How to Start a Local Tour Business [Interview with a Tour Operator]

As you could noticed in our article about top travel trends, offering a unique experience is important for today’s travelers. With a local knowledge and well-informed tour guides, interested in their location, there is a good chance that your business will succeed.

Yet, there are many other challenges you have to think of when starting a tour business.

We are happy to share with you, our first one-on-one interview. We talked with Roy Håkon Friskilæ, the photographer, founder and tour operator from Norway. Roy is founder and tour operator at Kirkenes Astrocamp in Norway. And, here is his perspective on starting an Aurora Borealis Tour. Also, what are the challenges and benefits of starting one.

Read the whole interview here:

1. What motivated you to start the Aurora Borealis Tours in your city?

I am a professional northern light photographer from Kirkenes in Norway. People reached me to guide them during their stay in Kirkesen since I had a local knowledge. Finally, I decided to start my tour business, Kirkenes Astrocamp.

“The idea behind this is to keep it simple.”

Offer private tours instead of mass tourism. I like it that way. Also, the tourists like that I keep low prices and still satisfy their interests.

start a tour business

Aurora Borealis Tour Business, Photo credit Roy Håkon Friskilæ

2. What type of experiences do you offer to your customers?

I offer Watching the polar lights tours, also called The northern lights (Aurora Borealis). Some of my customers want privacy, too. That is why they can choose to stay in my home. The alternative is to stay at the hotel in Kirkenes. And, I pick them up at the hotel.

It depends on the weather whether we’ll get to see the Aurora Borealis or not. So, I inform my customers about the perfect time to watch that natural phenomenon. If it is too cloudy, it is better to wait for few hours or to go the next day. Finally, this is a natural phenomenon, so I can’t always promise the Aurora  Borealis will show up. The statistics say it shows up 8 of 10 nights on a clear sky. So, the phenomenon is pretty common.

When we are on the tour we take photos at different places in Sør-Varanger county. The nearest city is Kirkenes. It is on the border with Russia. And, it is popular to go this far north. The Norway road ends there. We drive to the end of the road at Grense Jakobselv. This usually happens in Autumn before the road closes in the winter. Also, we often drive to different places where we can see the lights near the sea, mountain tops or the pine tree forest.

Furthermore, I help my customers with their photos. For example, I show them how to use the right settings, the angle of the lens and calibration of the photo equipment. The tour costs 500 Kroner. If they want accommodation in my house, this costs 800 Kr per night. Usually, I pick up my customers at the airport and make them a dinner.

local tours

Watching the Aurora Borealis

3. What obstacles and challenges did you have when starting a tour business? What is your biggest challenge now?

First, I had to explain the idea to the bank. The idea was to build a glass house where customers could sleep and watch Aurora  Borealis. Since I have been alone in starting this tour business. I had to convince my bank that it is possible to fulfill their goals. The fact that I am a well-known photographer was not enough. They kept asking if I would do partnerships with other companies. But I refused. As a result, I didn’t get any help from the bank. So, I had to skip the plan to offer customers a glass building.

Also, another challenge was that I had issues how to connect with the serious travel agency. I connected with two “serious” travel agencies. And, I thought everything was ok until no customer has ever shown up. I struggled. Now, I use Airbnb and more customers are contacting me.

4. Who are your target customers and how do you reach them (age, gender, what countries)?

I reach my customers by using the Instagram, Society6 and my Facebook page. For people who are searching for the exact area, I use Airbnb. I had customers from USA, Taiwan, China, and Canada, too. The most of my customers are single men and women between 30 and 40 years old.

5. How can tour and activity businesses take an advantage of the internet to increase bookings?

I am already well known in Norway because of northern light photography. So, I only had to spread the word about starting a tour business, the Aurora  Borealis tour. I have knowledge of using different online platforms and movie production. And, this skill helps me increase the number of customers.

6. What role has social media played in your marketing strategy? What channels do you use and how frequently?

“Without social media, my tour business would never work well.”

For me, social media presence is necessary to survive and attract new customers. I hope to reach a serious travel agency in the future who would make my social media presence stronger. That way more customers who are using the social media would hear about my tours. I use Instagram and Facebook for promotion. I try to post at least once a week. Sometimes I even manage to post once a day. Especially, when it’s an Aurora season, from September to April.

how to start local tours

How to start a local tour

7. Are you using any online booking software? What are the benefits of using one?

I just started my tour business, but it is in my business strategy to use an online booking software. There are many benefits of using one. Also, I want for customer’s to find me easily, connect and even pay for the tour and accommodation at the same time. So, it’s the perfect solution for both, customers and me. I would rather want to use an online booking software than sitting in front of the PC all day. I can offer everything my tour includes using the online booking software. And, that way I save time and money.

8. Any advice to share with other tour and activity providers about the tourism business?

The best advice I can give is to never promise your customers more than you can offer. If you have a company that offers polar light tours, never promise seeing it every time. It is a natural phenomenon and sometimes it does not show up.

“Always be honest.”

If it is snowy, tell your customers to save money for the next day for better chances to see the Aurora Borealis. Be a good example for all tour business in your area. And, a good reputation always pays off.

Hope you find this interview with Roy inspiring enough to start your own tour or expand the current ones! In conclusion, to attract more new customers and sell more tours you have to go online. Thus, online platforms and sources raise awareness but if you include booking button on your website there are better chances for selling your tours.

Also, many thanks to Roy for sharing his experience with us. We wish him all the best with Aurora Borealis tours!

If you have any questions or comments, especially about online booking and online promotion of your local tours, feel free to contact us or share it right here!
Finally, share the article with your colleagues and friends who’d find it useful!


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