In all the work I’ve done, one of my absolute favorite things is creating guide conferences.
If you’ve never been to one, that’s because they’re rare outside of the few offered by various tour guide associations.
It was rare and very lucky that I was able to run annual guide conferences for the company I worked for at the time, purely for the sake of helping guides expand their skillset and learn from one another. Connecting guides across countries and regions is magical as we have both so much in common, but also so much to share with each other.
So when my friends from Trip School called up to say they were working on a virtual guide conference with the Guide Association of New York City, would I want to get involved…I immediately jumped on board with a thousand ideas for sessions.*
Instead of just posting a link, I really wanted to break down what this conference is, and which sessions I’m most looking forward to. At the bottom of this article, I’ll list the full schedule.
*Yes, this is a paid conference but 100% of the tickets go towards this event, and GANYC (to support future events like this). Everyone behind the scenes is graciously volunteering. So this isn’t an #ad, I just genuinely think it’s worth attending.
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What goes into making a Guide Conference?
How you create a guide conference is to think about what will actually bring guides value.
What is information that is hard for them to access? What questions do they not know to ask? What other skills should guides be developing outside of the obvious ones?
For this conference especially we asked ourselves, what skills do guides need to adapt to thrive in the post-COVID travel industry?
Who is this conference for?
All guides (docents, tour directors, trekking guides, biking guides, solopreneurs, free-lancers, etc.)
Also all tour operators (there’s a recruitment day if you’re interested in meeting guides OR you can simply sign up to take in the information, it might give you some ideas on training for your guide team.
What is the point of the conference?
To help any guide (no matter their experience) upskill and professionalize themselves.
Let’s take advantage of this downtime no one asked for! The tours and activities landscape is changing and there are more and more opportunities for guides to make their own work and find their own customers.
This conference will cover everything from the business end (‘how to market yourself as a tour guide’, ‘monetizing your skills beyond tours’) to how to continue to improve your skills and impact through your work (‘guides as a force for change’, ‘virtual tours 2.0: how to compete in a world with live tours’, ‘designing fresh, immersive tours, and keeping them that way’).
When is it?
Educational Days- May 10 & 11 (10am-4pm EST*)
Recruitment Day- May 14
Each evening that week, we’ve put together some virtual tour recommendations so you can see what other guides are up to in the virtual space (tours are free but tipping is encouraged).
*As this conference is being put together by the Guide Association of New York City, the schedule is NYC timezone-friendly, however, all sessions will be recorded so you can still catch them if you’re on the other side of the world.
The Full Schedule:
Note- sometimes there are two sessions running at the same time- if you want to catch both, all sessions are recorded so you can watch one live and one later on. All times are in EST (NYC time).
MONDAY MAY 10
10:00 AM Keynote by Evita Turquoise Robinson***
Creator of the Nomadness Travel Tribe, AUDACITY fest, Contributing Editor of CondeNast Traveler Magazine, and listed as National Geographic’s 21 Most Visionary Women Throughout Travel History, Evita Turquoise Robinson is one of the most inspiring and accomplished woman I’ve ever met. Full stop.
11:00 AM Beyond the Next Tour: Build a Business Plan for Long-Term Success
Speakers: Anne von Osterhausen, Komal Darira- Women for World
Business Plans are something everyone knows they should have, but no one wants to sit down to do. In this workshop we’ll make business plans more user-friendly, breaking them down in a way that shows exactly why each element is so important, and how setting up a proper business is vital for being successful next month, next year, or five years from now.
Your takeaway: Understand exactly what needs to be in your Business Plan and how to set it up for success.
11:00 AM Guides as a Force for Change: Understanding Your Impact from Storytelling to Water Bottles and Everything in Between (I’ll be moderating this one!)
Speakers: Cindy Vandenbosch- Turnstile Tours, Aisha Shaibu- Moonlight Experiences, Sofia Godoy- Etnica Travel
As tourism rebounds across the globe, now is the perfect time to reconsider how your tours impact your clients, your destination (i.e. culture, local economy, under-exposed communities), and the environment. This session will focus on Responsible Tourism, and will define the small ways that we as guides can ensure that our tours have a positive impact on our communities.
Your takeaway: Better understand the complex world of Responsible Tourism and have a list of specific things you can change on your tours to make a big impact on both your clients and on how tourism affects your city.
12:00 PM Are You a Brand? Building Your Social Media Presence***
Speaker: Jessie Festa- Jessie on a Journey
As a tour guide, you are your own brand. If you’ve ever wondered how to market yourself more effectively or how to communicate what makes your tours unique, this is the session for you. Longtime blogger and tour guide Jessie Festa from Jessie on a Journey will share her tips for creating a brand and how it’s made a difference in bookings.
Your takeaway: Understand your unique selling point and how to market that through social media.
2:00 PM Designing Fresh, Immersive Tours, and Keeping Them That Way
Speakers: Kamau Ware- Black Gotham, Seth Kamil- Big Onion, Tim Dolan- Broadway Up Close
How do you design great tours? And how do you keep them fresh and current after months and years of leading the same tours? In this session, leading NYC tour operators will share their tips on how to create amazing, immersive tours, how they regularly keep their tours updated, how they find ways to innovate, and the payoff they see from that effort.
