You tour and activity biz owners out there can relate when I say that starting up a tour business can be exciting and exhilarating…but also overwhelming and absolutely terrifying at times.
It was definitely all of these things for us back in 2007 when we launched our tour business.
We spent two whole years fumbling around blindly trying to work it all out, to ‘crack the code’…and not doing much right.
Crucially, we had absolutely no idea who our ‘ideal customer’ was.
We naively launched our range of private tours by simply creating a bunch of experiences that we, as locals loved…
…and then hoped that visitors would find us, love our tours as much as we did…and book.
We didn’t know who our tours appealed to and we had no type of ideal customers in mind to target.
Consequently, It took us a lot of wasted time, money and energy to realise that if we were going to survive… and thrive, we needed to find out exactly who our experiences really resonated with – who our ideal customers were.
…and more importantly, who our ideal customers could potentially be with some iterations to our tours.
Were there other types of customers from different local and international markets that we hadn’t considered before?
Because – as we were to learn – these would then lead to what every tour business owner ultimately wants…more customers from more places.
So, when the penny finally dropped and we came to the realisation that we needed to take a couple of big steps back to take a giant leap forward, we were able to scale our tour business up very quickly to 7 figures and beyond…here’s what we did:
The solution to this is not ‘ground-breaking’ and it’s not overly sophisticated…
…it’s called research
…and as for me, it’s the fastest way that any small operator can scale up their tour or activity.
It also takes time and it takes commitment…
…but here are a few ways you should consider going about it to work out exactly who your ideal customers are and exactly what they want – so that your tours are almost guaranteed to sell wildly:
1. Take a really close look at your nearest competitors.
I’m not saying get in touch with them, or stalk them like a ‘mystery shopper’. But take a close enough look to work out exactly what kind of people are taking their tours.
Take a look at their online reviews. Go over to the ‘testimonials’ section on their site. What kind of customers are leaving reviews? What are those customers saying? What did they love about the experience? What did they want to see more of?
Check out if their site is translated into other languages.
Take a look at the images and video on their site, plus the video and images they use to sell their tours on other distribution platforms.
What kind of people are in these images.
Find out where they collect a lot of their guests for their tours. Are there specific hotels they work closely with? If so drop in at the concierge desk at these hotels and ask them a few questions about the type of people they send out on your competitor’s tours.
By doing all of these things some very clear patterns will begin to emerge.
2. Take a look at competing experiences – or complimentary experiences that would likely share some types of customer.
For example, if you run a foodie walking tour, you might reach out to an operator of a lane way walking tour, a boutique brewery tour, a sommelier-led experience or a cocktail experience.
If you run bike tours, you might reach out to a kayak experience….
Ideally reach out to tours or activities with a similar theme or style to yours at a similar price point.
What kind of customers are taking their tour?
Which international markets do they appeal to and are generating bookings from? Are they having success with specific interstate and intrastate market segments? What’s been working? What’s fallen flat? What kind of trends are they witnessing? Are there emerging markets in which they are getting traction?
You’d be surprised who many of your fellow tour and activity operators would be more than happy to have a chat with you and share their experience and insights if you are not posing a direct threat.
You can of course share your experience and insights too!
3. Talk to hotel concierges at a few hotels in your region/city.
These front desk guys and girls are right across both tour offerings and visitors to your city/region/destination. They have many, many visitors from many, many different corners of the world passing their desk each day with questions about things to see and do.
Consequently, the good ones have a deep understanding of different domestic and international visitors and the types of tours they take and destinations they enjoy. They are also very resourceful and generally willing to help (in my experience).
Drop in for a chat with a few of them. Tell them what you do, what your tours are all about and ask them what they think. I’ll guarantee you they’ll have some really valuable thoughts on which type of customers your tours will suit.
Also, if you have a particular type of customer in your sights, they’ll probably be able to help you work out what you need to do to your tour to make it more appealing.
4. Reach out to other tour operators offering the same kind of tour to yours, but in different destinations.
Example: If you’re running a 10 pax foodie walking tour in San Diego that costs $89 pp, reach out to similar tour businesses in LA, or New York, or Sydney…or Capetown…or Mexico City…
Find out what’s going on in their world and share what’s going on in yours.
They’ll be grateful for the support and creation of a like-minded community. Which visitor markets are hot? Which ones have dropped off? Who’s spending? What are they wanting? What’s working? What’s not?
Share, collaborate and create a community of similar, like-minded businesses.
5. Turn to your Regional, State and National Tourism Organisations or Associations. There are so many unbelievably valuable sources of advice, support and insight to be found within these walls…
…and most importantly…they are invested in your success.
The bottom line: better quality tourism products translates directly into a more robust tourism outlook in your destination.
Tourism Associations need high quality tours and activities to promote their destination, get people talking and drive visitation. They have a responsibility to work with you, to offer support and guidance and to help you succeed in growing and improving your business.
So…when you’re reaching out to tourism associations for the first time, you’re ideally looking for people in roles such as:
- Product development,
- Industry support, industry liaison or industry relations.
- Business development
- International market coordinators/market development managers
- Trade and media relations
People in these types of roles are the ones that are going to help you find out exactly who your customer is or should be – and who your customer could potentially be with some iterations to your tour or activity.
So, my advice to you: if your tours aren’t currently getting the traction you had hoped for, take a couple of steps backwards, set aside a dedicated chunk of time to the research phase and work those 5 sources I’ve spoken of above in the way I’ve recommended.
You’ll soon get a crystal-clear picture of your ideal customers and their needs…and hopefully you’ll soon see your business literally explode with bookings.