A recent investigation reveals a few rotten bad apples in the industry mix.
Besides offering a reliable and luxurious source of transportation, limousine companies have the ability to up-sell an unmatched experience by providing a unique service such as a tour specific to a certain area.
Many limousine companies nationwide offer the standard Christmas light and fall foliage tours. Although these are great for seasonal revenue, capitalizing on the nuances that make your city or surrounding area different year-round will offer your clients something more exciting.
TOURS CAN BE A NATURAL ADDITION
Kristina Bouweiri, president of Reston Limousine, based in Dulles, Va., knows this well. Her company has organized tours of the Washington, D.C. and other tourist hot spots in and around its area for the past 15 years.
“We offer tours of Washington, D.C., Virginia wineries, New York shopping trips, ski trips, trips to Atlantic City, N.J., and more,” Bouweiri says. She adds that although the tours represent only about 10% of Reston’s overall business — the company does mostly corporate work — it has been one that has remained extremely lucrative over the years.
“These tours are very important to our overall revenue because they bring in that business we wouldn’t have otherwise had,” Bouweiri says. “It helps us maximize the productivity of vehicles that aren’t in use.”
Bouweiri explains that the idea came as a way to increase revenue on days when business was the slowest — Sundays. The ironic thing is that the suggestion to do tours came from Reston’s customers, she says.
“We have increased our revenues on the slowest day of the week and it has been a very successful campaign,” she says.
ADVERTISING YOUR NEW TOUR
Establishing a database of your clients’ email addresses is the first step in promoting your new venture, Bouweiri says. “We have 30,000 names in our e-mail database that we have grown organically for six years,” she says.
Reston sends out regular e-mail offers to that database detailing the price, dates, and departure, and return times of the company’s special tours. They also offer gift certificates for every tour, which makes it simple for clients tobuy a unique and thoughtful gift for someone they know. “The initial response was so great that we are doing wine tours every weekend and the other trips once a month,” Bouweiri says.
She also suggests networking with the chamber of commerce in your area. “I have the members of nine chamber members in my database and many other business organizations in my list.” Reston gives away gift certificates for its tours as door prizes at chamber events.
WORKING WITH TOUR COMPANIES
Some operators may discover that working with established tour companies in one area can be easier than creating their own signature tour, and competing with them.
“If your company has the legal means and proper vehicles to do tours like these, you can be very useful to a tour company like ours,” says Adrienne Smith, owner of Harlem Hip Hop Tours, based New York City. Smith’s tailor-made tour of the historically “hip hop” areas in Harlem has been in business for two years and remains successful in the New York area.
“Our business comes mainly from people who are absolutely enthralled with everything related to hip hop culture,” Smith says. She says this includes larger than life “blinged out” stretch Hummers and luxury buses.
“The stretch Hummer is such a huge excitement for our customers visiting from Japan,” she adds. Unlike limousine operators, Harlem Hip Hop Tours doesn’t own any of its own vehicles but it works closely with luxury transportation companies when providing transportation for the tour. The tour company primarily uses limousine companies that it finds through a tourism website called www.nycvisit.com, where Smith says she finds the safest and most reliable vehicles and drivers that are properly licensed and insured.
“Insurance is a huge deal for us,” she says. “And although the legitimate companies we choose are not contracted with us, they usually become our preferred providers.” Smith adds that one of the tour’s biggest expenses is providing that caliber of transportation. Advertising with a travel bureau or the chamber of commerce in your area will increase the chances that your company will get noticed by companies like Harlem Hip Hop Tours, she says.
A WIDE OPEN MARKET
Unlike most tours, Harlem Hip Hop Tours’ excursions are completely customizable. That can mean a huge payoff for the limo company that works with them. A tour guide from the tour accompanies the chauffeur and provides directions as to where the tour will make stops.
“The client can choose to do anything from a basic tour of Harlem, to hip hop dance lessons, learning how to scratch like a real hip hop DJ, or record a hip hop track in one of the company’s partner recording studios,” Smith says. She adds that making that hip hop lifestyle accessible to the public is a major part of the draw.
And it doesn’t come cheap. The company’s hip hop tours can cost anywhere from $17 per person for its basic bus tour, up to $400 per person for one of the company’s premium tours. “We obviously advertise in places where someone who can afford the tour would be, such as four and five-star hotels,” Smith says. It is this strategic marketing tactic that has made the tour popular among mostly international tourists that come to visit the U.S., looking to experience hip hop life, not just be a witness to it.
A MORBIDLY UNIQUE TAKE ON A POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION
Scott Michaels capitalized on his town by starting a signature venture, The Dearly Departed Tour, a tour of Hollywood’s most macabre locations. On any given day, Michaels leads a caravan of morbidly curious tourists from as far away as the U.K. and the East Coast. The 37-mile journey takes in some of the most infamous spots in Hollywood history, including the place where Bugsy Siegel was killed and the location of one of the Manson Family murders. “All it takes is a little bit of Hollywood history and knowledge of the city’s streets and there you have it,” Michaels says. He believes the market for curiosity will never dry up in a place like Hollywood. While Michaels’ business may seem bizarre to most, his operation is a perfect example of how operators can find unique niches in their own markets for limousine, van, or bus tours. “Anyone can do this,” Michaels says. “But you must have an interest and enthusiasm for it.”
HOW TO FIND OUT WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR AREA
• Visit your local chamber of commerce website
• Find out if your area has a historical society
• Ask your friends and family what they find unique or exciting about your city
• Network with local tour companies
• Advertise in local publications
• Send out a customer survey
• Join local organizations
• Talk to hotels and restaurants in your area
• Take some time to explore for yourself
• Do your own research on the web or at your local library
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