High season is on its way!
This time of year comes with plenty of anticipation, excitement…and stress. “There are more customers, more questions, and more potential for things to go wrong,” says Alex Kenin, now going into her third high season as the owner of Urban Hiker SF.
All in all, high season always comes with a little bit of uncertainty. But this year, don’t go it alone. We’ve talked to tour operators from all over the country with different types of businesses to assemble the four things you need to know before the high season frenzy hits.
1. “I wish I had identified my challenges sooner”
You’ve got to be honest with yourself when you have as much on the line as you do in high season. It’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and see your business challenges for what they are.
This is so important in high season because time is of the essence. The sooner you can identify your weaknesses–marketing, staff training, online booking–the sooner you can create an action plan to address these shortcomings before your customers start pointing them out for you.
But sometimes your company’s biggest weaknesses are out of your control. San Francisco providers are very familiar with the June gloom that inspired the famous quote now attributed to Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
In this case, it’s important to extend that honesty and transparency to your customers. Maybe the gloomy day they picked is Mother Nature’s fault, but you’ll still make them feel better if you can expertly manage their expectations ahead of time.
Kenin of Urban Hiker SF has plenty of experience in this realm. She advises that anyone running outdoor tours should ask themselves: “How can I redeem this experience for my customers when the weather’s not great?”
In other words, how can you keep them happy?
“I tell people what to wear and what to bring, and also let them know when the best time to take pictures will be depending on the weather,” Kenin explains. “I also try to focus on aspects of the tour that do look great in San Francisco’s fog.”
2. “I wish I had collected more data”
Higher volume means a bigger sample size when it comes to gathering key insights about your target demographics. You won’t want to miss out on this treasure trove of data coming your way.
(If you want to brush up on your Google Analytics skills, we have a couple posts to help you out with that! Check this one out for the basics, and this one to focus on segmenting your data.)
But the overall summer buzz offers an excellent opportunity to experiment with new markets as well.
Take Gabe Somma from Fly Bay Area, for example. He runs an airplane tours around the San Francisco Peninsula, and he’s been trying to break into the tourist market more. “The summer time would be a great time for us to try something new, like setting up a booth in some of the more tourist-y parts of San Francisco,” Somma says.
Your business has such a larger potential audience in high season. Don’t look back in August at all the learning opportunities you missed. Record, experiment, and then record some more this summer.
3) “I wish I learned to expect less of myself”
There’s so much pressure to nail it this summer. You want to see your business grow, your SEO skyrocket, and your staff succeed.
But maybe to give yourself room to soar, you need to be alright with failing a little along the way.
Don’t take it from me, listen to Seth Kamil, a staple in New York City’s walking tour scene with almost 25 years of experience under his belt.
“I learned very early on to not set expectations for income or number of clients.” Instead, he sets goals based on his tour’s “excellence of service & quality.”
“There are too many variables to have income expectations – weather, economic crises, global events,” Kamil explains.
Kenin can add to that sentiment: “It’s less predictable when you’re just starting out because you don’t have that many of seasons to learn from.”
“But if you’re lucky, you’ll find that it’s less predictable in a great way,” she says.
4) “I wish I could change my customers’ first impressions”
Your customers’ first interactions with you and your business really set the tone for the rest of your relationship.
“If someone first encounters a busted website, they’ll expect your tour to be busted too,” says Melanie Fisher, the co-owner of Cog Wild, a mountain biking tour company in Bend, Oregon.
That’s why, in anticipation of high season, Melanie had her whole site website redesigned and optimized for mobile.
“We looked at our analytics and saw that we were getting a bunch of traffic from mobile users, so this redesign should make it a lot easier for them to book tours now,” Fisher notes.
“It’s just a more professional look overall.”
Somma seconds that. “One of the best things that we did was designing a good website which helped us build a good reputation.”
But he adds one more thing: “I would’ve loved to have my booking system earlier.”
Valerie Lynn couldn’t agree more. “If I had to do anything different, I would’ve invested in a better booking system sooner.”
This illustrates a crucial point: it’s not just your website that makes the first impression, it’s every aspect from the booking process, to your customer service, to your guides.
Lynn knows how hard it is to realize these mistakes in the moment. You’re maybe running an expensive reservation system that took a long time to set up, and you feel like there’s no turning back, no matter how bad the software operates.
“Nobody likes buyer’s remorse,” she says, “but in retrospect, switching to better software was such a minimal risk anyway because it was so easy to implement.”
We get it. This feeling of paralysis is real in high season. That’s why we’ve written this post on what questions to ask in your next demo to make 100% sure that your booking software switch won’t be in vain.
Your revenue and reputation are on the line in high season. You simply can’t afford to settle for mediocrity in any aspect of your first impression, including your booking system.
To sum it all up
The keys to a great high season start with honesty and end with action. Begin by coming to terms with your tour’s weaknesses and limitations so that you can do something about them. Run experiments and collect data to make informed business decisions. And remember not to be too tough on yourself in the process.
High season gives you plenty of chances to refine your operations, but note that the key word in this sentence is refine: you have to learn from your mistakes. Don’t let you whole high season go by without addressing your Achilles heel.
And if that problem just so happens to be your current booking system, then you’ve come to the right place.