The Ambitious Tour Operator Business Owner’s Guide To Growing Your Company (Without The Burnout)
Remember when you first started your tour operator company?
It was an exciting time, as your ideas became reality, and a desire to build something of your own resulted in a real business…
You got creative, you took risks, and when the first bookings came in you realized: “this might just work”.
Then as more and more people came on board with your vision, your business started to grow. The positive feedback poured in, and some people became repeat clients.
That initial success allowed you to branch out…
Perhaps you hired more staff, or invested in more resources, or expanded your product range.
When things really took off, you needed to put more and more of your own time into it, but that was ok – the extra effort was worth it…
Sometimes there were long days and late nights, even some working weekends – but you knew you had to take advantage of busy periods, as slow seasons could always be just around the corner.
But as your business grew, it became harder to manage your work-life balance…
Success breeds success, which can pile on the pressure.
It’s like the founder’s curse:
It gets harder to justify taking time off when there’s so much to be done, and with bigger bills to pay – especially when you want to lead by example and set high standards for your company.
One of the great ironies of the tours and experiences industry is this:
Company founders and owners can get so busy designing, selling and fulfilling dream trips for their clients, that this can all come at the expense of having time for travel of their own.
When I talk with tour operator business owners as part of my role at 10x Travel, I hear about the sacrifices they’ve made along the way…
They have less free time outside the business to spend with their families. Activities they enjoyed doing when they first started out get paused…
And as sales increase, so do their working hours.
Some even live in beautiful locations they’re unable to fully appreciate, because their business needs constant attention…
Others are thinking ahead to retirement and wondering how or even IF they’ll be able to step away from the cycle.
Part of the problem is that tour operator business owners can end up wearing too many hats…
They can find themselves trying to combine creative strategizing and leadership with attention to detail and staying on top of the more mundane, everyday tasks…
Because they’re afraid if they take their foot off the gas, the car will grind to a halt.
But that’s not a sustainable way to run a business. It shouldn’t be a trade-off between work vs life – there should be time for both.
Yet some tour operator businesses are proving there is a way to balance work and life, and still grow successfully...
Many founders are proving it is possible to run a 6, 7 or even 8-figure travel company without sacrificing family time, sleeping at your desk or putting off vacations.
At 10x Travel we regularly discuss with our tour operator partner companies how their founders and leaders can step off the ‘hamster wheel’ of endless work, and regain control of their time – without hurting their sales growth.
So if you’ve been wondering how to maintain a healthier work-life balance in your own business, I’ve shared a few ‘in the trenches’ insights below which can help you do that.
Understand which leadership role you’re playing
Every business owner has different leadership skills. But too often we put pressure on ourselves by trying to do everything and be everyone we think our business needs.
According to the Entrepreneurial Operating System, most entrepreneurs are either a ‘Visionary’ or an ‘Integrator’, with contrasting skillsets…
Visionaries are usually the people who conceived the idea for the company, and continue to have ‘big ideas’ about expanding the business, focusing on relationships and company culture.
They’re often great salespeople and creative problem solvers, but can be impatient with the details and get distracted easily (often by another idea!)
Integrators, meanwhile, are usually good managers who thrive on creating order out of chaos – and what growing tour operator business doesn’t have its fair share of chaos from time to time!
They’re “naturally suited to setting priorities, solving conflicts, removing obstacles, getting the company from point A to point B” according to EOS’s Ed Callahan.
You can probably see how these two contrasting and sometimes conflicting personality types have different leadership styles – but also how they can support each other by working together.
The problem is though:
While only around 5% of entrepreneurs are thought to mix both skillsets, it can still be tempting to try to fulfill both roles in your tour operator company, particularly in the early days.
But that can become challenging as your business expands, and may lead to burnout.
So if you’re still trying to combine the Visionary and Integrator roles, consider how you could bring someone with complementary skills into the leadership of your business.
Sometimes part of being a leader is recognizing your own limitations – and passing some of the important work on to a more suitable expert so you can focus on what you’re best at, or simply enjoy more.
Which brings us to another important leadership approach:
Delegate and manage more effectively to reduce your own workload
It’s your business, and you care passionately about it. You want to be involved at all levels…
And it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in and around the company so you don’t lose touch with your client base and their changing needs.
