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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.
Who is this business right for?
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 steps to start a walking tour business?
Once you're ready to start your walking tour business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your walking tour business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your walking tour business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- 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.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I 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.
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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 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.
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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.
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.
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, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
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.
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.
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.