One freelance opportunity on the rise is offering guided tours. If you live in a popular travel destination, you may be able to make money showing tourists the local hot spots and lesser known locations.
Pat Althizer from Photo Safari Yosemite LLC has stopped by today to share how he is supplementing his retirement income offering guided photo tours in one of America's most popular national parks.
Tell us about yourself. What was your motivation to start a tour guide business?
As most of us “baby boomers” have now starting to age and think about what we want to do when we grow up, I too was faced with that same thought about 6 years ago. In March of 2009, I found myself having to choose retirement from my career employment in Commercial Banking or wait a few more years for full Social Security benefits. At age 64, I decided to take 80% of SS and search for a new life outside the corporate world to earn an income.
Living near to one of the world’s most famous destinations, Yosemite National Park and having had a prior career in commercial photography, I considered becoming a Yosemite Photographer. However, in analysis, the competition in making and selling images of the majestic sites and scenes was just not a viable business model for success potential. Ansel Adams had beaten me to it along with another 100 or more working pros. So I looked further into what problem needed solving for Yosemite visitors and photographers.
With about 4 million annual visitors to the park and with at least one camera per car, it occurred to me that most visitors have little time and knowledge of where to go and when for the best images. After researching the National Park Service Guide requirements and sending in the paperwork including CPR and First Aid certs, CPUC and DMV permits, we became officially and legally ready for business on January 2, 2010. Photo Safari Yosemite LLC was born with the motto of “at the right place, at the right time”!
What was your first step in getting started? How have sites like Tours By Locals and Trip Advisor helped to grow your business?
Starting with a website and then Facebook on the internet, I approached the local tourism visitor center, hotels, lodges, B&B’s and other “partners” introducing our new business. Some of the local visitor service and hospitality providers worked out deals with customer bookings for 15% commissions. Some have offered hospitality packages with tie-ins to Photo Safari with room deals. Another was Alaskan Airlines promo package for their Vacation fliers. Over time, several on-line travel concierge sites have been linked to our business including Tours By Locals and Trip Advisor. We found that it is better to connect with the Yosemite visitor and book their excursion before they arrive!
What can a new tour guide expect to make?
In the first year, fees were intentionally set lower than other providers of “private” guide tours. This was done in order to get the name and reputation started in the market place. At the end of the year, we had done 25 paid outings and lost money (we had start-up costs of about $10,000). In 2011 the fees were doubled and more in line with what the other tours were charging and we did about 40 excursions but not enough revenue to make a profit and recover the initial investment. By 2012, we increased the fees further and promoted the “personal and private” aspects along with expanding the services of providing a e-photo album for each of the clients and ended the year with about 50 completed tours and breakeven on our cost/revenue. Since 2013 and on we have continued to market to the online channels, expanded the service to include transport the from airport along a with small group of 7 or less and site-seeing and hiking as client preferences. The fees charged have now met some price resistance and we have leveled off the fees and costs to reflect about an average of $650 per party for about an 8 hour day in the park. We ended the 2014 year with 70 paid Photo Safaris.
If there is one thing you could go back and do what would it be?
In review, my only regret was not starting the guide business sooner. I could have worked the weekends only and gotten into the market a lot sooner and today would most likely be making better income. Now that I am turning 70 next week, I am in the search for a way to capitalize on the guide business earning “passive” income. Franchising or licensing others into the National Park Photo Safari guide business is an area of business avenue under consideration at this time that might prove a win-win for me and others!
In summary, I have not only provided an income for my family, but improved my health and found a way for life fulfillment in helping others. Recently, a milestone of 250 clients was reached. With about 65% of the clients from outside the country, even though different, all have the same commonality in the language and love of photography! We are proud to share that Photo Safari has nothing less than 5 Star Trip Advisor reviews and last year received the Trip Advisor Excellence Award.
You can learn more about Pat's business at www.photosafariyosemite.com. Have you offered local guided tours? Please share your experience in the comments.