This Spotlight article has been translated from the original Spanish created and published by María Eugenia Coppola.
Miguel Ángel Borras is partner and co-founder of Barcelona Architecture Walks, an idea that, for the last six years, has invited visitors to discover Barcelona through the eyes of an architect.
Since its founding, the company has received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence every year since 2013 and been named one of the five best architecture tours in the world. And in 2016, Barcelona Architecture Walks began using TrekkSoft to help their company reach even greater heights.
In this Spotlight, find out more about the company's success and let yourself be inspired by its story...
How did you come up with the idea for these tours?
Our story began with a trip we took to Australia in 2009, when we were interested in the possibility of living there. In the end, the plan didn't work out, but we came back with a few ideas to relaunch our business, MIEL Arquitectos. And among these ideas was Barcelona Architecture Walks.
The truth is that we had never been interested in this type of tours. But when we were in Sydney, we wanted to connect with the local architecture network. We were recommended to book the Sydney Architecture Walks tour of the Sydney Opera House with Eoghan Lewis. And honestly, we were surprised.
My idea of a tour had been a person reciting a pre-learned text without interacting with the public. That's why this tour fascinated us. It was not just about listing dates and facts: it was about architectural revelation. And people were amazed by that.
What happened next?
When we came back, we decided to try the same in Barcelona. At first, we wanted to focus on the architectural figure who impressed us most: Enric Miralles and his reform of the Santa Caterina Market. Six months after starting and without a single booking, we decided that it was time to offer a tour related to Gaudí. But not with the same approach as usual.
We wanted to give a deeper and more understandable vision of who Gaudí was. It was in truth an excuse to share the history, culture, and politics of Barcelona.
In 2014, Barcelona Architecture Walks was mentioned by The Sydney Morning Herald as one of the 5 best architecture tours in the world… what do you think was the main reason? What brand differentiator do you offer to your customers?
The differentiator is that we are passionate about what we do and did not need it to be profitable to pour out energy into it.
We joined TrekkSoft to start to monetize our efforts a little more. But until now it has been primarily a hobby – for us, it has been a luxury that a tourist comes and wants to hear us.
Each of these tours is like going to have a drink with someone who wants to hear a good story. We try to provide that for Barcelona. And we help each of our customers look at the city a little differently, through the eyes of an architect. We offer a different experience: we want you to understand, comprehend, and internalize your surroundings. This is what has given us such good results on channels like TripAdvisor.
On the other hand, it's usually architecture universities who expose people to architecture, and that comes at a price (we have seen tours starting at €500 minimum). We provide this at a much more accessible cost.
Here in Barcelona there are other tours that teach architecture, but they're not offered by architects or with an architect's way of thinking. With us, for €35 you can have an architect for two and a half hours talking to you. And it can be a really revitalising experience. One good example is how in Sydney a person I had never met before (Eoghan Lewis) was able to make me reflect on how we had been working for 8 years.
How many people are on the team?
We have five architect-guides (Martina, Ricard, Joan, Jordi and myself) and two other girls will join us soon. The team also has another architect (Mavi) who joined the team in May, managing our social media (she also watches the webinars hosted by TrekkSoft), and Jaume our webmaster who handles the technical aspects of the website.
Who is responsible for administrative tasks?
At the moment, the only person doing administrative work is myself, supported by my wife and my partner in MIEL Arquitectos, who handles the accounting.
That's why I went to TrekkSoft: to reduce the administrative burden.
I don't guide the tours much myself. Rather, I am the firefighter. For instance, I step in when someone gets sick or falls asleep... I also help out if someone asks specifically for me (sometimes they see your name in a comment on TripAdvisor and asks to have the tour with you). But over the last two years, I've generally only guided a tour once or twice a month.
What is your most successful route today?
The Gaudí route has become our figurehead. We offer five different routes, but 80% of the profits come from Gaudí. The remaining 20% is divided among the other four routes.
Who are your tours for?
When we started with our tours, we thought that most of our clients were going to be architects. However, this audience does not reach 5%.
