Weekend bus tours: starting a business

You won’t earn mountains of gold on weekend bus tours, at least at first, but as a way of additional income on a hobby, this niche looks quite tempting.Weekend bus tours are a great solution for those who want to change the scenery and unwind after a hard week at work. It is in such trips over relatively short distances that the advantages of tourist buses are revealed in comparison with other modes of transport – you can get to the cherished place faster than by train, and cheaper than by plane. At the same time, a trip by bus will allow you not to be distracted by driving a car and gain strength for the upcoming vacation, calmly taking a nap in a comfortable chair of a tourist liner.

And how are things going in terms of organizing such a business? For many entrepreneurs, the organization of weekend bus tours has become a kind of continuation of a hobby, which eventually grew into a business. For example, lovers of skiing who have noticed beautiful slopes and cozy hotels gather a company of friends and acquaintances, they recommend them after a trip in their circle of friends – and away we go … Similarly, there are bus tours of historical and protected places, and even extreme tours in not the safest places – just remember about trips to Pripyat with former stalkers.Positive emotions from what you love is always good. However, we propose a more systematic approach to the issue of opening a business on weekend tours in order to understand – is it really worth the candle? Will the numerous efforts to organize the trip pay off in the end, and if you can make money on it, then what is the approximate order of numbers? How to open a business on bus tours step by step? Let’s figure it out together in our today’s material.

Tour organization and target audience selection

Last summer I had a chance to go on excursions in the capital of the Don Cossacks – the city of Starocherkassk. To be honest, the impressions are twofold – in general, the place is colorful and undoubtedly deserves a detailed study, but the organization of the tour is frankly lame. There is a trip on the ship, but because of the frankly low level of organization and the motley public drinking alcohol, I regretted not going by car. 

This also applies to bus tours – it is extremely important with a large number of clients to correctly plan the boarding and accommodation of passengers, as well as determine the target audience so that everyone is comfortable on the way. It is better to focus on a specific target group, not mixing students, family people and pensioners in one trip.

What unites all three categories of vacationers is the desire to get decent comfort during the trip, which means that it will be necessary to take care of comfortable and modern buses that will take customers to their destination. 

Many experts agree that buying your own buses for weekend tours for cash or leasing is far from the most profitable solution.

The thing is that, like any technique, buses must constantly be in motion, bringing in money. Any downtime is fraught with the fact that the business will work to zero, or even drive the entrepreneur into debt. 

The specificity of bus tours is such that the business has a rather pronounced seasonality. The peak period is summer trips to the sea and winter trips to the mountains, while in the autumn months buses will be idle without work. That is why, for organizing weekend tours, it is best to conclude agreements with passenger transport companies, for which this type of activity will be auxiliary, and not the main one. 

Another plus of renting buses compared to buying lies on the surface. If you buy a bus for driving on country roads, it should be relatively comfortable and fresh so as not to let you down somewhere far from the service. The price tag for such equipment will bite, even if you buy some kind of “Chinese”. For example, the running model of a bus from the Celestial Empire is the Higer KLQ, a kind of modern, fairly reliable and at the same time affordable “tourist” service. But its price tag of 8 million rubles will pay off only if every day you make flights of 1000 kilometers.

Hotels, food, guides – we think through everything to the smallest detail

However, the solution to the problem of intercity passenger delivery is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Hotel. The most important thing is to find the best place for tourists to settle. The hotel should be suitable for the needs of the target audience – for example, it makes no sense for skiing and snowboarding lovers to settle far from the cable car with a lift. And vice versa – older couples who are fond of walking in picturesque places will probably prefer a hotel away from a lively party.

Entrepreneurs who have succeeded in organizing weekend bus tours are advised to start with small groups – this will make it easier to solve the occupancy issue. You can start with tours for 10-15 people, choosing a small and comfortable hotel for their needs. In any case, when booking several rooms at once, you can agree on discounts from the hotel – especially if it is a small private business and you negotiate directly with the hotel owners. In the future, with constant cooperation, the amount of the discount on accommodation may increase.

Cafe partnership. Similarly, you can enter into partnership agreements with local cafes and restaurants, especially if hotels do not provide 3 meals a day. Commissions for referred customers will also replenish the revenue treasury. 

Guide. You can act as a guide by the organizers themselves, having become well accustomed to local attractions, or you can agree on a partnership with local guides who probably know the area better.

Legal aspects of business

Some, starting a business on bus tours, ask questions – isn’t licensing required for such an activity as the provision of tourist services? We answer – it is really required, but as often happens in Russia, there are some loopholes in the current legislation that knowledgeable entrepreneurs use in this niche. 

The fact is that “tourist activity” and “excursion activity” are slightly different things from the point of view of government agencies. The first option is subject to licensing, the second is not. In fairness, we note that according to the rules, a trip is considered a trip, the duration of which does not exceed 24 hours. However, there are still such areas of activity as “provision of information services”, or simply “field event”. So in this regard, everyone can interpret the wording as he pleases.

