Tourists are constantly in search of hidden gems in and insider knowledge about their destination, which is what walking tour businesses provide. These businesses take tourists on guided explorations of an area, during which time tourists see both famous locations and lesser-known attractions while getting lots of local knowledge.
Most walking tours explore the area through a particular interest, and there are tours for all kinds of interests. For example, in New York City there are walking tour businesses that offer guided explorations of the city’s haunted locations, architecture and street art.
Learn how to start your own Walking Tour Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a walking tour business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Walking Tour Business
- Form your Walking Tour Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Walking Tour Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Walking Tour Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Walking Tour Business
- Get Walking Tour Business Insurance
- Define your Walking Tour Business Brand
- Create your Walking Tour Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your walking tour business. 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 Walking Tour Business Name Generator
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 walking tour business?
The startup costs for a walking tour business are minimal. The main upfront expense is the cost of marketing materials, which include a website, social media groups, posters, business cards, brochures and other collateral.
In addition to marketing materials, business owners will want proper footwear and clothing for different weather conditions. Business owners will be walking a lot, and they’ll be walking in all but the worst weather.
In total, Entrepreneur places the initial expenses for a tour business at below $2,000 if the business is operated from home.
What are the ongoing expenses for a walking tour business?
The ongoing expenses for a walking tour business are minimal. The main cost is marketing the business.
Who is the target market?
The target market for a walking tour business is tourists who want a local experience of the place they’re visiting. These tend to be affluent people who have a particular interest (e.g. history, haunted buildings, art, etc.).
How does a walking tour business make money?
Walking tour businesses make money from ticket sales and gratuities. Traditionally, ticket sales accounted for most business revenue and gratuities went directly to guides.
As more people start their own tour businesses, a few are experimenting with a “free” model. Instead of charging for tickets, these business owners offer tours for free and then request gratuities at the end of each tour. Visitors end up paying what they can afford and what they believe a tour is worth.
How much can you charge customers?
Businesses that charge up front for walking tours frequently charge less than $35, and many charge less than $20. For example, Boston By Foot charges $10 to $20, and the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group charges $5. In a few areas, tours might fetch $35 to $50. A few tours are more, but these usually include exclusive experiences, accommodations, meals or other added features.
How much profit can a walking tour business make?
Successful walking tour businesses can bring in a significant revenue. As an example, assume a business offers two tours every day except Monday. If these tours average just eight visitors and charge only $10, the business would bring in $960 weekly. With low operating costs, this is almost all profit.
How can you make your business more profitable?
A walking tour business owner can increase revenue by writing their own book. They already have the knowledge needed to write a book, and every tour group is a captive audience. Books can be sold and signed at the end of each tour to supplement ticket sales and gratuity.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your walking tour business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
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!
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 BILL 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 walking tour 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.
FInd out what types of insurance your Walking Tour Business needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Walking Tour Business.
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.
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 walking tour business
A walking tour business’ marketing efforts should be concentrated where tourists are looking for things to do. Some ways and places to market this type of business include:
- placing brochures in airports, hotels and anywhere else they’re displayed
- connecting with travel agents who can mention the tours to clients
- getting the business’ website listed on “things to do” pages and posts
- listing the business on travel-oriented websites (e.g. TripAdvisor)
In addition to these ideas, offering complimentary tours to concierges, taxi drivers, servers and hotel front desk staff can also be effective. Free tours give business owners an opportunity to practice, and these people are more likely to mention a tour after they’ve personally been on it.
How to keep customers coming back
A walking tour business can set itself apart from others by providing specialized tours that focus on specific interests. Business owners should survey the existing tour companies in their area before deciding what subject they’ll specialize in.
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.
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?
Anyone who’s people-oriented and is passionate about where they live may enjoy running a walking tour business. Most of the work involves sharing information about an area with visitors.
This is a business that can be done full- or part-time. Business owners who have another job can offer tours when they’re off from their other work.
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 walking tour business?
A typical day at a walking tour business may involve giving walking tours and/or marketing the business. Successful businesses might have several tours scheduled in a single day, and business owners may be walking to other area businesses in order to market their tours. In total, business owners can end up walking many miles every day.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful walking tour business?
Walking tour business owners must be intimately familiar with the area where they give tours. The best guides have been long-time residents of the area, and they’ve read extensively on the region. Guides may also want to visit local museums and interests groups that are related to the subjects they give tours on. In some places, a community college may also offer a relevant class that guides can take.
What is the growth potential for a walking tour business?
Many walking tour businesses remain small operations because giving tours requires highly specialized knowledge of a specific area. Some businesses have managed to grow beyond a single region, though, by marketing tours that various local guides give. Country Walkers and Sandemans are two larger companies that have followed the contracting model. Washington Walks is a smaller business in Washington, DC.
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 walking tour business?
Even when just starting, walking tour business owners should schedule up to three different tours per day if their schedule permits. Offering a variety of tours will attract more tourists than any one tour will. Having tours at different times of the day will increase the chances that a tour fits into visitors’ schedules.
All three tours likely won’t be filled at first, but unbooked tours don’t have to be wasted. Business owners can spend that time promoting their business.
How and when to build a team
This type of business can be run without employees, as a one-person operation. If demand for tours grows, business owners can bring on other guides as revenue allows.