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How One Tour Operator Faced a Crisis

a group of people standing in front of a buildingAbout a year ago, we started hearing stories about the Covid-19 virus in China. Admittedly, my adult children were paying more attention than I was and started texting me that this new virus was headed our way. When the local Kroger began taking precautions and the run on toilet paper began in early March, I knew something different was happening.

I was a little concerned and extra cautious, but I led a private group tour on March 12, 2020 at Findlay Market. But by the time that day ended, the Cincinnati Reds had postponed their opening game and the NBA and NCAA had cancelled events. Bars and restaurants were ordered closed on March 14. As the owner of a food tasting tour company, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. What we thought was a two-week shutdown turned out to be something much longer and much more detrimental to small businesses like mine. I cried a few tears, took a deep breath, and took a new look at how I might keep my business alive. I acted fast and I learned to do things I never imagined I’d do. For those facing a business crisis of any sort, I offer these lessons of how I (think) I have survived a pandemic.

First, I reached out to my tour partners to figure out how we might help each other. Within a week I had designed a gift box, secured a local box supplier, gathered inventory, and launched the food box while doing my own deliveries. I sold 25 boxes in the first 3 days to my newsletter subscribers and social media followers. I knew then the concept was doable so I applied and received a grant that allowed me to offer free domestic shipping in time for Mother’s Day packages. I also began to offer takeaway food tours with dishes from 3-4 local restaurants consolidated in one bag for pickup.

By mid-May, outdoor restaurants and bars started to reopen. I began planning my in-person tours again with the idea that we would do picnics and carryout samples. Right when we were ready to launch, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter grabbed our attention. When protests and peaceful demonstrations turned ugly, Cincinnati enforced a weeklong curfew that could have been the final blow to my business. Rather than give up, I used the down time to learn another new skill and designed a self-guided audio tour.

In early June, most businesses started to reopen, and I was determined to get back to the outdoor experiences. I scattered a few dates on the calendar, accepted the fact that I might have no reservations or just 2 or 4 signing up for each tour , and carried on through the summer. As fall approached, I threw my energy back into the gift boxes with a Halloween food box and then several Holiday boxes. In addition, I sold a Big Boozy Brunch bag for local pickup and added a Hidden Holidays tour as an in-person option to see the downtown decorations. Although none of these initiatives made me rich, all of them together gave me the confidence to know that I can figure things out.

I look back on the past year as one big marketing project. My goal was not so much to make money, but rather to keep my Cincinnati Food Tours brand alive. I posted photos daily to Instagram, gaining more than 1000 followers in the last year. I continued to use Facebook, expanded my LinkedIn network, and began to promote on Google. By joining Global Tours Connect, I met regularly with other tour operators around the country, sharing ideas and keeping up with the latest trends.

So in short, if you are facing a business crisis:

  • Think differently.
  • Collaborate.
  • Be brave.
  • Be flexible.
  • Reset your goals.