UPDATED: October 23, 2023
Starting a walking tour company can be both rewarding and challenging. With enough knowledge and preparation, you can create a successful business that allows you to share your passion with tourists while earning an income.
By taking the time to research, plan, and execute carefully, you will be well on your way to owning and managing a profitable walking tour company.
This blog post will cover the basics of starting a business for walking tours - from researching local attractions to developing an enticing promotional message - to ensure that you set your business up for success from the start.
- Why start a walking tour business?
- Step 1: Prepare & Plan
- Step 2: Market and Promote
- Step 3: Execute and Manage
- Step 4: Launch your Walking Tours Business
- Key Takeaways
Why start a walking tour business?
We live in a world of ever-evolving tourists searching for experiences that are catered to their individual interests. Walking tours have taken off- these walking tours mix the right blend of cultural insights, hidden gems, and real-life explorations for the curious traveler.
“It’s really clear that travelers want a lot more out of their experience in 2022, and they’re willing to pay for it,” said Douglas Quinby, founder and CEO of Arival, which surveyed 1,000 U.S. travelers.- Skift Survey, 2022
Small start-up cost
It's also worth noting that there is a relatively low cost to starting up a walkable tour company, making it a viable entrepreneurial idea within the tourism industry..
A brand-new travel taste to offer
We are seeing a shift in the way people travel in 2023 - travelers are seeking experiences that offer them something unique and special. For tour operators, these trends offer exciting opportunities to create walking tours that cater specifically to these avid travelers.
Four Steps on How to Start a Walking Tour Business
Step 1: Prepare & Plan
Preparation and planning are essential when it comes to starting a successful walking tour business.
Research local attractions:
Do your research to get an idea of the trendiest and most popular attractions in your area. Most walking tours explore the area with specific interests, ranging from history tours to nature tours. This will allow you craft a business plan with tour packages that appeal to a variety of tourists, as well as provide unique experiences for those interested in exploring more off-the-beaten-path sites.
Know your target market:
Taking the time to understand the needs and interests of your target customer base can help you create an experience that will draw in tourists. This will keep them coming back.
When researching your potential customer base, consider factors such as age, gender, interests, budget, how they like to travel, and how they prefer to book tours.
Know the legal requirements:
Operating a walking tour in your state may come with its own local government or regional regulations, however, typically you will need to meet the same requirements as running any business.
These requirements might include obtaining the necessary permits and registering your business. They may also include complying with health and safety regulations, paying local or federal taxes, complying for General Liability Insurance, and other demands to ensure the security of your customers.
TIP: Start this process as soon as possible since each step can be time-consuming. Having all the paperwork completed when you are finished setting up is ideal.
Open a business bank account
When it comes to your business and the management of the finances associated with it, the number one rule to remember is this: always keep your personal money separate from your business income.
Maintaining a firm division between the two serves as personal asset protection and provides you with better organizational order when it comes to money.
Determine routes for your tours:
Creating a route for your walking tour is one of the most significant aspects of starting a walking tour business.
- Which attractions and hidden gems do you want to include in your tours?
- How long will each tour last?
- How far apart are the sites from each other?
- How much time should be allotted to each site to explore and take pictures?
In addition, take into account the time of day that your tour will be running. This will help you determine how much walking is involved, how long it takes to get between sites, and how comfortable it will be for customers to walk around.
Make sure that you are also familiar with each location so you can provide an informative overview and stories to make the tour more enjoyable.
Make sure to provide all of these necessary details in your tour description. This can help your potential guests feel the vibe of your tour right through your description (which we will be talking about more below!).
Create your tour itinerary:
When planning your tour itinerary, the niche you choose will be a major factor and should not be overlooked.
For example, if your niche was historic sites in a particular area, then you would plan to take your guests to landmarks and points of interest related to this theme. If the focus was local cuisine, however, you may want to take visitors to restaurants or farms that are well-known for their tasty food and drinks.
As essential as it is to determine the places you will visit with your customers, it is also imperative to structure how each day of running your business will look. As a business leader and tour guide, it is up to you to create the logistics that turn an idea into reality. This will ensure everyone involved has the most enjoyable experience possible.
Establish safety procedures and regulations:
Safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to running a walking tour business.
When setting up your safety procedures, consider how you will ensure customer safety during your walking tour.
This can include:
- Make sure that all participants are aware of any health hazards associated with the tour and how to deal with them appropriately.
- Having emergency contact information for each participant.
- Make sure that your staff is trained to handle any difficult or dangerous situations they may encounter while guiding the tour.
