Today we’ve got the Tourpreneur spotlight out, and we’ve swung it on Mr. Stephen Oddo, CEO, and co-founder of Walks.
Tourpreneur’s Shane Whaley pulls back the curtain on Walks and discovers how the company began life as the passion project of two guys with a straightforward mission to share their love for and knowledge of the city of Rome.
Since then, Walks have grown into a team of over 100 staff and around 600 guides operating across 13 cities around the world.
How Stephen Oddo Started Walks
The walk started in Italy, and at the time, there weren’t many companies focusing on the unique product and guides. Specifically, on elevating what a guide can bring to the equation and bringing that to the forefront. “We thought the guides could bring the tour to life and make each tour an experience that was so much more memorable.”
Stephen was much more intentional about hiring top guides. He worked with them, paid them well, and developed a relationship over time that was mutually beneficial.
Exponential Growth and Scaling of Walks
Stephen’s company doesn’t only offer walking tours; they also offer day trips, cooking classes, and different thematic products they develop, which is what makes them different from other tour companies. “Our focus is much more on the individual guides, the product, diversity of product, and differentiation.”
To replicate their guide company throughout the world, Stephen decided to go all out and build their software in house. No software of this type had been around when Steve created his software. “We’ve been developing those tools ever since, and it’s been a huge investment. Now we have our ecosystem of technology that powers the whole business.”
“We wanted to control what was on the front end, what the customers would see, booking flow, how that would happen.”Stephen Oddo
However, Steve doesn’t recommend building your software system. Their system is a substantial monetary investment. “I have a background in technology and was particularly interested in how we could use technology to make a pretty high volume tour operation from a remote location work.”
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Why Create a Brand Platform
From city to city, tours can be hard to differentiate by the company. Stephen wanted his brand to be known around the world. “We use a lot of email marketing to get messaging out, but that’s not enough.” He is working hard to iterate the brand, voice, the look and feel of his global website.
The face of the organization are people who are coming into contact with their customers. For Walks, that is their GX team, which is their guest experience call center and booking management team. They’re the first line of a business in which the customers interact. “We have an extensive network of coordinators that manage the departures, check-ins on the ground.”
Their GX team ensures that clients have a smooth, efficient experience on the ground and a quality experience with a great guide.
“The mission of walks is to elevate your travel experience when you travel. We are trying to match curious travelers with fantastic storytellers. We are trying to create more memorable experiences.”
With so many tours out there, Stephen wants to create a unique brand that’s associated with a great experience when you travel. Walks are focused on giving their clients the best experience when they are checking off their bucket list items.
“I think everybody likes experiences and wants to have a great experience. What we’re trying to do is provide a consistent level of great experience with the right mix of activities. I want Walks to be transparent, really upfront, so once you have a Walks experience, you’ll want to replicate that in other destinations as well!”
You can listen to Stephen sharing the story of Walks on Episode 60 of Tourpreneur – a podcast for Tour Operators.