Why I decided not to develop virtual tours for my tour business with Jessica Hammer

Virtual tours, should you create one or not? 

Today’s guest is tourpreneur, Jessica Hammer, from Taste of Toulouse food tours. Jessica also wondered whether she should be creating virtual tours, so she asked herself seven questions, reflected on her answers, and decided that no, she wasn’t going to use her resources on building a virtual tour.

In today’s episode, she talks us through the 7 questions she asked herself.

She reveals some of those answers and shares her thinking on why she decided creating virtual tours of her food tours is not right for her business.

If you feel the FOMO or that you’re feeling the urge to follow other tour operators and create a virtual tour, is to also ask yourself the same seven questions and really reflect on those answers, and decide for yourself whether a virtual tour is a good use of your time and resources. 

I know some of our listeners are enjoying success with virtual tours.

I would love to invite you to the show so you can share with us how you’ve set your virtual tours up? What were the key components? What were the costs? How did you market it? What’s the reaction been? Are you making money? How are you measuring success?

And because we are an independent podcast, we are always are happy to host different opinions on these issues. Get in touch if you want to share more about your virtual tours on the podcast.

“When I answered these questions for my business, I decided that – for the moment and with the information that is currently available – I won’t be offering paid virtual tours or experiences.”

Jessica Hammer – Taste of Toulouse Tours

7 Questions to Ask Yourself to Decide Whether or Not to Develop Virtual Tours

  1. What are you hoping to get out of this? Do you want/need to make money? Is it just for marketing? Is it to give your team (or yourself) something to do? Be sure you establish some measurable goals so that you can decide whether or not offering virtual tours or experiences is the best way to meet those goals. A free virtual tour could be a good marketing opportunity – but only if you have a good promotional plan to back it up. If you’re going to go for it, make sure it fits into your long-term plan. 
  2. Is your audience large enough that you can sell enough tours or experiences to make it worth the investment of time and money? So far, many of the tour operators that I’ve seen successfully selling online tours or experiences are established companies with large mailing lists or social media followings and a lot of previous customers that they can market these new products to. They’re not trying to attract new customers, simply marketing to their current customer base. As a much more recent addition to the field, I have to question whether I have a large enough customer base to make it viable. So decide where you fit on this continuum and if you have enough of an organic reach that you won’t have to pay to market your online tour/experience.
  3. Will you be selling something that others are offering for free? Along with the proliferation of paid online experiences has come an equally-large amount (maybe even more) of free online activities and experiences. Do you have a plan for how you are going to differentiate your products from all of the free products that are out there right now – especially when free is so much more sexy during these turbulent economic times. If the answer is yes, think about how you can “sweeten the pot” by throwing in a coupon for a future live tour or consider a free-paid model where you give something away for free and use that to promote a paid product. Which brings me to my next point…
  4. Is there something else you can sell besides a virtual tour or experience? Granted, they’re another big name in the industry, but Devour Tours is selling a pdf cookbook based on recipes from their food tours across Europe. My friend Caroline, of Lyon Wine Tastings, is working to develop an online course on wine tasting (p.s. She’s offering free virtual wine tastings as a freebie product to help her develop and  market this course). I see online courses as a different type of product than virtual tours or experiences, as the focus is education, not tourism. Think about how you might pivot to something complimentary that is outside the “tourism” box. I’ve seen several food tour companies offer “food tours in a box,” which – while it may include a virtual “tour” component – gives their customers a physical product to enjoy at home. I’m working to develop an e-commerce shop that will sell branded merchandise through a print-on-demand company, which requires almost no upfront costs and very little admin work once it is launched. 
  5. Will making sales right now disqualify you from government aid? This question might not apply to everyone, but if you qualify for government aid, verify the conditions of that aid. Here in France, independent businesses like mine are eligible for payments of up to 1,500 € per month for March, April, and  May if you can demonstrate a reduction of at least 50% in sales volume compared to the corresponding month last year (essentially, they will make up the difference in gross revenue up to 1,500 €). Since I had just started my business at the end of 2018, and winter is a low season for tourism in Toulouse, my sales didn’t start to pick up last year until June. For me, making a lot of sales of online tours in April and May might disqualify me from this aid, or at least reduce the amount euro-for-euro. So, should I really be trying hard to make money during months when I’m already guaranteed a minimum income or looking more towards the future, when the aid runs out? Which brings me to the next question…
  6. Is your time better spent doing something else that will help you in the long run? At the beginning of 2020, I organized a half-day planning retreat for myself and a couple other entrepreneurs that I meet with regularly. I came out of that retreat with an ambitious wish list of projects and improvements for my business. At the time, I didn’t really think I would be able to accomplish all of them before the tourist season. However, when the crisis hit and I was forced to press pause on my tours, I already had this list of things that I had identified as being priorities for my business: improving my SEO, writing more content for my blog, developing my email marketing plan to include drip campaigns for potential customers, making updates to my website, adding an e-commerce shop, working with a potential partner to develop French-speaking tours…In my wildest dreams, I didn’t think I would have the time to do all it (and, frankly, even with the confinement, I still don’t), but having these projects already mapped out has made me more hesitant to throw what little energy and focus I’m able to muster while we’re in confinement into something new without a clear picture of the long-term benefits.
  7. Will people buy your virtual products after stay-at-home orders have been lifted? I know many people have said that virtual tours and experiences are going to be around for a while – at least until a vaccine is developed and people can travel without fear. This is all hypothetical, so I want to offer a counterpoint. With everyone at home right now, we have a captive audience. However, once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, will people have time for so many virtual experiences when what they really want is to get back to their everyday lives? Will they want to be reminded that they still can’t travel long distances or will they seize what opportunity they can to spend time outside, within a reasonable drive time from their homes? I, for one, look forward to the opportunity to spend less time in front of my computer and more time outside with friends (even if we do still have to social distance). Unless you can create an online experience that seems so inline with your company’s mission that you can see it seamlessly integrated with your real tour offerings a year or two from now, you might be better off focusing on long-term projects that you know will pay off – SEO, working to adapt your tours to the local market that will bounce back more quickly, updating your website, working on your social media, just to name a few things.

Resources Mentioned

What we will learn…

  • How does Sansee go about evaluating a tour and activity? 
  • What goes into issuing the Sansee shield? 
  • How does the public know that the Sansee shield has any teeth? 
  • Jon discusses what tours and activities and attractions are doing right now to reassure nervous travelers.