I wanted to cut through all the doom and gloom by writing a more positive article about the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, sharing stories from many operators from across the world. After reaching out through my networks, I was inundated with many thought-provoking and truly inspiring stories: I was taken aback by how many people in the industry are handling the current crisis in such a positive manner.
My hope that this article will help inspire many other tour operators and suppliers to think about how they can combat this crisis, giving them some hope that they might survive and hopefully become stronger and more resilient at the end of it.
Allow me to share 25 positive tours and activity stories from across the world. And if any of this inspires you to jumpstart your marketing efforts and you need help from an agency dedicated to tourism marketing, please feel free to get in touch.
01. Invisible Cities – United Kingdom
Invisible Cities is a social enterprise tour operator that helps combat homelessness by giving opportunities to people in this unfortunate position to become tour guides in their cities. Owner, Zakia Moulaoui, told me of the various ways she is continuing to support her guides in the current crisis:
“We launched an emergency crowdfunder of £5,000 to help support our guides during this time. No tour means no income for them but we still need to support our guides as a lot of them will be considered at risk because of age or previous medical conditions.
We have also partnered with a local, family-run bakery, Il Panino, purchasing bread and cakes from them. They have kindly delivered these goodies, as well as our own bags full of fresh fruit and veg, to our guides across Edinburgh."
02. Kooky Cotswold Tours – England
When Lee McCallum got in touch, she told me about how she is communicating with her customers...
“I have a small number of clients who book longer, more bespoke tours so in terms of quantity I haven't had a huge number of people to deal with. I've been very proactive in staying in touch with them and have found that regular correspondence with them is the key. I advised postponing instead of cancelling very early on but acknowledge right from the start that cancelling would also be honoured.
The response was overwhelmingly positive and so far I have only seen three cancellations. Those that have cancelled have been kind enough to wait for their cash back and I am regularly in contact with them. One of them also recognised the difficulties small travel companies are experiencing and told me to keep the money! I was so appreciative.”
03. Cortijo El Sarmiento – Spain
Yvonne Schnoor and her team have been busy creating new products and initiatives during the downtime...
“After a few days in shock we decided that we would see this as the 'time gift' we urgently needed. We are using this time to write down all the excursions our guests can possibly do; a list of hiking trails, cycling routes, a fine food and gourmet guide, a blog about golf, white Andalusian villages, recipes, etc.
On April 1st we launched a photo challenge for everyone to remember their past time with us, helping us to create a gallery which we can send out to everyone who participated, offering a prize to the winner. We are also updating our website and looking at ways to sell gift vouchers online.”
04. Unique Adventure Tours Scotland – Scotland
Owner Chris Wain has been utilising his love for all things outdoors by giving others free audio walking tours.
“On my daily walk outside (I have dogs which I love to walk with), I pick a person in my contacts, and give them an ‘audio walking tour’. Although partly just as an excuse for social interaction, during the walk I add in descriptions of the places, sights sounds and smells with a load of good old fashioned ‘blethering’ (Scottish for chatting). I also plan to try a series of Facebook live videos sharing stories from my travels, work and life.”
05. Go West – Australia
Managing Director Terry Smit from Go West in Australia has been on a content drive since the crisis started…
“One of our tour guides, who is currently unemployed because of the crisis, has been re-hired to assist us in creating lots of inspirational videos. Seems strange to be offering someone a job at this time, but you need to keep the positive messages flowing at times like this. One of his videos has gone semi-viral, in which he takes you on a tour of his back garden.”
06. My Private Paris – France
Bertand D’Aleman told us of their plans to fight for their company’s survival...
“After a couple of days of total emotional shock, our team has decided to stand up and fight for our great company and its amazing team of local guides and chauffeurs. Being from different regions of France and Europe, we are all locked down in our homes whether in Paris and Dordogne, France, or Andalusia, Spain and Wessex, England.
Because of this we are building a bank of blog articles to allow us to post more consistently and feeling less rushed in doing so. Instagram and Facebook posts are also being stored to be published for a more appropriate time.
Last but not least, we are about to launch a series of YouTube videos on planning a trip to Paris, giving tips on the when, what, how, etc. Of course these will be home-made videos with limited footage but we believe that will help our brand find more people online, gaining more visibility and more customers for 2021!”
07. Do You Travel - Australia
Sarah runs island-hopping tours in The Philippines and she has decided to create a new product to entice deposit payments to allow her customers to reserve a spot for a future date...
“We are going to be advertising ‘Life time DYT Tour Passes’ for $49. The tour pass is considered the customer's deposit and they will not need to pay anything more until they lock in a travel date with us. As a thank you for the support we are also offering a bonus $500 travel voucher to anyone who buys a pass.
08. Lyon Wine Tastings – France
Owner Caroline Conner is looking at how she can take her wine tasting business online...
“This has been a tough moment for me, my business is new so I was really relying on bookings this summer. In the vacuum of actual tastings, I have been running free virtual wine classes online. I have been toying with online education for a while but thought it was impossible since everyone couldn't drink the same wine. This crisis was actually the spark I needed to realise that it doesn't matter what is in anyone's glass. We can still learn together as everyone has their own glass and we dive into the technique of wine analysis together.
