Avital Ungar has been leading food tours since starting Avital Tours in 2011. She has served as a judge at the International Chocolate Salon, the Best of the West Rib Competition, the Good Food Awards and has been featured on CNN, the Travel Channel, Travel+Leisure and more! In this post, Avital takes us through some of the ways in which tour operators can work to make their experiences truly stand out in a fast-growing, competitive industry. In the tours and activities space, it can be hard to stand out.You might be lucky enough to offer a totally unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience that can’t be found anywhere else in the market. But for many operators, you might be offering a similar activity, or hitting up the same spots, alongside many of your competitors in the area.If you run food tours, for example, it might be that you visit the same neighborhoods, or even some of the same restaurants, as other tour operators in the area. So — how do you create an experience that is truly unique for your guests? What can you do to differentiate yourself from the competition? For me, it has always been about the customer journey. Taking steps to differentiate our tours at every single stage of the experience, start to finish. In this post, I’ll lay out just a few ways in which you can achieve this, and create an experience that is totally unique to your business.

Remember that the experience begins as soon as the booking is made

Many operators tend to focus on the experience that they offer on the day of the tour or activity. It makes sense — it’s the most important part. But by doing so, you could be missing an opportunity to build up anticipation and hype for your tour. Why not set up automatic emails to be sent out before your tour or activity to really get your guests excited? This is not only a happy reminder of their upcoming trip, but a chance to offer some little tips and recommendations in the area. That way, you’re showing your customer that you’re thinking about them and enhancing their experience before they’ve even arrived for your tour!As an owner-operator, I understand that these details are often low priority as you juggle the day-to-day tasks of running a business. But, by investing a little time in emails like this, you help plant the seed of your incredible experience and create a relationship with your guest before you meet them! They won’t forget it.

VIP is what you make it

Everyone loves a little VIP treatment. For tour operators, offering exclusive access is a great way to set you apart from the rest. As a food tour, for us this could be meeting a chef or restaurant owner who can offer their story and a little something special. But what happens when the restaurant owner has to leave for an emergency dentist appointment? Things like this can happen all the time, so it’s important to manage the expectations of your guests when offering these exclusive experiences. VIP can definitely mean exclusive access, but it doesn’t have to. Consider the easiest way to make your experience special: service.Take hotels. Most offer the exact same service; there are only so many types of beds! The real difference for them however, lies in the service. What can you do to shine?Why not use custom questions in your booking flow to learn more about your guests ahead of time and provide great service right off the bat? We cater for all forms of dietary restrictions, but knowing this ahead of time means we can go the extra mile to provide great service and accommodate those guests.

Did you know that in Peek Pro, you can ask custom questions AFTER the guest has paid? This means you can collect relevant info without sacrificing conversions!

You can also offer discounts for repeat guests, and incentives for them to go back to the places or landmarks on your tour. This makes them feel like they’re getting a deal that’s not available to just anyone and helps your partners feel recognized for the value they bring.If it’s a special occasion, point it out. Have the group sing Happy Birthday to them. On Mother’s Day, hand out roses to all the moms on the tour. It’s minimal effort on your part, but it could make their day — and that happy atmosphere will also rub off on the other guests.

Being dedicated to incredible levels of service and VIP touches helps to give us a unique advantage in our niche

Your guides are your biggest asset

If guides are part of your business, use them wisely. They are a huge part of the uniqueness that you offer. In San Francisco, everybody wants to see the Golden Gate Bridge — but the stories they’ll hear along the way are what they’ll talk about when they tell their friends and family about their experience. That’s why I focus on hiring guides with strong presentation skills. I’m looking for people that I would want to go and get a beer with after the tour or talk to at a cocktail party — since they have no issues with being the center of attention! Depending on the style of your tour and balance and type of content you share, you might want to think about how guests interact with your guides. Do you want your guides to talk with the guests or at the guests?

My guides’ relationship with our guests is a top priority, always!

You should also think about how much content should come from management, versus the guide themselves. There is no right answer. It’s all about trade-offs. Find where your tour falls, and how relevant it is to have that spontaneity on your tour. Think about your guide turnover, and the type of people you generally hire. Remember that the more tailored the experience is to each guide, the more the experience will change if that guide moves on.Not everyone will have the capacity to create a whole tour themselves, or possess a deep, all-around knowledge of the area. But they will always have different interests that can add color to your experience. I suggest digging to find these and encouraging them to use them! Maybe you have a guide who’s an architecture buff, or has a strong understanding of the area’s LGBTQ scene. Use your guides’ personality and life experience to your advantage.

Know your brand — but don’t be afraid to shake it up

A brand is an evolution. It’s never static. When I started in the Mission District eight years ago, guests would be often be nervous to visit the area. To many it seemed dirty, unsafe, just on the wrong side of ‘quirky’. One of the values we offered was that we knew where to go. We offered a safe route into an unexplored area to show our guests the hidden gems.Now, eight years later, the Mission is totally different. Everybody knows about the food, they’ve already read up on the hotspots and many of the locales are well-known by tourists and locals alike. If I was still trying to lead the same tour I was a few years ago, there’s no way it would work. I have to evolve with my surroundings and adapt my tours to ensure they are always offering something unique.

A tour cannot be stagnant. You have to constantly be on the lookout for new and exciting opportunities the city has to offer, and mould you tours to fit the evolution of neighborhoods and towns.Which brings me to this: don’t be scared to kill an experience. I’ve built products that I thought were phenomenal. But sometimes, they don’t age as well as you’d like, or sadly, the market just isn’t there. I recommend specializing — focus on what you do well, and make it fantastic. You can’t be everything to everybody. The whole industry is moving that way, and that’s what will help you truly shine in your niche. Have you signed up for our SheTalks webinars yet, bringing you more exclusive tips and content? If not, sign up here! You can also check out all of our SheTalks content from the month of March by clicking here! And for more tour operator inspiration make sure you check out Avital’s website featuring her incredible food tours in San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles!

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