When Brian Tomaine posted a candid appraisal of his fledgling business—and a plea for help—on Engage, NTA’s online community, he was guessing his colleagues might respond.
He guessed right.
Tomaine, the owner of Selden, New York-based Bella Italia Tours, had taken the steps he believed were needed for his new business: research, incorporation, insurance, certification and website development. But he still needed one thing: customers.
“I feel like I’ve done everything right,” he wrote in his mid-April post. “People tell me the website looks good, and it gets hundreds of hits per week, so people are obviously looking. I think my pricing is in line with other operators offering similar products, and I think the itineraries are what people want.”
Tomaine speculated that a lack of reviews was to blame, and he closed his post by asking for advice from more experienced colleagues.
Within a few hours, Tomaine received words of encouragement from Sarna Rose, president of Poland Culinary Vacations.
“If you have the love and passion for [travel] and lots of patience and determination, you’ll make it!” Rose wrote, detailing her own challenges in selling foodie tours in Poland. “Be patient and build relationships within the industry, like with NTA, and over time your business will grow.”
Theresa Nemetz of Milwaukee Food & City Tours also responded, centering her advice on Tomaine’s website.
“Look at your Google Analytics … you might see some trends and be able to figure out what to tweak on your website,” she wrote, suggesting that Tomaine might also add a more “Google-able” domain name. “People are more likely to Google something like, ‘guided tours to Italy,’ so maybe guidedtourstoitaly.com is more effective.
You can purchase a domain like that and then just 401-direct it to your current site.”
When I saw Brian’s sincere appeal for help, I thought maybe I could help him. It did cross my mind that I was reaching out to a competitor and offering specific details about our company’s strategies, but I’m a Golden Rule-karma kinda guy—and I’ve been in Brian’s shoes—so I wanted to help. —Tommy Harpster, Adventures to Tuscany
When contacted by Courier, Nemetz said, “In recent years I’ve been focused on integrating technology to drive sales, so I wanted to share my observations about SEO, Google Analytics, etc. I’ve relied on the advice of mentors as I have built and grown my company, so it’s only natural that I jump into the conversation.”
Taunya Wolfe Finn, owner of Wolfe Adventures & Tours, suggested working with NTA operators. “Reach out to other TOs; they may have travelers that want to go to Italy … and offer a commission to them—and to travel agents,” she wrote, adding that Tomaine could attend NTA events as a seller and offer guaranteed departures to Italy to tour operators, who can resell the tour to their FIT clients and gain a commission.
Offers of help and support also came from other longtime NTA operators: Jay Smith, Mark Hoffmann and John McGlade.
Even Tomaine’s direct competitors reached out.
“When I saw Brian’s sincere appeal for help, I thought maybe I could help him,” Tommy Harpster of Adventures to Tuscany told Courier. “It did cross my mind that I was reaching out to a competitor and offering specific details about our company’s strategies, but I’m a Golden Rule-karma kinda guy—and I’ve been in Brian’s shoes—so I wanted to help.”
Harpster’s advice included making the most of a marketing budget that, compared to the “big guys,” is small.
“Develop your marketing and advertising plan and put it on paper,” he wrote on Engage. “Pick one avenue, build that specific audience and be consistent with it!” Harpster also recommended specificity for tour product, advising Tomaine to identify a niche and provide customized amenities, activities and services.
Brian needed help, and I saw myself in that situation when I started my own business. I believe that we are a community and we should support each other. This is what NTA is for. —Aldo Caronia, Michelangelo International Travel
“I joined NTA to give my operation a little more professionalism, validity and integrity, and in trying to help Brian, maybe we all prosper,” he said. “I’m sure there will be the day that I’m the one asking for help.”
Advice from another direct competitor focused on operations.
“Do not try to do it all yourself,” wrote Aldo Caronia of Michelangelo International Travel. “Focus on selling … and hire a local company to handle your contracts with suppliers and the operation of your tours. You may have the best tour in the world, but if you don’t spend at least 90% of your time selling it ... the business will never take off. Especially at the beginning, sales come first.”
Asked why he would share his personal recipe for success with a competitor, Caronia said, “Brian needed help, and I saw myself in that situation when I started my own business. I believe that we are a community and we should support each other. This is what NTA is for.”
For his part, Tomaine is overwhelmed by the flood of advice and support.
“I got so many great ideas, I haven’t been able to digest them all yet. Some folks even reached out via telephone,” he told Courier. “I will definitely put this advice to good use and will attend Travel Exchange in Fort Worth. This has really inspired me.”
To read the entire thread of advice for Tomaine, go to engage.ntaonline.com and under BROWSE at the top of the page, choose “Discussion Posts.”