However, if you want to work completely “in the white” and reach a higher turnover, nothing prevents you from developing a tour and launching it through official sales through a tour operator. The latter will probably already have a license, which will avoid unnecessary questions from the inspection authorities. You will receive an official sales channel, even if you lose part of the profit by sharing it with the operator.

As for business registration, in any case, you will need to open your IP , indicating the following activity codes according to the OKVED classifier:

  • 79.1 Activities of travel agencies and tour operators.
  • 79.9 Other booking services and related activities.

In the second paragraph, there is a subsection that best suits the business format we need:

  • 79.90.21. Activities for the provision of excursion tourism services.

Sales and Marketing

  • Social network. Social networks can become the best option for online promotion of weekend tours. According to entrepreneurs from this area, well-promoted groups in social networks can generate up to 30-40% of tour occupancy. For successful promotion, it is better to hire a specialist in this field – freelancers in the field of SMM now charge relatively inexpensively for their services, about 5-7 thousand rubles a month. The budget for advertising in social networks can also be modest at first – a post in a thematic group costs an average of 300 rubles to 2,000 rubles. Groups with similar interests (active recreation, trips around the region) and thematic groups of cities and regions from where you recruit tourists work best.
  • Contextual advertising. But you will have to invest much more in the context – and therefore it is quite possible that this type of promotion should be reserved in the initial stages. It’s all about the high cost of clicks and impressions in that niche associated with great competition from large and medium-sized travel agencies.
  • Partnership with travel agencies. However, this moment can be turned to your advantage by agreeing with travel agencies on partnership. They will be able to supply you with customers, and they themselves will earn their commissions on bus tours. The main thing is to ensure the fullness of the tour.
  • Partnership with health centers. Good results can be achieved through cooperation with various yoga centers and health centers that can act as your representatives when communicating with clients. Among such communities, there is a fairly high percentage of potential customers who will be interested in weekend tours.
  • Website. Of course, to promote your bus tours and present key benefits, your own website will come in handy. It can be a regular one-page landing page, the purpose of which is to convert a lead into an application as quickly as possible. However, some make the site large and colorful by adding sections such as their own blog, photo reports from events and trips, etc. All this attracts customers very much and will help tip the scales in favor of your company when choosing a tour.

Many aspiring entrepreneurs are wondering – for what period of time is it better to start promoting a tour? If this is a “shorty”, as some call it, that is, a weekend trip, then, as a rule, promotion begins 2 months in advance. If the tour is long enough (a week or more) and expensive, it must be advertised early – 4-5 months in advance.

The total budget for advertising on the network will be quite small – about 10 thousand per month. Of this amount, about half is the cost of the context (more, we repeat, it makes no sense to invest due to the great competition from travel agencies). 

Payment for tours: money in the morning, chairs in the evening?

When concluding bus transfer contracts and booking hotels, your business partners will most likely require an advance payment, and this is normal for this type of business. As a rule, an amount of 30 to 50 percent of the cost of the entire service is paid. 

However, these costs do not necessarily fall on your shoulders. Experienced participants in the travel business recommend taking an advance payment from customers in the amount of about half the cost of the tour. In this way, you will immediately kill two birds with one stone – you will minimize investments in the business at the initial stage and probe the demand for the tour. If customers are really interested in the trip, they will be happy to reserve their seats by paying in advance.

To motivate customers to pay in advance for tours in advance, you can offer discounts for early bookings, as large tour operators do. Yes, discounts will “eat up” your profits, but they will allow you not to freeze your funds, but to use them, for example, to promote another tour.

We minimize risks

Any aspiring entrepreneur, no matter how enthusiastic he is in organizing bus tours, can fail. Due to what “the first pancake can come out lumpy”? First of all, due to the lack of clients for tours – this will lead to the fact that even filling the groups by 30-50 percent, you will eventually work to zero or even go into the red. 

How to avoid these risks?

  • Attractive price level. It is necessary to monitor the prices for such tours from competitors – prices should not significantly exceed market prices, and if you are a young company and have not yet made a name for yourself in the market, it makes sense to set prices even slightly lower than most. Yes, this will reduce income, but it will avoid a fiasco at the end of the entire project as a whole.
  • Discounts. A promotion for students from the category “bring a friend – got a discount” will work well. This format will motivate young people to bring as many of their acquaintances and friends to the tour as possible. 
  • Hot Tickets. Finally, if all of the above does not help, and you see that already in the last days before the start of the tour there is still a shortage – do not despair, arrange a “hot ticket sale”. Here, again, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, acting on the principle of major players in the tourism industry. Yes, the profit will be less in the end, but a little is better than nothing. A good discount will give a kick to stalled sales and allow you to close empty seats in the last days and even hours before the trip.

Financial indicators

So, what kind of profit should a novice entrepreneur expect when launching weekend bus tours? Let’s calculate costs and benefits.

Study trip along the route in order to select the best partners (hotels, guides, etc.): 10,000 rubles

Advertising company (social networks, context to a minimum): 10,000 rubles per month. Total 20,000 rubles for 2 months of promoting the tour on the network.Revenue from a tour for 20 people with an average ticket price of 12,000 rubles: 240,000 rubles.