- Having a plan in place in case of inclement weather. This plan should include how to protect your customers from external hazards such as traffic and other potential risks that can’t be avoided.
- Ensure customers are aware of how to properly interact with any animals or wildlife they may encounter.
- Be familiar with local regulations regarding how many people can be on a tour and how close they can get to certain areas or attractions.
Communicate these safety protocols and reminders to your customers:
- Display it on your business website
- Attach these reminders along with your tour alerts and notifications via SMS or Email Automation
- Have a quick orientation before the tour
- Most of all, make sure your tour guides are well-trained and informed of these safety guidelines, as well.
Calculate startup costs:
Calculating start-up costs and budgeting for walking tour businesses is a must if you want to avoid a major financial bump later.
Luckily, starting this kind of business doesn't require too much capital. Plus, if you lead the tours yourself, that cuts out the need for extra expenses like salaries for employees. The majority of your costs should then be geared toward developing a successful marketing strategy.
Taking the time to research how much money you need upfront is worth it in order to ensure a solid foundation and long-term sustainability for your business.
Decide on pricing:
When it comes to deciding on pricing for your walking tour business, there are various options.
You can opt to offer free tours and make money from tips and gratuities, or you can set up a fee-based service.
Whichever option you choose, it's imperative to ensure you're offering high value at that price point. Take the time to look at your competitors, and find out how much they're charging and what they offer in return.
TIP: Aim to exceed expectations! This helps in making sure customers come back for more and happily recommend your services to their friends.
Step 2: Market and Promote
Now that you've got your tour up and running, it's time to get the word out about your business.
This is where marketing comes in.
There are tons of ways to promote your walking tour business online. However, how you go about promoting it will depend on what kind of audience you're trying to reach.
Use social media
For example, if you're targeting younger tourists, consider using social media and influencers for promotions.
Post tour updates and promotions on your social feeds like Facebook and Instagram. You may use high-quality photos and video clips of your tour sights. Or you may write a short blog about what to expect on your tour and post it on your feed.
Also, make sure that each of your posts links to your official website. This way, you can make it easier for your potential guests to book with you online.
Here's our complete guide on how to use social media in your tours and activities.
Create an effective website
An effective website is crucial to getting your walking tour business off the ground. It not only provides a platform for you to promote your tours, but it also gives potential customers an easy way to book and pay for their experiences.
Make sure that your site reflects the brand of your tour company business – how do you want people to perceive you?
You should also make sure that all of your contact information and booking information is visible on each page. This helps create trust between customers and tour operators or tour companies.
To get more insight into how to build a great tour-focused website with higher conversion rates, check out this article.
Do the traditional marketing game
If you want to focus more on the local market and people living in the area, try advertising in local publications or radio stations.
You can also create promotional material such as flyers and brochures that you can distribute around town.
Finally, don't forget about word-of-mouth marketing; good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations often yield positive results!
Partner with Online Travel Agencies
Partnering with online travel agencies (OTAs) can be an effective way to increase your reach and boost bookings.
Make sure you’re visible on OTAs and review sites like TripAdvisor by optimizing each of your listings with all the information they need. Have quality photos, your complete business name, descriptions, keywords, and other relevant information.
For more information on how to successfully partner with OTAs, check out this guide.
Manage customer expectations:
Above all, be clear on what guests should expect from your tours.
Make sure you set the tone for how the tour will be conducted, how many people you'll accept, and what day-of activities may entail. And make sure all of the necessary information is detailed on every tour listing you post online.
Inform guests about:
- Tour itinerary (hours and details)
- What to expect in each spot (local cuisines, insider tips, fun facts, souvenir shops, and famous spots)
- Safety guidelines and reminders
- What to bring and wear (sunglasses, sunblock, or what footwear is best)
In it, you can also offer additional tour services for an additional cost (private tours and experiences).
Step 3: Execute and Manage
Now that your walking tour business is set up and promoted, it's time to put the plan into action.
Create a schedule:
It's important to create a structured schedule for how you'll run your tours.
Start by setting up the routes and itineraries for each tour type, as well as how long they will last.
You can also create a series of additional activities that customers may be able to opt for (such as food tours and beverage tastings or visits to local attractions).
Equip your tours with the right gear and equipment:
Make sure you have the right equipment and gear for your tours.
Depending on your chosen niche, this may include first-aid supplies, audio-visual materials, and other necessary items (like binoculars or magnifying glasses) that customers will need during their tour.
Have an online booking system for seamless management:
Finally, have efficient online booking system in place to manage bookings and payments.
This will help you keep track of how many people sign up for each tour, how much money you're making from each one, and how satisfied your customers are with the experience.
