Ideas to market a guided tour?
May 15, 2013 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm helping a friend start up a small guided tour company and am looking for ideas to market it.

It's a full day tour by minibus, starting in Edinburgh, Scotland, taking in sections of the Antonine Wall, a Roman wall built around 150AD. The tour guide is a historian and Roman re-enactor, and he'll be doing the tour in full Roman armour.

Things that have been tried so far:
They have a website, Twitter and Facebook page.
They have paid for a leafleting campaign, and flyers are being distributed around Edinburgh (alongside flyers for every other tour and exhibition in Edinburgh).
Press releases have been sent, this has so far resulted in one article in The Scotsman (this brought a lot of visits to the website and resulted in some ticket sales).
The tour guide and a friend have visited a lot of pubs/cafes in central Edinburgh in full costume, leaving flyers.
I have posted the site on Reddit (r/Edinburgh) with some interest but no sales yet.

The plan is to run the tour a couple of times a month (everyone has a day job) over the summer months, but it will need a concerted effort to get people to buy in.

So I am hoping that you can come up with suggestions that we can use to try and sell more tickets. Money is quite tight so the cheaper the better!
posted by aisforal to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have they tried targeting travel agents? It seems to me that the people most interested in this wouldn't be in pubs or cafes because they would be coming from overseas.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:13 AM on May 15, 2013

Be sure flyers are being left at hotels -- small ones, possibly you can speak to the owners, who often recommend specific things to guests who are unsure. Pretty much everyone I know uses tripadvisor to plan vacations, so you should try to get on there.
posted by jeather at 8:14 AM on May 15, 2013

Make sure they're on tripadvisor and responding to comments.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:31 AM on May 15, 2013

Also, looking at their webpage, there should be a better timeline of what will happen for how long, how long the bus rides are, etc and a lot more info about lunch -- if people should bring their own, is there a cooler in the bus? Will there be a convenient time to eat it that won't require an extra hike, or will the bus be waiting next to the restaurant to pick things up there? Is it really obvious where to meet up? Why is there no link to the exact location on google maps?

I don't like tours that say "if we have time we will do this", because it suggests that they aren't capable of keeping control of their tours.

I don't know if it's clearer if you know anything about the tour, but it should be clear that you are visiting sites that are otherwise free (or that ticket prices are(n't) included).

Your facebook link doesn't work.
posted by jeather at 9:04 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I launched a niche historic bus tour company in Los Angeles six years ago. Before giving any tours, we already had an interested audience that we'd built up through blogging about local true crime lore. The blog and hosting small, free events helped us build an email list, which has proved essential for getting the word out about upcoming tours, through a weekly newsletter. We try to pack this with interesting links and stories, and many people forward this to friends. We also have a podcast.

I'd recommend that you focus on building your email list of local Roman history and recreation aficionados, as these people will be your core tour audience. Ideally you'll set a tour date, send out a notice, and get sufficient reservations (and pre-payment) from your core to cover your costs, with room for tourists to book until the minibus is full.

Don't worry too much about Facebook, which will hide your content from most "fans" unless you pay them. Fliers are expensive to print, and if your tours are scheduled infrequently are not a great marketing tool. A small poster that local businesses (bookshops, Scottish culture shops, metal detector dealers) may let you put up would give you more bang for your buck.

Is your armored tour guide driving the bus, or do you have a driver? I think it would be anxiety-producing for your guests to have someone in an archaic helmet driving on winding roads and narrating, so definitely think about trading off and one of you going into modern "driver mode" if it's just the two of you on the bus.

Good luck!
posted by Scram at 9:47 AM on May 15, 2013

1) Target the people who make recommendations--hotel concierges, B&B owners, bike rental shops, travel writers who specialize in Scotland, etc.--and offer them free tours.

2) Participate in the local tourism promotion organization, VisitScotland, etc. and get on the fam

3) Split up the tour into two parts with discrete themes so people can choose a half- or whole- day experience. If there's space available, the morning folks can extend on demand. Asking people to commit to a full day is too much for many people.

4) Make selling tickets to your tour commissionable.

5) Where are you stopping for snacks/lunch? Choose a place that will help you promote the tour. Ideally, work with an owner that operates more than one place that aren't obviously connected such that visitors to Restaurant A are prompted to take the tour that includes a stop at Restaurant B and won't think they're going to duplicate their dining experience.
posted by carmicha at 10:19 AM on May 15, 2013

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