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How tour operators can boost profits by understanding their guests

How tour operators can boost profits by understanding their guests

Posted by Kelsey Tonner
Jun 5, 2024
4 min read

This is an article published in partnership with GuestFocus


The single most effective path to building a thriving, profitable tour business is to put your guest experience at the heart of everything you do. But sadly, many tour operators are missing a big piece of the puzzle. They don’t fully understand their ideal target guests.


You might be thinking, “But Kelsey, I already know my target audience! I don't need to waste time on research” Trust me, I get it. As passionate business owners, we often think we have a clear vision for our tours and a deep understanding of our guests. But here's the thing: assuming you know what your customers want without actually asking them is a sure-fire way to miss out on big opportunities (and big profits!).


Picture this: you pour your heart and soul into crafting the perfect tour, only to struggle with sales and bookings. Sound familiar? More often than not, this happens because there's a disconnect between what you think your guests want and what they actually need. That's where customer research comes in.

The power of the Guest Deep Dive™

So, how do you bridge that gap and tap into your ideal guests' desires? Enter the Guest Deep Dive™ — your secret weapon for unlocking your market's true potential. This tried-and-true method helps you gather essential info about your target customers, so you can design tours that practically sell themselves.


But what exactly is a Guest Deep Dive™? Simply put, it's a strategic approach to understanding your ideal guests on a deeper level. It involves asking the right questions, listening carefully to their responses, and using those insights to create tours that solve their biggest problems and fulfil their wildest dreams.


I like to think of it as a Venn diagram. On one side, you've got your vision, values, and goals for your tour business. On the other, you've got your guests' pain points, needs, wants, and desires. The sweet spot is where those two circles overlap — that's where the magic happens!




When you take the time to do a Guest Deep Dive™, you're essentially ensuring that your tours align perfectly with what your target market is looking for. And when you've got that product-market fit nailed down, selling becomes a breeze.

Three ways to conduct your own Guest Deep Dive™

So, how do you actually go about doing a Guest Deep Dive™?  Here are three methods I swear by:



Hop on the phone or Zoom with potential guests and ask them targeted questions about their needs, wants, and pain points. The key is to keep things conversational and probe deeper when you uncover interesting insights. Don't be afraid to ask follow-up questions like, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “What do you mean by that?” These interviews are gold mines of information!



 Whip up a quick Google Form with open-ended questions and send it out to your email list or relevant online communities. This approach works great if you have a large audience to tap into. Just be sure to keep your questions focused and avoid leading or yes/no questions. You want to give people the space to share their thoughts and experiences in their own words.

Stealth Research

Put on your detective hat and do some sleuthing in Facebook groups, forums, and Reddit threads where your ideal guests hang out. Pay attention to the challenges and frustrations they're discussing — these are golden nuggets of info you can use to craft irresistible tours. Just remember to be respectful and non-intrusive. You're there to listen and learn, not to promote your business (at least not yet!).


Asking the right questions

Now, just chatting with potential customers isn't enough. To get the juicy details you need, you've got to ask the right questions. My go-to? The Single Most Important Question (SMIQ): “What are your biggest challenges or frustrations when it comes to [insert your niche or tour type]?”


This open-ended question gets people talking about their pain points, which is key because, as the saying goes, people don't always know what they want, but they sure know what they don't want! By identifying these problems, you can position your tours as the perfect solution.


For example, let's say you're creating a food tour in Italy. Your SMIQ might be, “What are your biggest challenges or frustrations when it comes to finding authentic Italian dining experiences?” The responses you get could range from “I don't know how to find the best local restaurants” to “I'm worried about dietary restrictions” to “I want to learn about the culture and history behind the dishes”.


Each of these pain points is an opportunity for you to craft a tour that addresses those specific concerns. Maybe you highlight your insider knowledge of the best hole-in-the-wall eateries, or you offer customizable options for different dietary needs, or you weave in fascinating stories about the origins of each dish. By solving your guests' biggest problems, you become their go-to choice for an unforgettable Italian dining experience.


Another great question to ask is the Dream Scenario Question: “If you could have the perfect [your niche] experience, what would it look like?” This one helps you uncover your guests' ultimate desires and aspirations, so you can create tours that truly wow them.


Let's stick with the Italian food tour example. You might ask, “If you could have the perfect Italian dining experience, what would it look like?” Maybe someone says, “I'd love to have dinner with a local family in their home, learning to cook authentic recipes passed down for generations” Boom! There's your new tour idea: a hands-on cooking class and intimate dining experience with a local family.


By tapping into your guests' wildest dreams, you can create tours that not only meet their expectations but exceed them in every way.


Putting your research into action

Once you've conducted your Guest Deep Dive™, it's time to put all those juicy insights to work. Use what you've learned to refine your existing tours or create new ones that align perfectly with your target market's needs and wants. 


Remember that Venn diagram we talked about earlier? This is where you get to play in that overlap between your business goals and your guests' desires. By creating tours that fit snugly in that sweet spot, you're setting yourself up for success on all fronts.


But don't stop there! Your Guest Deep Dive™ is a well you can return to again and again. As your business grows and evolves, keep checking in with your guests to ensure you're always meeting (and exceeding) their expectations. Markets change, and so do customer preferences — staying on top of these shifts is the key to long-term success.


I recommend doing a Guest Deep Dive™ at least once a year, or whenever you're considering adding a new tour or experience to your offerings. Trust me, it's worth the time and effort. The insights you gain will help you make informed decisions, avoid costly mistakes, and ultimately, boost your bottom line.

The bottom line

I know customer research might not be the most glamorous part of running a tour business. But trust me when I say it's the foundation for everything else. By taking the time to truly understand your guests, you'll be able to craft tours that practically sell themselves, boost your bookings, and watch your profits soar.


So, my challenge to you is this: if you haven't done a Guest Deep Dive™ recently (or ever), make it a priority this week. Block off some time, reach out to your target customers, and start asking those essential questions. I promise you won't regret it.


And if you need a little extra guidance or support along the way, don't hesitate to reach out. Book a one-on-one strategy call with me or one of my rockstar tour business coaches — we'd be thrilled to help you dive deeper and start seeing real results.


Remember, your guests are the heart of your business. When you put their needs and desires first, success is sure to follow. So get out there, start researching, and watch your tour business thrive like never before.

Kelsey Tonner
Posted by Kelsey Tonner
Kelsey Tonner is the founder of Guest Focus Tour Business Coaching. With two decades of experience, he has been assisting tour business owners as a mentor, consultant, speaker, experience designer, guide trainer, and award-winning tour leader. Since 2015, Guest Focus Tour Business Coaching has supported over 2,000 tour operators from more than 75 countries globally.
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