Walking tours are a popular part of the tourism industry. They tend to be the most popular travel experience in larger cities as travelers from all over the world are often looking for a way to get to know the ins and outs of a new city.
In recent years, a new model of walking tours has become trendy where customers are not given a set price. They are able to decide for themselves what a tour is worth and pay what they deem an appropriate gratuity. In theory, the tours could even be free.
These free walking tours are available in many large European cities and they are quickly expanding worldwide. But would this innovative idea be worth it for your existing tour company? Here are six tips to help make a free walking tour successful.
1. Employ friendly and professional staff
It goes without saying, but a friendly staff of professionals makes all the difference for a successful company. The free walking tour model relies heavily on a good experience at an affordable price for travelers. This is not only important for gaining more customers and establishing your brand, it is a big part of making better tips.
Since free walking tours don't cost anything, they rely on travelers paying a tip that they deem a fair price. Most travelers won't leave you empty-handed, but they will feel more compelled to give you a larger tip if they enjoy their time on your tour. As with all gratuity-based services offered, good tipping is often a result of the quality that's provided. People will be more compelled to offer a good tip if they feel the experience has been worth paying a little more for.
2. Translate your tour content
The global travel market is steadily changing. More people are traveling globally or even moving abroad. Your city tour customers will come to you from all walks of life so it's important to try to represent the experience they're most hoping for. That includes offering a tour they can understand.
Translation is important, and eventually it is something more tour companies will have to think about doing. You don't have to translate too much at first, just look into the most requested language your company isn't offering yet. For guided tours in a place like Texas, for example, Spanish would be an important language to consider. For tours in a place like Finland, English would probably be the best option.
If you have a smaller staff and can't bring on a full-time translator just yet, there are plenty of other options. With recent audio systems, your can offer tours with content available in a variety of languages. Simply record the script of the tour (which can be done through a freelancer service like Upwork) and purchase a headphone system where customers can listen and follow along with the tour.
Companies like Sennheiser offer systems where pre-recorded or live audio can be played.
There are many communication tools that can be used to aid you in this but you don't even need an audio system to offer the recorded audio translation to customers. Since most customers will be carrying a smartphone or MP3 player, you can make the audio available for the customers to download. This way they can play it from their own devices.
The best way to do this would be online. When someone books one of your free tours through your website, you can email them their booking confirmation, ticket, and a free download of the audio in their preferred language. This works well for a few reasons:
- You don't have to worry about purchasing an expensive audio system.
- There's never the possibility of running out of devices if you have a larger group attending your tour.
- You don't have to worry about the maintenance of devices, or the risk of them getting lost or being stolen.
- It works as a souvenir because customers can re-listen to the tour in their own language whenever they'd like to.
The key is not to do too much at once, just start with one or two tours and build from there. Additionally, as soon as you start offering tours in a second or third language, you should make sure to build a website that can also be translated easily.
3. Hire a bi-lingual tour guide
Along the same lines as audio translation, hiring on a new employee is a wonderful option for building up new tours. For those looking to expand to a specific market (such as the Chinese market), it would help your company to establish itself while other tours might only be offering tours in one language.
4. Bring on freelancers
A big part of the free walking tour model relies on guides who are knowledgeable about a variety of things. If your company is small and can't bring on enough different guides full-time, look into hiring a few freelancers.
These could be bi-lingual guides or simply those more knowledgeable about a different aspect of the city than your current team. This way you can define specialized offers such as a tour for children, a walk through the local art scene, or even a gastronomy tour. This could also help you build up a network in more than one city.
5. Consider building tours in multiple cities
If your company is looking to expand a bit, you can test the water with this model of free walking tours. Because most of the people attending free walking tours are just looking for information about an area, there isn't as much pressure. You can start to build a small team in a new location and if it does well, your company might be able to start offering more expanded tours in those areas.
6. Offer more than just free tours
Lastly, the best tip for any business is to exceed expectations. You're offering a free walking tour, but it's likely not all you have to offer. If you have more activities or experiences in your higher-profit roster, consider offering a taste of that to your free tour customers.
Runner Bean Tours in Barcelona has a variety of tailored offers
Free walking tours are a fast-growing section of an already popular industry. They're attractive to customers because of their affordability, ideal for businesses because they bring in some additional promotion, and they help to establish a small company. But they don't work without providing quality customer service.
The best way to stay ahead in this industry is to provide the best customer service you can. That will be what brings people back to attend the higher-budget tours and activities on your roster. And the only way to do that is to know who your customers are.
So, how well do you know your customers? Try this worksheet and find out.
Written by Sara Napier Burkhard
Sara is a writer from the American West Coast. In recent years, she's written for companies like Hipmunk, iTourMobile and Mylikes. She now resides in Zurich, Switzerland where she finds new adventures and attempts to speak German with minimal success.