Food Tourism is composed of several activities that express the history and behaviour of peoples through its gastronomic culture. One of its most popular activities is the Food Tour, also called Culinary Tour and Gastronomy Tour. In this article, we have put together several tips that are essential for you to start a food tour business.
Please keep note that any business must be legitimate and in accordance with local laws. For this, please get informed about the country legislation where you plan to set up a business.
How to start a Food Tour Business, check out our tips
1. Conduct a Market Research
Before starting any business activity, it is necessary to conduct market research. In addition to providing market trends, this research will help you to map, identify and evaluate opportunities and challenges for your business.
When conducting the market research, consider the following questions:
- Supply and Demand – Are there already any food tours in the locations you want to work in? What is the demand for this type of experience?
- Competition – How many food tours businesses are there? What are the types of tours they offer and how do they differ from each other?
- Target Audience – Who participates in these food tours? What do these people look for? What is their main motivation?
- Price – How much is this target audience willing to pay for the different types of culinary and food tours? What is the price charged by existing businesses?
2. Define which type of Food Tour to start
After analysing your market research, you may realize there are many types of gastronomic tours. These tours have different themes, costs, prices and customers.
What kind of tour do you want to set up?
In the beginning, it is important to be clear on which tour theme you want to work on, which tour model and location, the secret lies in the combination of these three variables.
See below examples of Food Tours:
- Typical Dishes;
- Street Food;
- Drinks and Cocktails;
- Traditional Sweets;
- Historic Centre;
- Indigenous Food;
- Municipal Markets;
- Immigrants Quarter;
- Food Foraging.
3. Plan the tour itinerary and finances
Planning is everything for those who want to run a business. Even though in practice things don’t always go as expected, having a plan helps you to keep decisions in line with your goals.
I want to highlight 3 items that I consider essential in planning a food tour:
Once you have decided on the theme and type of tour you will be conducting, it is time to define the itinerary. For example, let’s assume that it will be a food tour in the historic centre and with that, the tour will feature:
- Types of dishes: 2 starters, 2 main courses, 1 dessert, 3 drinks;
- Size of dishes: shared portions, individual dessert;
- Duration: 4 hours;
- Number of establishments: 5 establishments;
- Tourist sightseeing: 2 tourist spots between one establishment and another;
- Transportation: On foot / Walking tour;
- Itinerary: The meeting point is different from the endpoint.
There are many variables that you can consider to design an efficient itinerary. For example, in relation to transportation, the most practical way is to lead the tour on foot, which in turn brings other issues to be considered, for example, security, schedule, climate, number of participants, mobility and accessibility, etc.
Your food itinerary may be perfect, but tourists looking for this type of tour, want something beyond eating. They also want to know the stories and curiosities behind each recipe, seek entertainment and new learning. A complete gastronomic experience.
Build a speech that explains the gastronomic culture which the tour covers, curiosities and local tales, details of the recipes as well as the history of the people who made part and are still part of this dish. In general, make your customers have fun and feel that they are learning something new integrated with the local culture.
To put a good idea into practice, you also need good financial planning. Evaluate your operating costs and compare them with the market price. Try to understand your limits, how much you need to invest in price to cover your costs and generate a profit that makes sense to you. Always define a minimum number of participants and simulate scenarios considering their variations.
The main expenses of food tours are the cost of food and transportation (in long-distance tours). In addition, it is important to consider other costs, such as the ones related to your online presence, marketing and sales.
A tip is to work with a group of 4 to 8 people to guarantee a reasonable profit, keep the attention of the whole group during the tour and, depending on the size of the establishment, do not destabilize the flow and capacity of the place.
4. Build a solid network
Like financial planning, building and maintaining a good relationship with establishments is an ongoing task that requires dedication and commitment. During the elaboration of your itinerary, map the local establishments and go talk to the owners.
Bear in mind that to start a food tour, it is not enough to think only about where to eat. Your customers want to learn about their history, and that is why it is important to bring this perspective to the owners of the establishments. Ask them to teach you a little more about their business, the stories, curiosities, all items that should be inserted in your storyline.
If possible, take the group during less busy times and let the owner or an employee tell a little story about the place and the dishes. This exchange of experiences is always interesting and brings value to the tour.
When approaching establishments to explain the idea of the tour, do not try to negotiate any benefits in return right from the start. Prioritize connecting with the owners, implement the tour and evaluate its results. If you succeed and decide to stick with the establishment, you can work to develop these partnerships to be sustainable in the long run and positive for everyone.
5. Develop a marketing and sales strategy
To promote your food tour, you should consider some factors such as:
- your target audience and persona;
- the experience your customers share on the internet;
- recommendation from business partners (hotels, tourism agencies, etc.);
- website and social media.
All are important factors that must be worked together. First of all, you need to define who is your target audience, try to identify your personas and work on these profiles. We also know that a recommendation from the local people brings more confidence to visitors. In parallel, the internet has the great advantage of expanding its reach and focusing more on its target audience.
For sales, it is important to define how you intend to bill. It is essential to guarantee at least part of the payment in advance in order not to be harmed in case of cancellation without prior notice.
Today, many local residents use platforms like Airbnb Experience to offer guided gastronomic tours to visitors. There are also many freelance guides and tour operators who sell their tours at OTA’s (Online Travel Agencies), such as Get your guide and Viator.
If you prefer to sell online and directly to the customer, you can make sales on your own website, via PayPal or some other payment system.
6. Strengthen customer relationships
Work with feedback so you can continue to improve your business. At the end of the tour, ask your customers what they liked and disliked the most, ask for suggestions and make yourself available to listen to them even in the case of negative reviews.
It is better to have a constructive conversation with your client after the tour is over than to let him go dissatisfied without the chance to point out his reasons. If this happens, the chance of receiving negative reviews online is greater which affects the reputation of your business.
There are many strategies for maintaining a good online reputation and satisfied customers.
To close this chapter, I want to give some extra tips that can strengthen and add value to a food tour.
An example is the soft skills the guide should have, which means behavioural abilities. It includes adapting the language for the audience, the way the guide interacts with customers and gives attention to the group, the body language when telling the stories, all these skills add value to any guided tour.
When promoting your food tour, be sure to inform at least the theme and duration of the tour. Make yourself available for additional questions and make it clear if there is flexibility for vegetarian and vegan diets.