My favorite thing about being a tour operator was meeting new people from all over the world and watching them connect with each other across my dining table. My virtual tastings are channeling that same energy.”
09. Devour Tours – Spain
Marketing Director Rachel Schneidmill is pushing forward with a host of initiatives to generate revenue...
“Our entire team (staff, guides, vendors) came together to create a digital recipe book – something so obviously in line with our food-obsessed company, and yet a project we didn't consider until it became necessary. We'll be selling the book as a digital download to help create some revenue while we are unable to provide tours.
We have some other ideas brewing like quarantine-specific merchandise, virtual dinner parties, and masterclasses and I'm personally excited to see what resonates with our audience in this new climate.”
10. Mary’s Meanders – Scotland
Emma told us how she is simply spending the downtime asking past customers for reviews.
“We have always prided ourselves on our high level of customer service and at a time like this, we feel it is even more important so we have asked our guests to give us TripAdvisor reviews as this helps gives future customers confidence in booking with us as well as a much needed boost at this time.”
11. Milwaukee Food Tours – USA
Theresa Nemetz let me know of a great way they are using their fleet of vehicles to deliver packages to their customers...
“We have so many local food manufacturing partners that we work with, so we are offering ‘Shelter-in-Style Kits’ to help us and our partners generate revenue. Our buses provide the delivery while including a virtual tour experience.”
12. Gokedem Adventure Travel – Israel
Kobi Btzvi has been thinking outside of the box with regards to how to provide immersive experiences during the crisis.
“As said before ‘never waste a crisis’, so we decided to regroup ourselves and get creative about our clients’ needs and come-up with new tailored products. Our key insight is that everywhere you look people are coffined in their houses and socially distanced. The moment the virus will be behind us people will look to reconnect with their families and friends. We partnered with Atlas Boutique Hotels to provide an immersive experience for corporate travel and small groups. The SixSense 7-Day Surprise Me Adventure Game is about hacking down 3,000 old mystery to win an outstanding prize by testing your senses and your skills. We also were lucky to get new bookings for Sept 2020 from HNK and China by offering off-season prices and full refunds in case of cancelations.”
13. Experience Pakistan – Pakistan
Saadia Baber from Pakistan is creating a video series to better engage with their customers…
“Over the next few months I’ve requested my ground team to create videos about themselves, their passion for travel, what they are doing in this period of lock down and what their favourite hidden gems in Pakistan are. We shall share these on our platforms on a fortnightly basis, to keep Pakistan as a destination, and my brand, alive.
We are also using this time to review and fine tune the product offering for 2021 based on the learnings from different reports as well as reviewing our payment options and how we make it easier for our client base.
Ultimately I see this time to ensure I’m still marketing through mediums I don’t have to pay for to keep the brand alive.”
14. Culinary Adventure Co – Canada
Kevin Durkee is another food tour company thinking outside the box with an amazing way of generating revenue while helping suppliers...
“We needed to pivot and find ways to support our team, our small business partners and local restaurants, fine food shops and bakeries - that are some of the hardest hit companies during this time.
We created a new product called Food Tour in a Box (Trademarked) – a food-delivery program essentially, but it features a curated selection of the best bites from our delicious food tours. Our first box that was launched last week, St. Lawrence Market Food Tour in a Box, which included ingredients to cook with as well as other treats. We sold more than a 100 boxes in the 4 days, at $99 each.
Tucked inside is a $50 Culinary Adventure Co. Gift Certificate to enjoy towards our Food Tour or Culinary Adventures this summer or beyond.”
15. Secret Paradise – Maldives
Ruth and her team have managed to secure a new contract during the crisis…
“We started following up on emails we had sent to agents, OTAs and tour operators from previous travel shows and events. By doing so we have secured a contract with none other than Hotel Beds for our day tours. We are also in discussions with Tours With Locals.”
16. Downtown CityMaps & Guides – Scotland
Owner Frank Willoughby, who helps promote local businesses through his city guides, has decided to create a ‘Post Covid-19 Visit Planner’ for free to help his suppliers...
“I am almost ready to publish online a ‘Post Covid-19 Visit Planner’ edition of my guide in which all of my clients current and past plus anyone who wishes to be mentioned can maintain their profile and stay visible during the shutdown. The intention is to share it around on social platforms, on websites and generally anywhere that it might be read. My hope is that it will motivate people's pent up desire to ‘do something’, be it a day trip, short break, weekend or whatever once the travel restrictions and lockdown is lifted. Perhaps it will motivate visits and allow people to plan ahead.”
17. Gone Sailing Adventures – Canada
Howie Colt and his team are in regular communication with their customers and communities as well as creating specific products for the healthcare professionals as a thank you for all their hard work...
“I am continuing to issue newsletters biweekly. These used to detail upcoming availability and discounted sails but are now more related to sailing stories and general information. I will also offer a discounted promo code to those people that had to cancel to help with future bookings.
