So you want to start a tour business…

August 01, 2017
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Tony Carne

So, you want to start a tour business? Yeah you do!

Urban Adventures is one of the most established global tour businesses in the world; we have given more than one million people their Best. Day Ever since we started back in 2009. We are the experts in our field, because turning passionate city lovers into profitable tour businesses is what we do every day! The purpose of this article is to give you an idea of what it’s like to run your own tour business and to ask the tough questions, share some of our knowledge, and give you the chance to do a self-assessment to see if starting a tour company is right for you.


Is it the right path for me?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a passion for the place you live?
  • Do you want others to love your city like you do?
  • Do you want to make a living from doing something that you love?

If you answered yes to all of the above, then there’s a solid chance that the idea to start your own tour business is a good one. However! Like any life decision, there are a few things you need to consider beforehand to make sure it’s actually the right decision for you.

Fooling around in Hanoi. | Photo Credit: Hanoi Urban Adventures

The next most important thing you should do, before taking even one more step further, is to contact your local government-run tourism body to understand what, if any, rules and requirements they have in place for you to operate a legal business in your city. For most places, if you are doing a walking tour or tour using local transit, you will find there are very few restrictions to getting started legally. Some cities / provinces / countries do, however, have rules around guiding tourists and actually require the completion of a course. It’s best to have all of this information before you get too far down the line, as you don’t want to get knee deep before realising you’re not properly licensed…

Okay, okay, enough of the boring stuff……………..

Next, ask yourself the following question and answer out loud. The first question I ask anyone who approaches Urban Adventures about becoming one of our business partners is to tell me about their city. It generally only takes me about two sentences to determine what someone’s likelihood of success is, and here’s why: it’s incredibly hard to fake passion (and honestly, if you don’t have passion, then starting your own tour company isn’t the right move for you). Your customers feed off your passion and the way you communicate it, and if they aren’t getting a buzz from your super enthusiasm, then everything will be just a bit, well, meh. Trust us, we know. It won’t be the Best. Day. Ever. for them or for you, and in our world, that’s reason enough to stop right now and go no further.

But hey now, if you’ve passed the passion test, then keep reading! The next step is to break that passion down into bite-sized chunks. What is it in particular that you love about your city, that you think will give others a quick, but deep, appreciation for what you see through your own eyes? Is it the food scene? Or the street art? Or the sports? Or the music scene? What are the things that make you sit back and think – gee, I love this place. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step – it’s here where the first kernel of tour inspiration comes from.

So now, take your most favourite theme and work out a narrative that has an introduction, a middle, and a conclusion. Sound familiar? Just like writing a story or an essay, right? Don’t worry, this is about as academic as we get, but it’s important: in our experience, the best tours are the ones that tell a compelling narrative: a simple and easy-to-remember story filled with insights and quirks that raise people’s eyebrows and capture their attention. You want people to love the story so much that they go home and tell it to their family and friends. Think about it this way: you‘re creating the stories that will be shared at dinner parties around the world. Cool, eh? So for example, if food is your passion you might look at how the pattern of immigration to your city has developed the food scene. Your absolute favourite places to eat (that no tourist would ever find) might be Italian, Jewish, and Mexican, and then through the story of immigration you can tell your city’s food story in a way that gives the visitor more than just super tasty food, it gives them some context as to why this food is in this city. Augment your story by playing around with different timeframes, architecture, and anecdotes related to the restaurants, the cuisine, or the eras, and now you have a great story to tell that matches the great food and quirky neighbourhoods you’re visiting.

Strolling the streets of Sao Paulo. | Photo Credit: Sao Paulo Urban Adventures

Almost there! The final piece of magic is to bring other real local people into your story that your group can interact with. Taking the food example above, by choosing your hard, fast, all-time favourite locally run spots where the vendors have known you for eons, you are likely to get that warm and genuinely hospitable welcome – and so are your group. This gives them the chance to meet some local characters, the creators of that extra bit of magic that add that last level of depth to the overall experience.

Alright – are you inspired yet? Ready to start your own tour business? By now you should have a decent idea as to whether or not you have what it takes to create a great product that people will buy and love. If you don’t have a sleepless night tonight thinking of all the different possibilities for the killer tour of your city, then, well, maybe starting your own tour company isn’t for you. It probably also isn’t for you if you freak out over the next step, which is…dun dun dun…commitment. Remember, what we’re ultimately talking about here is starting a business. Without commitment, the business will fail. Nothing is surer. We promise. There is no such thing as a ‘part-time business’ – that’s just a hobby.

Take a minute (or more) and really look deep into yourself and your life to determine the answer to these final questions:

  • Is this what I want to do?
  • Am I willing to give this a real go?

The reason you need to be frank with yourself is because when you start a tour company you will be challenged early on and from our experience, it’s pretty easy to lose focus. No business starts today and is successful tomorrow, and that’s no exception in tourism. All businesses require work. Your great tour idea requires execution and part of that execution is selling your tour and yourself to anyone and everyone who will listen. In the beginning, you won’t have customers every day, but that’s okay – in many respects it’s the most important time for your business, because when you do have customers every day, it’s hard to find time to continue to do sales. You need to be prepared to go out and talk to your local council, local tourist information office, hotel and tour desks, and go to Meetups and Travel Massive events. You also need to be prepared to market yourself online by building a social media presence for your business, particularly through capturing and showcasing your beloved city and your superior local knowledge in images posted on social media (ahem, Instagram).

If you’ve considered all of this and are still thinking, “Yes I can do this! This is the life I want!”, then the next step is simple. Get in touch with us and we’ll make this happen together.

Beer O'Clock in Brasov. | Photo Credit: Brasov Urban Adventures

At Urban Adventures, we give passionate people everything they need for their dream to start a tour business. With no upfront joining costs, we give our partners their booking and reservations system, their local website that can take online bookings, access to global markets through our distribution, professional marketing resources and a global marketing team to draw on, peer support of hundreds of others who are doing the same thing and share your passion in cities around the world, training and professional ongoing support, and really a whole heap more.

Still not 100% sure? Want to sit on it for a bit? No worries. Like our “Join Urban Adventures” Facebook page to keep tabs on this opportunity. And if it’s not for you but you know someone who’s the perfect fit, please share this article with them.

If you’re ready now, ready to start a tour company, we can help you make that happen. Consider the above, ask yourself the tough questions, and if you emerge victorious, please get in touch.

We hope every day from this one forward is the Best. Day. Ever.

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