In general, our clients are people who want to enjoy a different, deep and vital experience that brings them closer to the place they visit.
They seek added value, not just a good price. Our audience ranges from 20-year-olds to 75-year-olds, but the average is about 40-60.
We offer tours every day, based on a weekly program, plus private and a la carte tours. Private bookings are usually from those with higher purchasing power, and they tend to be American or Australian. In low season we do 2 or 3 tours a week between scheduled and private.
In summer, we get up to 14 tours a week. As for the weekly tours, usually there are 2 - 8 people, although we still go ahead even if there is only one person booked. The price is quite affordable, especially in comparison with the other options in the market, and all types of people book: students, workers, seniors.
At the end of the walks, our clients are left with a new way of looking at the city. A new point of view.
Barcelona Architecture Walks has received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for four years in a row (2013-2016). What advice would you give to others aiming to achieve something similar?
I don't think I'm the right person to give advice on this. I don't always respond to comments because I do not always have time.
To get reviews, it's always important that, at the end of the tour, you remind customers that an email will arrive in a few days to ask for their opinion. We must show that what they have to say is important to us.
Before using TrekkSoft, we used to send a photo after each tour. Now we will start sending post-activity emails automatically to see how they work.
Without a doubt, TripAdvisor is the social media platform that brings us most clients. This is even with the fact that less than 10% of people who join our tour leave a review. The people who write something are those who have been impacted by the tour, and also those who are active TripAdvisor users. These people know how valuable opinions are for other users and want to do "justice"... I think what they want and value is for the truth to be told in reviews.
How important has social media been in your strategy?
As well as TripAdvisor, Instagram is one of the social media networks that work best for us. For example, once we uploaded a photo of a private tour that, with only 30 likes, got someone to write me an email asking about that experience. We also use Facebook. We recently uploaded our first promotional video and got 3000 views without paying for advertising. I have not seen this much impact on website visits, but I guess this takes time.
In the meantime, our Community Manager has helped us to keep our content up to date with our tours.
How did you hear about TrekkSoft and what made you choose to work with us?
Luis Noé, TrekkSoft DMO Regional Manager for Spain, got in touch with us. And I saw that this software could be an interesting product, that it could adapt to what we wanted. There is a lot of work we can do together.
To find out more about TrekkSoft for your own business, request a demo call with our international team here.
What plans do you have for the future?
Right now we want to enjoy what we have. Each year we're growing, and that's why we're getting more people for next year. What I want now is to make everything more profitable. The product is very good. Now we want more tourists to come because we have the space for them.
If one day Barcelona Architecture Walks begins to walk alone, we can think of other projects. But at the moment, between our MIEL Arquitectos studio and our Barcelona Architecture Walks trips we are entertained.
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Key takeaways from this Spotlight for tour operators and activity providers
- Getting out of your routine can be great for inspiring new ideas and projects. Travel, discover, participate in events, talk and listen to what is going on around you.
- Pay attention to what works and what does not. The success of a business over time is connected to its capacity for analysis, adaptation and renewal. If an opportunity doesn't work as it should, think of new alternatives. By the way, if you have time, I recommend you check out the BCG Growth Market Share Matrix, a visual tool that helps companies to analyse their business portfolio.
- Never forget the added value. What do you give your customers that they can say about your company once your tour or activity ends? What is your differentiator?
- Consumer opinions are key to attracting more customers. As Miguel Ángel says, it's important that you remind your clients of the value their opinion has on your brand. On the other hand, it's crucial that you have an up-to-date profile on TripAdvisor and, if possible, that it is integrated with your website (this is possible with TrekkSoft), so visitors can see customer opinions as they navigate your pages.
- Optimise your time, reduce the administrative burden. The more time we spend executing tasks, the less time we have for planning and strategy. An online booking system like TrekkSoft can help you better manage your time. To find out more about how we can help you, you can arrange a call for a personal demo of the TrekkSoft feature set or, if you wish, give it a test drive yourself in a free 14-day trial.
-The photographs in this article have been generously shared by Barcelona Architecture Walks-