I am now focusing on creating a promo for healthcare and other front line workers who helped us through this time.”
18. Salzburg Experience – Austria
Michaela Muhr has taken this time to read my book, Lookers into Bookers, to update her website and expand her knowledge and learn how to use social media…
“I see this time as an opportunity rather than a burden as it gives me time to reorganise my business and think about what I want to offer in the future. I am reading Lookers into Bookers to be ready for the time after the crisis. Your Digital Tourism Show is also helping me a lot.
I am planning on a new website, to update the design and online services, optimising my tour offers and tour descriptions and finally spending time to learn how to post on Instagram. The goal is to have a more professional appearance and brand awareness.”
19. Rewind Dubrovnik – Croatia
Owner Lukša Malohodžić has decided to focus on something completely different while the country is in lockdown…
“I am using my channels around Dubrovnik to help make visors for hospital staff. We just brought them 100 visors made using 3D printers. These guys need material such as plastic and a company that makes business cards and brochures for me offered to help us with the material. As we are running boat tours we've put our whole equipment on disposal to the Civil Protection Unit here in Dubrovnik.’
20. Amsterdam Experiences - Netherlands
Stephan and his team are using this time to get out of their comfort zone and produce video blogs, working alongside competitors…
“Together with some other guides in the Netherlands we are developing a platform where we start vlogging about the Netherlands so people can see what they normally get during a tour.
Some of these guides have never used vlogs for their promotion so we are all learning something new. Several companies are working together to develop this platform, even competitors are working together for the betterment of our destination.”
21. Molly J Wilk – France
Molly has been taking her cooking classes online, using Instagram to engage with her community in a unique way…
“I've been doing live ‘Surprise Bake Along’s’ on Instagram where I share the ingredients and equipment in advance and then we all gather together to bake. The surprise is I do not tell them what we are creating as they will find out at the end. It's been such a fun way for people to gather together and be a little distracted from everything that's happening in the world right now.”
22. Dublin Rogues Tour – Ireland
Like many operators, Dave Kavanagh is spending this time creating new products…
“ I have been spending my time designing a brand new tour which I am very excited about. I must say it's been a lot of fun working out the landmarks and routes for the new tour. Still have a lot of work left to do but I really feel by doing something new keeps you motivated and excited in these troubling times. I would highly recommend it if people have some spare time to do the same.”
23. Clio Muse – Greece
Daphne Tsevreni, Co-founder & CFO, and her team have spent time refining and improving their audio tours while upgrading to virtual tours...
"We have upgraded all our audio tours to virtual tours. A virtual tour consists of audio narration, real images, satellite and street views of the monument and its surroundings. In most points of interest you can move forward or backwards, turn towards any direction and see what you would really see as if you were there! In that sense, a virtual tour resembles a remote visit from the comfort and safety of your home. In order to promote them we will be starting asap to offer one free virtual tour per day.
We believe that we should keep travellers hungry for travel in order to keep their interest high and we are currently discussing with multiple tour operators to sell these virtual tours for attractions in Europe with commission to customers that cancelled their bookings. We're also encouraging tour operators to create their own virtual tours using our platform and guidance.
All in all we try to adapt to the new environment that is forming and think that remote visits are here to stay.
24. Go Basque Travel – Basque
Ander told me about the initiatives he is moving forward with during the crisis…
“We first sent an email to all of our past clients, as well as the clients that we were expecting for this season but who had to unfortunately cancel their plans, in order to stay in touch with them, asking them how they were doing and wishing them health and safety during this delicate time. We got feedback from most of them and they provided words of support during these difficult moments. Of course, we also refunded 100% of the fees. They were grateful and replied that they will book with us in the future when the situation improves and they are able to travel again.
Following your advice in your Coronavirus Battle Plan, we have also been making an effort to boost our social media content. In this sense, we are writing new blog posts for our website, Facebook and Instagram. The type of articles that we are writing are in regard to general information about the Basque Country, Basque culture and food. Personally, I find it pointless at this moment to write social media posts with the intent of trying to sell our tours, so this is why we have decided to provide a different kind of content for now.”
25. Visit London Taxi Tours – England
Cheryl and her team have opened up their fleet to help those in need during the crisis…
“Rather than laying off employees and cutting resources, we have found new ways to use our resources, protecting the jobs of our employees.
Because the taxis are all equipped with wheel-chair ramps and our guides are police checked, we managed to repurpose our fleet into an emergency transport solution.
By reaching out to local authorities, we have been working alongside General Practitioners and other health teams, finding the homeless in London, assessing them and then getting them to the right accommodation.
We also collect prepared meals from local markets and deliver them to those who are quarantined in hotels.”
These are just a small selection of some of the outstanding stories that were submitted to me and I thank everyone who did so. I hope that by reading this, it provides some hope and positive thinking in the midst of this crisis we are all facing. I have so many examples that I may even do a part 2.
Stay positive, stay productive, and you may come out stronger at the other end.
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