But there are still only 24 hours in your day – and as a founder and leader, it’s your responsibility to look after your own well-being and not ‘burn out’.
Effectively delegating tasks to the right people is crucial when it comes to carving out more time for yourself…
Time you can use to work on your ‘big ideas’… make important new connections… explore what the idea of growth actually means to your company (more on that in a moment)…
Even just hit the beach or ski slopes with (or without!) your family, and enjoy that beautiful location you’re always meaning to make more of.
Workplace culture site The Muse’s co-founder Alex Cavoulacos offers her ‘10 Rules of Successful Delegation’ to help managers better delegate the tasks they know they shouldn’t be doing (but often end up doing anyway).
They include advice on feedback, training and explaining delegation to your coworkers, so you can share the load and focus on what really matters.
Sure, it can be tough for a founder to let go of the reins sometimes – especially in the tours & experiences industry where the personal connections you make and maintain are so crucial.
But deep down, every business owner knows:
When you’re stretched too thin, you’re much less effective
So how can you achieve a better balance with your own work and prioritize better?
Time management is such a common issue, especially in the tours & experiences industry where there’s so many different areas to oversee:
From sales & marketing to managing bookings, maintaining equipment and accommodation, book-keeping, staffing and supply issues… it can seem overwhelming, especially when your business is growing.
Business data company Plecto compiled 12 time management tips from successful CEOs, which is a useful guide to some of the methods practiced by the likes of Apple’s Steve Jobs, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner and other CEOs to stay on top of busy leadership schedules.
One of the most interesting is ‘The Eisenhower Matrix’, developed not by a CEO but by former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It’s a simple tool for helping you allocate and prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance.
Eisenhower’s guiding belief was that “most things which are urgent are not important, and most things which are important are not urgent”.
That’s a solid principle which can be applied to running a tour operator business too.
Of course, as in any industry, different tour operator businesses have various priorities at different times which affect how their owners view success.
And not everyone defines ‘success’ solely according to their balance sheet…
Defining what success means to your business in the short AND long-term
It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of sales at any cost (understandable when it’s bookings that ‘keep the lights on’ in your business) but sometimes it comes at the expense of innovating and pursuing other improvements.
It can be tempting to see everything in a black and white, profit/loss scenario. Yet when I talk with tour operator business owners, they cite increased profit as just one of a variety of growth goals.
Targets such as product range diversification & expansion, opening new locations or improving operations and efficiency can all lead to important growth, but can also be achieved without simply focusing on short-term profit.
Each of these pursuits presents a new set of challenges for a tour operator business, but we’ve seen again and again how important it is in our industry for businesses to try new things.
It’s becoming increasingly rare for a tours & experiences company to grow year on year simply by selling more of the same services.
That’s why 10x Travel now works closely with our tour operator company partners to help them assess new opportunities for expansion and growth in their business.
We also make customized recommendations as part of the free, no-strings Strategy Sessions we offer all tour operator businesses…
If you’d like to discuss your goals with us and get some inspiration for how you can grow your business without simply putting more hours in, you can schedule your free one-to-one Strategy Session with me below.
The arrival of the internet has obviously had a huge impact on the tour operator industry, particularly on how companies connect with existing and potential clients.
Online marketing now helps us do that so effectively that digital automation has become a must-have for any successful tour operator business.
Let’s take a look at how you can use automation effectively, to optimize your operations and reduce your own workload…
How automation can help you grow your tour operator business – without chaining yourself to your desk
Digital automation options are increasing all the time. But at 10x Travel we don’t advocate using any particular tool or strategy just because it’s new or popular.
As I examined in this article, there are now so many digital marketing tools available, you can actually add to your workload just assessing which ones to use…
But at its most effective, automation can help tour operator companies grow their client base and expand into new markets, while reducing manual labor for their staff – and of course, for their founders.
Automation can help you eliminate ineffective, outdated practices that might be costing you money, make the most of valuable email leads you thought were ‘dead’, and even convert more inquiries into paid bookings…
All of which can help you run a thriving tour operator business without locking yourself in the office all week or forgetting what your family looks like!