Aside from marketing and tour management, effective booking software also offers all the tools like POS solutions for receiving payments in person, a booking widget for your online bookings and positive reviews, and a centralized dashboard for end-to-end management.
Here's our complete guide on how to choose a reliable booking system for running tours.
Train your tour guides
Now that you have a proper system in place, it's time to hire a tour guide (if you choose to hire one or some). Aside from having the right attitude and a thorough knowledge of the area, they need to be trained on how to handle potential risks (such as medical emergencies or bad weather) and how to ensure customer satisfaction.
Provide your guides with the necessary training and information so they can deliver a memorable experience for your customers.
Step 4: Launch your Walking Tours Business
The last step is to officially launch your walking tour business.
Promote them on your official website and social media accounts, share the details of your tours with press outlets and reach out to the local community. This will raise awareness of your services.
Additionally, now that you have a healthy customer base, don't forget to solicit their feedback and use it to improve your walking tour business.
All in all, starting a walking tour business is a wise idea and an incredibly rewarding venture, as long as you don’t forget the preparation. Make sure to plan, market, and execute your walking tour well—with quality content on your business website or tour listings that sets the correct expectations for potential clients.
Don’t forget to equip yourself with the necessary gear and choose the right booking software for efficient management that fits your goals and vision.
These tips can also be applied for free walking tours, where you can make money from gratuities. In any case, ensure that you train your tour guide properly so they can provide a pleasant experience for guests.
Above all else, make sure to have fun and enjoy the journey it takes to get there. So what are you waiting for? Take that first step towards beginning this amazing journey and launch your own successful walking tour business!
1. How do I start my own tour company?
To get started as a business owner in the travel business, your next step is to refine your business idea into a concrete plan. If you're passionate about a walking tour business, perform a thorough market analysis to understand your potential customers. This will enable you to understand what makes your tours stand out.
Once your concept is clear, obtain the necessary permits and licenses from your local authorities. It's crucial to set up business accounting practices, including separating personal and business accounts, to ensure financial clarity and asset protection.
Don't forget to design and print business cards to aid in networking and marketing. Before you launch, consult with your local tourism board for additional insights and secure business insurance to safeguard against risks. With these steps, you'll be on your way to a successful travel business.
2. Is it advisable to use booking software when starting a tour company?
Absolutely! When you start a tour company, integrating booking software is a wise move for several reasons:
- Professional Image: From the outset, your tour company will appear organized and professional, instilling confidence in potential clients.
- Operational Efficiency: As you navigate the complexities of starting a tour company, booking software streamlines reservations, minimizing manual errors and freeing up your time.
- Insightful Data: The software can offer insights into your clientele, aiding in refining your tours and marketing strategies.
- Growth Readiness: As your tour company venture gains traction, a pre-established system will effortlessly handle increased bookings.
- Secure Transactions: Integrated payment options within the software ensure smooth and safe financial transactions.
- Enhanced Customer Journey: A straightforward booking process can lead to satisfied customers and positive feedback.
- Round-the-Clock Bookings: With software in place, clients can book tours anytime, maximizing your business opportunities.
Incorporating booking software from the beginning lays a robust foundation, ensuring your new business is well-equipped for future growth.
3. Are walking tours profitable?
Walking tours can be profitable, especially if you have a unique selling point that differentiates you from other tours. Consider your operating costs, ongoing expenses, and how you'll transport guests if necessary. Tour pricing should reflect these costs while offering value to customers. Repeat customers and referrals can significantly boost profitability. Having a business mentor can also help, especially if you are still starting your very first business.
4. How do free walking tours make money?
Free walking tours typically operate on a tips-based model, where guests pay what they believe the tour is worth. This model can be profitable if the tour guide provides exceptional value. Some tour guides also collaborate with the local tourism community and local businesses, receiving commissions for bringing in customers.
5. How do I promote my walking tour business?
Promote your tour guide business by creating a basic website optimized for search engines. On your website, tell your brand story, establish a booking process, and showcase your tour design. Establish a Facebook page to post photos and engage with your target customers. Online advertising, such as banner ads, can be a powerful marketing tool. Collaborate with travel agents and leverage walking tour marketing ideas like offering discounts for new customers. As your business grows, consider investing more in marketing collateral and strategies.
6. What booking software features do walking tours need?
For a tour operator business, booking software should offer easy scheduling, allowing customers to book in just a few clicks. Selling tours should also be easy, so look for a platform that simplifies checkout and upselling. Features should include calendar integration, payment processing, and automated reminders. As the business grows, advanced features like analytics to understand customer behavior can be beneficial.