Your takeaway: Have a plan for how you can do regular maintenance on your tours that will keep them fresh and exciting (for both the client AND you). Also, tips on making tours immersive and memorable.
2:00 PM Platforms for Success: Identify the Proper Booking Software and Utilize All the Tools They Offer
Speakers: Christian Watts- Magpie Travel, Janice Sousa- Indie Travel
Whether you are a guide just starting to offer your own tours, a veteran guide looking for more out of your booking platform, or somewhere in between, this session will give you the inside scoop on working with booking software: How to pick the right one for your tour business, what features they offer, and tips on how to use your booking software to maximize bookings, repeat customers and reviews.
Your takeaway: How to select the best Booking Software for your touring needs, and a better understanding of how to maximize your Booking Software to make your business more efficient and profitable.
TUESDAY MAY 11
10:00 AM Welcome & Coffee with the Guide Association of New York City
11:00 AM A Website Makeover and Why It Matters: A Case Study
As important as your tour website is, it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In this case study, we paired a veteran GANYC guide in need of a website reboot with a professional web designer to outline what elements go into an effective, contemporary website in order to attract and retain clients.
Your takeaway: A list of elements that every website should have, and ideas for finding and working with web designers
11:00 AM Passive Income Streams: Monetizing Your Skills Beyond the Tour***
Speakers: Ariel Viera- The Urbanist, Danielle Desir- The Thought Card Podcast/ WOC Podcasters, Patrick Von Roosendaal- BENY
If COVID-19 has taught tour guides one lesson, it’s that tourism can be very fragile (and for most of us it has always been seasonal). It has never been more vital to be able to translate your tour-guiding skills into other streams of passive income. This session features 3 veteran content creators who will discuss how to monetize your skills in other areas, such as blogs, book writing, podcasts, and other areas, and how this can improve your tour business as well.
Even the busiest tour guide works seasonally, have you thought about other ways to make income by using your tour guiding skills? In this session, three content creators will explain passive income streams.
Your takeaway: New ideas on how to monetize your tour-guiding skills.
12:00 PM From Large Groups to Luxury: How to Price your Tour Correctly***
Speakers: Ruddy Harootian- Ruddy Was Here & TBA
Price for the customers you want, price for the perceived value of your tours, price competitively, price with OTAs in mind…There’s a lot of advice and formulas out there for how to price your tours. Our panel will conduct a deep dive into how to price myriad types of tours, from public walking tours to groups, to private luxury tours, discuss successful pricing strategies, and what missteps to try to avoid.
Your takeaway: Clear methods and best practices for how to price your tours.
2:00 PM Virtual Tours 2.0: New Technologies, Opportunities, and Challenges, plus How to Compete in a World with In-Person Tours
Speakers: Corey Schneider- New York Adventure Club, Akila McConnell- Unexpected Atlanta, Alex Brainbridge- Autoura, Alice Shindelar- VR Director & Editor
Virtual Tours offered a lifeline for many tour guides during the pandemic, and appear here to stay in some form, even as we return to in-person touring. So how do you make your virtual tours as good as can be, so good that they can compete with — and complement your own — in-person experiences? This panel features companies that have enjoyed great success with virtual tours, and plan to keep them a part of their regular lineup, as well as professional storytellers from the digital world who are experts at creating content for the virtual space.
Your takeaway: Fresh and practical ideas on how to perfect, optimize, and sell your virtual tours, and where the virtual tour space is headed vis a vis in-person experiences.
2:00 PM Marketing for Tour Guides: Identifying and Targeting Your Ideal Clients***
Speakers: Anette Nielsen- Kielo Digital, Esther Calvino- Blend , Marica Brewster- The Von Mack Agency
Marketing – the word sends chills down the spines of most tour guides. How do I market myself and my tours? How much time should I devote to marketing? How much will it cost to do it right? In this session, 3 experts who specialize in marketing tours and activities will discuss the principles of marketing, offer examples for what’s worked well in the tourism industry, and answer any questions.
To reach an audience, you must market yourself. But what does that exactly mean? And is it possible to achieve without a budget? In this session, three marketing experts who specialize in tours & activities will explain the principles of marketing, offer examples for what’s worked well in the tourism industry and answer any of your questions.
Your takeaway: Have a clear idea of which platforms you want to be on and how you can best utilize them to increase your bookings.
***Sessions I’m really excited to catch.
FRIDAY MAY 14- RECRUITMENT DAY
When you sign up, you’ll be instructed on how to complete your full Guide Profile where you can put your bio, interests, licenses, languages, etc.
Just before the conference, we’ll open these profiles up to participating tour operators, attractions, DMCs, and OTAs who will be able to filter through profiles and schedule appointments with you directly (if you’re intersted).
You can also attend group sessions scheduled during the day to learn more about the recruiters or reach out to companies in our Exhibitor Hall.