How to Start a Tour Company
Tour guide services are most often offered in cities large, world-famous cities and cities that have rich historical backgrounds. Guests can be taken on a tour by foot or by vehicle, depending upon the distance that will be covered during the tour.
Learn how to start your own Tour Company and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a tour company by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Tour Company
- Form your Tour Company into a Legal Entity
- Register your Tour Company for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Tour Company
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Tour Company
- Get Tour Company Insurance
- Define your Tour Company Brand
- Create your Tour Company Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your tour company. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Tour Company Name Generator
If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a tour company?
Unlike many start-up businesses, your tour guide business will require very little starting capital. Many owners start out running the business out of their home, investing in a small storefront or kiosk in the heart of the city, as revenue starts to come in. Those who choose this path report start-up costs of under $2,000.
A few items you’ll need to figure into your budget are:
- Scheduling software
- Marketing materials - business cards and pamphlets
If you plan to offer tours that transport customers from one site to another, a vehicle should be factored into your budget. Options include vans, trolleys, bicycles, and scooters.
What are the ongoing expenses for a tour company?
Until you invest in a workspace, ongoing expenses will be minimal. Payroll will represent the greatest portion of your budget and will vary depending upon the number of guides you employ. If you transport guests, vehicle maintenance and fuel costs should also be considered.
Who is the target market?
While you might get an occasional local customer, the bulk of your business will come from travelers visiting your area on vacation or from students on educational trips.
How does a tour company make money?
A tour guide business makes money from each tour given. Guests are typically charged at a group rate or per individual. The price of each tour also depends on the length of each tour.
How much can you charge customers?
Unless your tours offer a unique experience that others cannot, pricing is a critical component to your organization’s success. Keep pricing competitive with others in your area that offer similar tours. Pricing is defined by a number of factors, including: walking or driving tour, destinations and entry costs, and number of people in each party. Half-day tours average $125, while full-day tours average $200, plus the cost of admission to any attractions that you will tour. Align yourself with management at each attraction to ensure affordable entry and maximize profits.
How much profit can a tour company make?
While this can be a very profitable business, experienced owners caution against expanding too quickly. When a tour isn’t fully booked, it can eat into your profits. Each tour that you offer comes with its own set of costs; however, with a properly designed marketing strategy, your tour guide business stands to draw in a considerable profit in the first year.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Try implementing some of the below strategies to maximize profits:
- If you live in an area that offers a variety of sightseeing activities, consider expanding to a full-service business. Offer packages that include: hotel accommodations, meals, travel arrangements, sightseeing arrangements, and information for downtime.
- Offer packages that include two or more of your local tours.
- Research all that your community has to offer. This will help in designing creative, unique tours that will give your customers an unforgettable experience.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your tour company is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN through the IRS website. If you would like to learn more about EINs, read our article, What is an EIN?
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a tour guide business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a tour company
Your marketing strategy should cater to each demographic your business is targeting. Team up with travel agents from across the country and share with them the services you offer, highlighting how your business stands out above the rest. To further reach tourists from across the globe, invest in Internet advertisements through search engines and banner ads on popular websites and social media platforms. Additionally, consider purchasing ad space in restaurants, bus stations, airports, hotels, and other tourist attractions.
Participation on travel blogs and tourist/travel forums will also gain exposure for your business, as will listings in various directories. The World Federation of Tour Guide Associations, National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations, and American Tour Guide Association host conferences for networking and learning everything there is to know about the industry.
How to keep customers coming back
In this industry, repeat customers aren’t the norm. However, it’s important to remember that each customer will share their experience with others. Word of mouth is your most powerful marketing tool, so make sure each guest has a safe, entertaining, and educational experience.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.
Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
The self-motivator with a thirst for knowledge who enjoys sharing what they’ve learned with others would do best owning a tour guide business.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a tour company?
In addition to the standard administrative tasks that go with running a business, your day-to-day tasks will include:
- Answering emails and phone calls from current and potential customers
- Scheduling tours
- Fostering relationships with those in the community whose interests you share
- Routinely maintaining vehicles if you transport customers
- Checking in with any staff members who might have questions
- Interacting with customers, taking them on scheduled tours, and answering questions
- Brainstorming and planning new tour ideas
- Maintaining a presence within the community
- Building on your marketing strategy
As your business starts to grow, you’ll want to add different tours and services. Tour guides should interact with customers regularly, gathering feedback and listening to any suggestions they might have. For long-term success you’ll want to continuously evolve your business, coming up with innovative ways to entertain guests.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful tour company?
While this profession does not require any professional qualifications to get started, there is a high level of skill necessary for success. Whether marketing, scheduling, or guiding, a majority of your time will be spent with people. Thus, it’s critical that you’re skilled at connecting with people. You’ll be guiding individuals from a variety of different backgrounds, so it is important that you make each of them feel comfortable and welcome on your tours.
Your city’s history and entertainment is what connects you to your customers. Those who are most successful are passionate about their city, and they strive to continue learning more about it so they can share their knowledge with others. They have a knack for finding and presenting interesting, little-known facts, and they have a way of making even the most boring subject sound interesting. To remain relevant in the industry, it’s also important that you maintain a certain level of awareness of emerging trends.
When interacting with a large group of people, as tour guides often do, emergencies are bound to happen. You should be able to handle such situations with ease while always maintaining an air of professionalism.
There are a number of companies that offer the training necessary to set your business up for success.
What is the growth potential for a tour company?
As the growth rate in the tour guide industry nears 21.2%, tour guides are poised to be one of the fastest growing industries. Your business’ success will rely on the tourist attractions your area has to offer and your ability to creatively maximize the number of attractions you are able to cover in each tour.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a tour company?
Successful tour guide owners offer the following advice:
- Before getting started, contact your local agencies to identify any rules and regulations specific to your industry.
- One of the biggest challenges you’ll have in the beginning is tour scheduling. Research other companies’ schedules when creating yours, taking into account variations in location, time of day, tour length, etc. It can help to give several practice tours before committing yourself to starting a tour guide business.
- Offer a variety of tours that appeal to the different types of people you’ll encounter.
- When first starting out, don’t try to do too much. Offer a few tours and use that time to feel out your customers, identifying what other parts of the city might interest them most.
How and when to build a team
As the business starts to grow, it's time to start building your team. Each team member must be able easily to walk the scheduled route, on their feet for much of the day. Scripts should be memorized, but your guides should also have the ability to go off script, answering questions, adding appropriate jokes, etc. An older guide is often more well-received, as guests are under the impression that they have more experience in the area.
- World Federation of Tour Guide Associations
- National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations
- American Tour Guide Association