Meet Tom Barclay Matchett: a passionate guide who leads small, private tours across one of the most richly historic cities in the world.
The London Storyteller tried his hand at a few different fields before he found his true calling as a tour operator. And he wants to help other guides take their tour business from making ends meet, to thriving.
Here are Tom’s best tips for tour operators focusing on developing a compelling tour, and personal brand.
1: Stay true to your instincts to develop original tours.
“You couldn’t plan it. But it kind of happens.”
Tom’s tours can run the gamut from James Bond to Churchill. But whether you’re developing a full catalog of pre-planned tours or creating unique, bespoke agendas every time, one thing holds true: you need to lean into your own creative instincts, and personal interests.
Are you a long-time history buff? Dig into every rabbit hole that captures your interest. Passionate about women’s history? Create a tour that puts female innovators front and center. If you’re passionate about your subject, your audience will be into it, too.
Tom often starts out with a relatively niche interest, but he finds that it always leads to a whole world of side-references and tangents that are a lot of fun to explore – both for him, and his guests.
2: Make your guests feel like they’re in the story.
“Every time you do it, you’ve got a fresh sheet of paper.”
Tom uses story-tellling to bring otherwise nondescript buildings and landmarks to life. He remembers small, key details that he can share with his audience in the moment, transporting them back in time.
And if you’re worried about getting it perfect every time? Don’t be. Ditch the script. Delete the notes off your phone. Tom has found that his best tours weren’t scripted. He knows his subject matter, and listens to his customers so he can delve further into the topics that stand out to them.
3: Be thoughtful about your marketing budget.
“You don’t need to be as big as Expedia.”
As a one-man brand, Tom knows first-hand how to be selective with his ad dollars. So he advises other operators to try out a few different channels, but stick to the ones that produce results in your market. Google Ads, social media, OTAs and SEO all have their place – but you may not be able to pursue all of them right off the bat. So funnel your marketing budget where it counts, and always keep an eye on your margins.
It also helps to be aware of your own strengths and skill set. An operator who majored in cinema studies might absolutely kill it with boosted Instagram stories and TikTok videos. Someone who’s strong in analytics might genuinely enjoy setting up a Facebook Ad campaign. Consider where your natural skills lie, and lean into them.
OK and here is a bonus tip from Tom
4: Money isn’t the only thing you have to budget.
“Value your time.”
If you’re like a lot of tour operators, you’re passionate about what you do. You’re willing to put in whatever it takes to deliver an engaging tour every single time, build your brand, and connect with your followers. But as your business grows, you’ll have to be selective about where your time goes.
Do you agree with Tom’s advice, or have a different viewpoint? Either way, we want to hear from you. Share your thoughts and feedback in the Tourpreneur Facebook group with 3,000 tour operators.
“Tours aren’t about going out with a set script. People like it when you have passion and enthusiasm about your subject.“
Tom Barclay Matchett – The London Storyteller