When it comes to monetization, one of the most important pieces of advice I give to new bloggers is to create a product. While affiliate marketing (and to a much lesser extent, ads and sponsorships) can be important, the best way to build your income is to create a product or service. This is what will set you apart from your competition and get you on the path to financial independence.
One avenue that has been brought up a few times in the Facebook group has been tours, so I wanted to address that by interviewing a member of our program who has successfully implemented tours.
Kristen is in the travel video course, and she blogs and vlogs at Bearfoot Theory. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on what it takes to successfully run tours as a blogger/vlogger.
First off, how did you decide to start organizing tours? How did you know when you were ready?
I have a friend who owns a travel planning company that started to offer guided adventure tours. Last year we were talking about his new Everest Base Camp tour, and I proposed a trade: that he provide me a fully comped trip, including airfare, in exchange for a write-up on my blog. Then he came back with the idea that we run it as an exclusive Bearfoot Theory group trip, and I invite my readers to join me on this trip of a lifetime.
At the time, my blog was getting about 150,000 monthly page views and 60,000 UVMs. It was a bit of a gamble because I wasn’t sure if people would actually sign up. My friend [at the company] agreed to offer my readers a $500 discount off of the $4,800 list price. I figured if it worked out, it would be a nice addition to my media kit, while helping me build the Bearfoot Theory community. Worst case, if I failed and no one signed up, I would be embarrassed, but I’d still provide the company with a lot of valuable content that they could use to market the tour to future clients. Plus, we were friends, so that provided a nice crutch.
I’m happy to report my first trip was a success, selling out with eight readers.
What sorts of tours have you offered so far? Have you been organizing all of them with a partner company?
I have done three tours: a 16-day Everest base camp trek, a five-day southern Utah national parks hiking and car-camping tour, and a 10-day Alaska backpacking trip.
On all three, I chose to partner with a company. The type of travel I do has risk, and I don’t have the emergency responder certifications or the guiding qualifications I feel I would need to lead these types of trips. Also, in the case of Everest base camp and Alaska, it was also my first time to these destinations, so I don’t have the local knowledge like a local guiding company does. I’m essentially the face of the tour, while the companies I partner with handle all the safety and logistics, group gear, transportation, etc.
This means I get to experience the trip right along with my readers (instead of being too busy worry about all the little details). Also for trips in US national parks, which are a big interest for my audience, permits are a big hassle. Partnering with a tour company means I don’t have to apply for my own commercial guiding permit.
For some of your tours, it was the first time you had been to that area. How did that impact your trip? Would you suggest that people only host tours for places they have already been, or did you find being in a new place with your readers beneficial?
With the exception of the southern Utah tour, I try to pick places that I’ve never been to. It’s more fun for me that way, and I also think it’s cool that we all get to experience the place for the first time together. It’s also a little risky, because there’s a chance that the destination might not be everything it’s hyped up to be. However, I do a lot of research beforehand, read past customer reviews of the itinerary, and ask a lot of questions to make sure I understand exactly where we are going.
I know from experience that tours are a lot of work. What’s your #1 motivation for running them?
They are a lot of work, but like I mentioned, I don’t do logistics. Most of my work involves promoting the tour to my audience before the trip and content creation throughout and after the trip. I get the word out via blog posts, social promotion, Facebook Live, and newsletter mentions.
The content I create on the trip depends on the deal I work out with the tour company. For each one, I’ve done at least one vlog-style YouTube video, one blog post with the video embedded, and then a certain number of social posts. This means that throughout the trip I am filming and taking pictures, which is a nice bonus for my readers, since they go home with an awesome collection of photos. The content from each trip is also a great tool when I’m marketing future trips (or pitching future companies), because I can show readers exactly how much fun they’ll have on a Bearfoot Theory trip.
As for my motivation, it started as community building. These tours are a great way to connect on a deeper level with readers. These trips are also a nice way for readers to connect with each other, especially like-minded solo travelers who might be otherwise nervous to sign up for a group tour.
After the first group trip, I also realized that depending on how I structure things with the tour company, it can also be a nice source of income. It’s not as much if I were to organize and lead the tour on my own…but it’s also a lot less work. Keep in mind that travel agents get commission, and I am operating as both a travel agent and a content creator.
How did you go about figuring out a price for the tour? Any tips for people trying to do the same?
Because I partner with tour companies, the price is set by the company and is the same price that shows on their website to any other customer. I do take into account price, though, when I’m determining what group trips I want to offer. The price point affects my bottom line, since my take-home is usually set as a percentage of the price for each paying customer. The tour has to be priced high enough that I have a decent take-home, but not so high that it deters people from signing up.
Now that you’ve done a few tours, do you think there is an “ideal length” for one?
My tours have ranged from 5 to 16 days. Sixteen days is a long time, but in some cases (like Everest base camp), there isn’t a way to do the tour in less time. As far as selling the trip, there is a sweet spot between too short and too long. Too short means it might not be worth purchasing expensive international airfare. Too long means people might not be able to get the time off work. Nine days is good if you schedule it weekend to weekend. That way people only have to take one week off work.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you started organizing tours?
Working with a tour company is really stressful if your spots aren’t selling. Like, really stressful. My Utah trip, which did end up selling out with 10 guests, got a slow start. The trip was right around graduation, so I started to freak out, thinking I had picked bad dates or it maybe it was too expensive. I ended up spending a few hundred dollars on Facebook ads to reach more people, which ultimately did the trick. Now, when I’m figuring out my bottom line for each trip, I take into account all of my costs — ads, video editing, travel, etc. — and that helps me plan and figure out if the trip is actually going to be feasible.
Have you found any helpful resources online when it comes to organizing tours?
Not really, to be honest. There’s no handbook that teaches you how to do this. It’s a lot of trial and error and asking questions to figure out what kind of trips your audience is interested in. The best source of information for me has been to talk to travel agents to learn about their side of the business.
What final advice do you have for other bloggers looking to organize tours?
For your readers…
Do a reader survey. Find out if this is something they’d be interested in. Find out where they want to go, how much money they are willing to spend, and what types of activities they want to partake in. Be aware that an awesome group dynamic isn’t a given. If people in the group don’t jibe, you will have to go out of your way to try and keep folks happy so everyone ends up having a positive experience.
Working with tour companies…
Once you know the destination you want go:
- Look for companies that specialize in that area.
- Pitch your idea. Be professional. Deliver what you promise — that likely means people AND content!
- Don’t underestimate your value. If you are bringing a group of 8-10 people on a trip, that’s worth a lot to a company, because those people might return to that company for a future trip or go home and tell their friends about the company. Videos are also very expensive for companies to produce, so if you do video well, that can be a huge selling point for you.
- Only work with companies you are confident will do a good job. If your guides are unprofessional, then you look bad too, so choose your partners carefully!
For more information, be sure to check out Kristen’s blog and her YouTube channel! You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram!