With the onset of the pandemic and lockdowns in early 2020, many businesses were adversely affected and forced to close in short notice, particularly those with any outdoor elements such as events and walking tours.
For See Your City, a tour operator based in London, they had to cancel all walking tours a few days before the city lockdown was announced (together with full refunds) and adapt their business to the new grim reality within a short time.
In this travel talk, we hear more from Ferry, one of the founders of See Your City, about going virtual with their tours and how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed things.
What’s your backstory, and how did See Your City get started?
See Your City got together back in early 2017 as a walking tour company. Starting with film-themed tours, we expanded quickly into food tours, like the Cheese Crawl, and coach tours around the UK, like the Downton Abbey experience.
We’ve grown from having three people doing the tours, including the two directors, to 80 guides and hosts working around the world, from London to LA.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected travel and your business?
The most noticeable change was the restrictive guidelines that stopped outside jaunts being allowed. This was particularly difficult to navigate when we were working closely with a lot of food mongers, that were hit harder still. Luckily we were able to implement measures that more than sufficiently protected our tour guides and customers.
This led us to being awarded the “Good to Go” certification by the tourist board, which gave the customers great satisfaction that they were in good hands.
Image: Jenny - Writers and Poets from Edinburgh Virtual Tour
Was it a difficult leap to virtual tours and online experiences, and how do you keep your tours as engaging compared to an in-person tour?
It wasn’t particularly difficult. We were already in the building process as we figured customers from around the world might be - for whatever reason - prohibited from visiting our country. So we had our best guides film their favourite routes of the city. When the world ended in March this year, we were ready to go.
Unfortunately, a lot of big competitors at this point took our experiences; they asked how we did it, disappeared and then did it themselves. In any case, we were glad to have played a part in the on-running of competitors and resellers amid this environment of restriction.
What are your most popular virtual tours and online experiences, and what makes them so popular?
Our most popular experiences are our virtual jury and murder mystery experiences such as the Jack The Ripper Online Murder Mystery Tour.
Rather than having one host or guide leading them around and sharing their attention with everyone else in the group, we have 4 to 6 actors leading our events live. This means there’s more show per person, and the actors steal individuals away to “breakout rooms” for one to ones.
Theatre has never been so immersive!
Image: Jack the Ripper - Online Murder Mystery Tour
What were your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Whereas in the walking tour world you build a product, and see it grow in popularity. We’re now mostly online, and with online experiences, customers/viewers are used to the Netflix expectations of having new stuff available all the time. In the world of online experiences, you need to match that, constantly creating new products, as returning customers are looking for the next big thing.
What’s in the works for 2021, and the next five years?
We’re in 6 languages now and want to expand to more. We’re planning to be in every European capital operating a walking tour business in the next five years. We’ll continue to use these online experiences as tasters or trailers for physical experiences.