How to Start a Tour Company: A Comprehensive Guide
If you are someone who has a passion for tourism and dreams of establishing a business that inclines with your passions, knowing how to start a tour company would be the right place, to begin with!
Being a tour operator can be extremely rewarding, and for someone who holds that passion, an amazing experience too. The success of a tour guide business depends on many factors, the most crucial is being equipped with sufficient and accurate knowledge about the history, background, and local culture of where you intend to have your business. Other factors such as communication skills, patience, and passion play their parts too.
However, starting a tour business is another ball game altogether. Besides the passion for running this business, starting a tour company will require hard work and dedication. Many pieces need to come together seamlessly before you taste success as a private tour company.
Before you think of embarking on this journey, do some self-reflection to see if you have what it takes to start a tour business:
- Do you have an in-depth understanding of the locations?
- Are you passionate about tourism – interests, accommodations, festivals, trends, and others?
- Are you a people-oriented person?
- Can you handle uncertainties and emergencies while remaining professional?
- Can you present facts in a way that piques people’s interests?
If the answer to the above-mentioned questions is a solid ‘YES!’, then don’t wait any longer, dive right in!
Here’s what’s in this blog:
- Chart Your Course
- Gauge the costs
- Register Your Business
- Draft Your Business Plan
- Design Your Tour Products
- Create Your Brand
- Build Your Website
- Check Out Online Booking Systems
- Start a Blog
- Hire Your Helpers
- Market Your Business
1. Chart Your Course
In anything, planning and strategizing are of utmost importance. You cannot barrel forward and expect success with a snap of your fingers. So, map out your plan to know where you’re heading.
A. Know Your Niche
Know your passion and what you’re good at. Nobody wants to listen to a tour guide who drones on about something irrelevant. The worst thing that could happen upon being a tour agent is that you become an effective sleeping pill for your customers. While being passionate is one thing, having what it takes is another. Also, check if there is a market opportunity for what you want to do.
Look for something unique and authentic about the location. Then, zoom in on tours that surround it. Benchmark on them and consider what you excel in. Do you wish to focus on luxurious or budget tours? Don’t forget to size up the competition. It’s no point diving into an area that is overly congested. You’d want to stand out with your unique selling points that appeal to the community.
The goal is to make your offering as niche as possible so that there’s less competition, and you can offer something authentic and unique to the people.
B. Identify Your Target Market
Businesses of all shapes and sizes must know their target market. The same applies to your tour business. Identifying your ideal customer profile is essential to help shape your business and marketing directions.
Do your interests lie in promoting farm-based tourism?
Are you someone who wants to be known as a wildlife tour business?
Do you want your customers to experience the rural food, life, and culture?
Or, is spiritual tourism your thing?
Well, I’m sure you’ve realized by now that the list can go on and on. But the key lies in identifying where your interests lie, and then pursuing profile of the customers who want to experience your services.
Once you have drilled down on the niche you want to cater to, you can grow your business and better serve your customers in the future.
2. Gauge the Costs
You must factor in your startup and ongoing costs as you need to know how much you need in setting up and sustaining your tour business. Unless you plan to invest in a physical office, your expenses should be minimal. However, you will still require some basic amenities.
For example, using an invoicing tool helps you get paid promptly. You can design professional-looking invoices, customize them with your logo and brand color within minutes, and get them to your customers with just a few clicks.
Here are some other things you might consider spending those bucks on:
- Internet connection
- Necessary applications
- Marketing tools
- Vehicle and fuel
3. Register Your Business
Assuming you have a name for your tour business, you will have to make this official and register your business as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation. You will have to evaluate which one suits your business requirements best.
Once you have registered your business, look into other business licenses and permits. Your local municipality may require you to register for a local business license. You may also need to register as a tour guide, so check with your local tourism board.
Look into opening a bank account for your business; this helps to track all your accounting and expenses. Also, separating personal and business accounts is preferred to protect your assets in case of sue. Also, filing your taxes becomes easier. Register for taxes both at state and federal levels.
Consider business insurance as your business needs protection coverage to mitigate risks. Also, it secures your company’s financial standing in case of any sustained losses in the future.
4. Draft Your Business Plan
Having a business plan serves as a guide toward growth and success. The business plan documents the roadmap you’ll undertake moving forward to reach the end goal for your tour business.
Things to include in your tour business plan are:
- Executive summary
- Business description
- Mission and vision
- Business goals (short-term and long-term)
- Target market
- Service offerings
- Financial projection
- Operation costs
- Partnership opportunities
You may not be able to fill in all the blanks, but you can do so along the way. Most importantly, you have a structure as a reference.
5. Design Your Tour Products
You probably know what you want to do. So, jot down your unique selling points. Identify what makes your tours better and more attractive than others. It is what your customers can only get with you. Design your products with the locals in mind; they are the ones who can make that difference.
Be creative with your tour business’ name. Use SEO-friendly terms to help your tours rank higher on Google. You want your products to sparkle and snatch the attention of travelers. Include the usual sights and attractions, but remember to incorporate a unique spin to your tours.
A. How Much to Charge?
It is normal to factor in your operating costs and the market standard, but do not forget to consider what customers will pay for your tours, especially if you have something unique and valuable that people want to see. Of course, keep in mind the off-peak times too. Consider crafting family packages. You can continuously and reasonably tweak the figures until you are satisfied.
That said, always remain competitive. Sometimes, quantity can be better than quality. However, there is no fixed rule about this as some look for quality tour businesses.
6. Create Your Brand
Once you have your tour products in place, it is time to dwell on your marketing effort. Firstly, you have to craft your brand story. Your brand defines your business and how you are perceived in the market. A strong brand identity can make the scale tip in favor of you.