I’ve witnessed the positive impact of digital marketing on 10x Travel’s partner businesses during periods of growth – and on their owners’ work/life balance – so here’s a few recommendations to help you automate the day-to-day tasks and keep driving your company forward…
Automate your MARKETING and reach more potential clients than ever
From inquiry forms to social media, digital marketing now makes up a key part of any successful tour operator business’ growth efforts.
Here’s a few tips you can start implementing in your company to reduce the day-to-day tasks and free up more of your time:
Tip 1: automating your social media efforts
Most tour operator businesses already use one or more of the main social media channels to reach their potential future customers…
But instead of spending hours each week hopping in and out of various platforms, you can automate your social media posts with tools that let you conveniently upload multiple posts, schedule publication times for optimal reach, and even reuse content.
Because Facebook’s algorithms are now increasingly prioritizing individuals over businesses, tour operators are struggling to get their branded content noticed in their audience’s news feed.
One way to counter this is to repost existing but valuable content automatically at set periods – not too often, you don’t want to spam your audience – but enough that your promotional offers and content creation efforts aren’t wasted if people miss your post the first time.
This article from Entrepreneur.com compares some of the different social media automation tools available, and which platforms you can use them on. Hootsuite even publishes monthly Facebook updates for businesses – handy for keeping up to date with the ever-changing platform’s latest developments.
Tip 2: automating your inquiry forms
I’ve advocated previously on this blog for the benefits of using automated inquiry forms on your website…
Most website contact forms don’t convert anywhere near as many visitors into inquiries as they should, with average performance around the 9% to 17% conversion rate (or even less, depending on the industry).
That means for every hundred people who start filling out an inquiry form, 80 to 90 don’t complete it. So improving an online inquiry form’s performance clearly makes sense to avoid missing out on potential leads…
But you can also save your business a lot of time by automating the form process itself – along with any follow-ups triggered once a form’s completed.
Growing tour operators can spend hours each week wading through piles of irrelevant questions and unqualified, low quality leads from form inquiries – especially if their online form is too short.
It takes time and effort to respond to every single one, and it can be difficult to assess which are most likely to produce bookings. Without optimizing that process, you can just end up with a never-ending list of email addresses to contact.
But using automated conversational inquiry forms can drastically reduce that task, as these responsive forms can be set up to offer your site visitor some of the most commonly asked questions while they’re filling it out…
That helps your prospects get more specific with their inquiry, without your involvement – essential outside office hours and across different time-zones, obviously a common issue in our industry.
These forms work similarly to chatbots, with each question guiding the visitor helpfully to the next stage, answering some of their questions, and making helpful recommendations in real time.
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen the use of automated inquiry forms significantly reduce the amount of time-consuming sorting, assessing and responding that tour operator businesses do daily…
At 10x Travel we’ve helped our partners deploy inquiry form tools such as Typeform, which capture actionable information to make follow-ups with leads faster and easier, and can even be configured to take advance payments and deposits.
Tip 3: automating your emails
You can also optimize how you manage a growing number of inquiries more efficiently with email automation…
Email marketing is a key part of our tried and tested process for helping tour operator companies achieve long-term success, and I outlined some of the various strategies we use with our partner businesses in more depth in this article.
But from a purely time-saving perspective, automating your email follow-ups is one of the most impactful things you can do…
Since not all your leads are as likely to convert as others, it makes sense to focus your energy on the ones which are more likely to lead to bookings.
Email automation allows you to send specific messages to people who are more likely to engage with your sales process, using valuable info captured on your automated inquiry forms (such as indicating a specific budget or preferred travel dates).
Personalized emails like these deliver relevant, timely information that matches your prospect’s specific needs – and are more likely to generate bookings from new leads. Automating that process lets you do all this without manually creating new emails each time.
Our partner tour operator businesses use automated emails to increase engagement with new leads, shave hours off their working week (reducing expenses as a result) and generate more ROI from their digital marketing through increased sales.
Speaking of sales…
Automate your SALES PROCESS for greater ROI (and spend less time on the phone!)
One of the biggest benefits of automation is that you can convert more inquiries into tour bookings, without creating extra work for you or your staff.
