Despite the impressive skyline and brighter lights, Abu Dhabi is a city in a desert. At least that’s what I thought until I was introduced to Antonio, nicknamed Capt. Tony and founder of Capt. Tony’s, the boat tour company at that operates at the edge of the desert. Antonio was an architect, turn boat tour operator and guide, turn environmentalist, turn customer satisfaction specialist. That was a mouthful.
In it’s fourth year of business, one would not have expected to find an operation like this thriving in a bustling city like Abu Dhabi. Antonio quit his job as an architect when he noticed a void in the tour and activity market in Abu Dhabi.
“When people visit the UAE they assume it’s all glittering skyscrapers and the desert, but Abu Dhabi is an archipelago of many small islands with beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear warm water and a very rich marine life full of humpback dolphins, hawksbill turtles, pink flamingos, etc. My intention was to create affordable and family-friendly boat tours to showcase the inshore coastal areas of the city.”
Dolphins? Turtles? Flamingos? Are we talking about the same Abu Dhabi here? Apparently so.
Building the company
At first, Antonio took on his role as a boat tour operator as a part time job, showing off Abu Dhabi’s natural beauty during the weekends. On his first tour, he used his own private boat, “a very simple locally built 27’ centre-console fishing boat”, to take a young couple from Dubai on a Romantic Sunset Cruise. Other early product offerings include the Island Beach Getaway and Sunset Cruises, which remain their most popular tours to date.
Today, four years on, they operate from four different marinas around Abu Dhabi and have introduced both culturally rich and intellectually stimulating tours. They offer tours on traditional Arabic boats known as Abra boats, which they build themselves; as well as more environmentally conscious tours such as their Eco Tours where guests are guided around the archipelago by a marine biologist.
Did you know that the UAE imports 98% of its consumables? My uninformed jaw dropped too. This was one of the many reasons Antonio chose to adopt a more environmentally conscious way of running his business, including using locally sourced products on his tours and operating low-powered engines to reduce emissions.
When I asked him about how this awareness came about, his response was simple,
“I guess this comes from being an architect with a concern for more sustainable living, especially (when) 98% of all consumables are imported, (it does) not help our environmental footprint. So I thought I could play a part in helping to raise awareness and take small steps in the running of the business to reduce our own footprint. This includes field trips with school kids - our trips are fun as well as educational.”
Going green and adding an educational element to his tours has proven to be a successful strategy in attracting customers to his tours, especially since most travellers these days want to be educated about the destinations they are exploring.
Building a customer base
His tours attract a large customer base, consisting of tourists, locals and expats who want to do something fun over the weekend. A growing segment is their corporate customers as they also have tours catered to corporate team building events, which they carry out on the islands around Abu Dhabi.
Seeing as the company attracts a pretty diverse customer base, I was interested in the distribution channels used to reach them. Apart from working with hotels in the area, they also work with leading tour operators and DMCs to get their boat tours in front of the right people.
“What other marketing strategies do you have up your sleeve?”, I wondered.
Our business is driven mostly through word of mouth, and our good reputation has helped us a lot. We also reach out to our demographic of customers through social media.
But how does one go about building a good reputation?
“I would say to always maintain a personal contact with all customers. This makes them feel like they are dealing with people and not with an automated system. Our online bookings are always followed up with a personalised email before the trip and afterwards to get feedback - it is time consuming but worth it. “
Growing Captain Tony's with an online booking and payment system
Online bookings are clearly only half the strategy when it comes to building and maintaining a good reputation. Since signing up with TrekkSoft late 2015, their bookings have gone up tremendously.
“Since our office closes at 5.30pm, we often missed out on people wanting to book trips in the evenings. We noticed the majority of our online bookings came in the night, so this was a fantastic step forward for us. It took a while to get used to the system, because we run different tours on different boats from different locations, so it wasn’t an easy process to set up but once it was launched it has helped us a lot.”
“If there is one piece of advice you could share with other tour or activity operators who are just starting out, what would it be?”
Smile - people are joining our tours to have a good time so whoever is delivering the tour also needs to be enjoying what they are doing.
Would you like to learn more about how TrekkSoft can help your business grow as well?
Written by Nicole Kow
Having graduated from the UK, Nicole travelled around Europe before joining TrekkSoft's marketing team. She is now based in KL and regularly blogs about her travels at Next Train Out.