Your logo and story can help inform who you are to the public. So, take some time to design the perfect company logo and tell your story in a manner that piques people’s interests and shows your sincerity; they are your power tools when marketing your business.
7. Build Your Website
If you want to open a tour company, a website is a must; this is typically your 24/7 sales agent. Your website will help extend your outreach, and more people can easily find you. Your website tells people that you’re not the fly-by-night type of business and that you’re here to stay. Your website informs that you’re committed and that they can trust you.
Understandably, most shy away from building a website, but technology has made it so easy that you can get a website up and running in a few hours! Many website builders like WordPress and Wix can help you with this task. Even better, you don’t need prior coding knowledge!
Your website must be SEO-friendly to rank high on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs). After all, you want greater visibility by appearing on the first page of the search results. Your goal is to drive more traffic to your website and more people to find your tours.
Also, ensure it’s safe for your customers, especially if you plan to store any of their personal information.
8. Check Out an Online Booking System
Once your website is ready, you may want to consider integrating an online appointment booking system right there. There can be more to your website than just convincing people with your content. You can prompt them to book and pay for your tours from your website itself. Hence, this explains the need for a way for your customers to place bookings and make payments.
There are booking software like Appointy that can help you with this. That said, the scheduling software you end up with would depend on the nature of your business, tours, and preferences.
Appointy’s tour booking software can help in taking your booking process to the next level!
This intuitive scheduling system comes with an online booking portal and works as your virtual assistant 24×7. It can help you grow faster with booking automation, secure prepayments, customer management, & much more!
9. Start a Blog
Do not underestimate the power of a blog; this is especially important for tours. You can blog about the places you have visited to establish that you’re living and breathing it, and you are the travel expert.
As a tour operator, some of the topics that can help you get started include:
- How to prepare for a trip
- Activities/ events that were the highlight of a place you have explored
- Cultural highlights of a place
- The ‘Why’ factor of visiting any place
- What should you do if you have X hours in X city?
Your blogs are powerful ways to communicate with your potential travelers. Include quality images as these could help complete the sales funnel for your tours.
10. Hire Your Helpers
When you’re starting, hiring people is not your priority. However, as your tour business expands, things become different. You will need help. Start hiring and look not only at their backgrounds and specific skill sets for the role but also at their personalities and characters.
As for tour guides, you can consider these questions:
- What are their social skills?
- Do they handle emergencies well?
- How about their physical fitness?
- What languages do they speak?
- For drivers, what license do they have? Are they careful drivers?
Whatever the role is, ensure you match it with the right person.
Once your workforce is in place, your team must work together cohesively. For example, scheduling appointments would require a system to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
11. Market Your Business
Marketing your business requires a lot of time and energy – a continuous effort that requires fine-tuning along the way. Your marketing strategy must synchronize with the target market and your business goals.
A. Be Active in the Local Tourism Community
Invest time into building relationships with the local business. It takes courage and effort to break the ice, but you will never regret doing so. Connecting with the locals is the best way to absorb their culture, then you can relate to them better; this makes it easier for your job and business.
B. Have a Google Business Profile
Formerly known as Google My Business, Google Business Profile (GBP) is a free online tool that promotes your business on Google Maps and Google Search. GBP supplements your marketing effort by attracting and engaging more customers and driving more traffic to your website.
You can also leverage this platform to get direct bookings using Reserve with Google (RwG). Choose a partner scheduling software and then smartly place a ‘Book’ button on your GBP to prompt prospects to instantly schedule their bookings.
Read More: The Step-by-Step Guide to Create a Google Business Profile
C. Participate in Travel Blogs and Forums
Contributing and being active in popular travel blogs and forums can benefit your business. You get to learn new things and keep updated with the latest trends. Perhaps most importantly, you get referrals from others and secure more business.
D. Leverage Email Marketing
Your website is a place to gather emails from potential customers. From here, you can start building your email listing. Then, you can schedule emails to send to them on your monthly newsletters and any ongoing promotions to help keep you in their minds and get them engaged with your business.
E. Be Active on Social Media
The tagline “Everyone is on social media” does have merit; this is why social media is such a powerful marketing tool. You can get a Facebook page and regularly post everything about your tour business there. Upload top-notch images about your tours and advertise any promotions.
Also, you can use Messenger for more personal communications. Garnering more likes is how you can expand your reach. Always be professional, sincere, and accurate. People are more aware of the many scams on Facebook. Hence, this explains why they are always being suspicious.
Traveling is all about capturing the moments that matter and is highly visual. As the saying goes – a picture is worth a thousand words, so be active on Instagram. Most people would frequently visit Instagram for such visuals. You can leverage this massive market to bring them to your platform. Again, schedule your Instagram feeds, making yourself seen.
F. Select Relevant Distribution Channels
As your business grows, you may want to look into the distribution channels to help increase your market share. There are online tour agents (OTAs) that you can work with to appear in their listings. They have the foundation with a mass following and the necessary advertising infrastructure. Although they take a significant cut, they do bring in results.
Consider roping in travel agents and hotels. Also, explore advertising in search engines and banner ads on popular sites. That said, you must still carry out your marketing effort to drive sales to your website by offering cheaper rates.
A lot goes behind running a tour business beyond just guiding tourists, namely building relationships, market analysis, growing your brand and online presence, establishing yourself in the market, and finally getting sales (the list still does not end here!). Hence, starting and growing a tour company is no easy feat.
It is hard work but is not impossible. Just follow through with this guide that will help you learn how to start a tour company. After that, you will have to base on your facts-based intuition and fine-tune along the way. Be passionate, persistent, and continue learning. Your tour business will be profitable and rewarding.
We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, and resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium businesses face every day.
If you have any thoughts on this blog or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below.
We love a good talk!