Optimizing your online inquiry forms to generate more leads is a great outcome – especially if you’re spending money to get people to your site.
But converting enough of those leads into sales – isn’t that a purely manual process? Well, not any more.
The value of having a reliable, skilled sales team still stands – and at 10x Travel we actively encourage our partner businesses to hire and train salespeople once they have the resources to do so.
But you can support their manual efforts with automation that allows them to focus on what they’re best at, and keeps their sales pipeline filled with qualified leads rather than time-wasting inquiries.
By using automated lead qualification to segment your leads into appropriate follow-up actions, you can decide which ones should be passed straight to your sales team…
Along with which should be directed towards a particular page on your site (such as a tour page matching their specific requirements)… and which should be added to your email follow-up series instead.
Those follow-up emails represent another opportunity for you to optimize your process and get better results with less effort.
Because the stark truth for any tour operator business is this:
The vast majority of your online leads aren’t thinking about making a booking (yet)…
Most are just researching the hows and whys of a potential trip, and are primarily looking for information.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t help them reach a point where they are ready to discuss booking options…
By using automated content marketing like ‘nurturing’ emails you can give people useful information about the type of tour or experience they’ve told you they’re interested in, AND introduce them to your unique brand at the same time.
Using pre-written email templates which do that can save your sales team hours each week by not having to discuss details with people who aren’t yet ready to buy.
Your goal with automated emails is to nurture your new leads through their information-gathering and decision-making stages, learning about their needs as they go, and eventually making more targeted offers that they’re more likely to be interested in.
When you combine this process with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, you can guide some prospects through to a call with your team, and give others the info they need while at the planning stage – greatly increasing the chance of them choosing your services when they reach a decision point.
Once you know what works for your ideal customers at different steps in their decision process, you can optimize which email templates you send and when, and use further personalization to ‘rinse and repeat’ the process.
This is something we helped our partners at Netherlands-based Boat Bike Tours to do successfully, with email automation contributing to $1.4 million in new sales growth for their business…
All while reducing the volume of unqualified leads and ‘random inquiries’ they previously spent valuable time dealing with manually.
Stepping away from sales and growth for a moment, you can also improve your client services with automation too…
Automate your CLIENT SERVICES without losing the personal touch
You can send automated follow-up surveys to learn about how clients see your company, and what in particular they liked (or didn’t like) about your tours, your process and the location for example.
Insights like these are important to helping you better understand your market and improving your offers, but have traditionally taken a lot of time to resource, process and analyze.
But combining automation with a reliable CRM means it’s easier than ever to learn more about your ideal clients every single day, and to use that info to create successful tours based on what you know they want.
If you do receive negative feedback, you can use automation to quickly respond to it and manage the situation before it escalates – for instance, offering to schedule a call to discuss the issue, and potentially rescuing a lost client.
And if a booking went well, you can automatically request referrals or testimonials with minimal effort – and as we all know, strong testimonials help you market your tours to potential future customers.
You can even get creative and schedule personalized offers – such as birthday discounts or trip anniversary reminders – to encourage repeat customers, and use automation to improve your billing & payment process too, to reduce lost revenue and save time chasing payments.
The impact of digital automation on tour operator business growth is really just beginning...
I’ve seen first-hand how the rise of automation in our industry has made it easier for tour operators worldwide to get more bookings while reducing working hours and expenses.
At 10x Travel automation has become part of our tried and tested process…
Our Get More Bookings™ sales funnel utilizes advanced automation to help ambitious tour operator businesses reach 7 and even 8 figures in sales and enjoy their success without ‘burning out’.
We want to help the founders of these companies grow their businesses without sacrificing their personal lives or having to work around the clock.
And if you’d like to learn how your company can achieve reliable, scalable growth with a proven digital sales & marketing system, I’d like to share what I know with you personally.
Want to see exactly how you can grow YOUR tour operator business without working yourself into the ground?
Click the button below to schedule your FREE Strategy Call with one of our Get More Bookings Specialists.
We’ll walk you through how your business can apply some of the strategies and automations discussed in this article and achieve reliable, scalable growth while avoiding burnout.