how do you wrap up your tour with an amazing ending? Leave your comments on our Facebook group, and you may be highlighted in a future episode. 

Best of luck in all your future tour planning. Cheers, mates. 

Tourpreneur – A Podcast for Tour Operators – weekly interviews for tour operators

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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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