Have you ever wondered about the role of the narrator in movies? It’s often the one with the low, soothing voice. Aside from being captivating, a narrator is much like the voice behind a self-guided tour.
Similar to narration, a self-guided audio tour takes travelers through unchartered territory, sharing essential bits of information to help guide the audience through a story.
A long time ago — well, maybe not that long but before COVID-19 impacted travel so profoundly, self-guided tours weren’t exactly trending. They may have included awkward or bulky headsets or seldom received updates.
Previously, the consensus around audio tours is that they were underwhelming. Put simply, they did little to entice travelers seeking a memorable experience. Plus, how can you replace the charm, energy and excitement of a real-life guide?
Times have changed and self-guided tours are enjoying their turn in the spotlight. And as a tour operator, you can benefit immensely from offering various touring options to your guests.
We’ll walk through some of the reasons why you should consider creating a self-guided tour of your own and how to make it happen.
What is a self-guided tour
As a tour operator, you know that people value having flexibility in their travel plans. Self-guided tours are audio-descriptive, location-specific tours that highlight elements of a specific location.
Guests can access and purchase self-guided walking tours through websites or scan a QR code with their phone with details of a specific route or tour type.
Self-guided tours are a little different from solo travel without a plan where travellers are “winging it”. They are usually attached to a timeframe, location or specific idea. Some examples include:
- Self-guided bicycle tours
- Architecture and local city art
- Brewery tours and local watering holes
A major perk for travelers is being able to explore at their own pace, while still remaining independent but not alone in their discovery.
Imagine how guests with mobility limitations or those travelling with young children explore a new area. Depending on the pace and activities involved, they might not feel like they’ll be able to keep up or feel welcome as part of a more extensive tour.
Aside from attracting your go-to tour clientele, self-guided tours can open up an entirely new market rife with travelers from around the world. Developing a self-guided audio tour can be free and plenty of fun, especially if you already have a few goals in mind.
Why invest in a self-guided walking tour
Arguably, a benefit of self-guided tours is how they’re no longer dependent on a minimum amount of guests. Providing many of the same benefits as a live tour guide, audio tours offer the perks of guided travel without concerns regarding proximity to fellow travelers, timing and tour pacing.
Flexibility has become more of a focal point for travellers, and offering self-guided audio tours is one way of levelling the playing field. You’re not limited to a specific meeting point and timeframe, opening up the potential for selling more volume.
And, you’re not at the mercy of last-minute cancellations or variations in guest count. What could it mean to have the freedom of connecting with your guests without being restricted to doing so in person? The possibilities are limitless.
You can gauge what to include by seeing what comes to mind as you tour the area on foot. Your tours should aim to be wholesome and unhurried, making them entertaining and informative for guests.
For ideas, check out some of the existing tours on:
But how can self-guided tours rival in-person guides? Audio tours can deliver an engaging experience to guests with an entertaining and relaxed environment, even laying the groundwork for inspiring future guests to consider an in-person visit in the future.
So, we’re going to walk through some of the steps to help you get started on creating a self-guided tour in your area of expertise.
How to create a self-guided tour
1. Research, research, research
Providing eager travellers with a tool designed to maximize their experience adds value to their trip. But before you can deliver something that captivates their attention, you need to know who your contenders are.
And to put you in the best position to create something attractive and unique to your audience, you’ll want to explore what other tour operators have already created. Naturally, when deciding on a type of self-guided walking tour, focus on drawing upon your own experience and area of expertise.
Starting with a cohort of possibilities from fellow experience providers might spur your own brilliant idea.
2. Choose your tour type
Do you have a specific niche you find yourself talking about? Are you passionate about the history in a region or segment of cuisine in your part of the world?
Choose a self-guided tour type that you find fascinating and it will naturally come across in your recording.
You can offer self-guided tours specific to walking, cycling or cultural exploration, which will help narrow your target audience. They choose a time that works for their schedule and you benefit from sharing what you know as a knowledgeable local tour guide.
Here are some self-guided tour types to consider:
3. Get clear on your ideal audience
Who do you already connect with? If you offer tours targeted to a specific segment of the market, it’s natural to build on your existing connections and expertise.
Self-guided tours are ideal for travellers who appreciate building in flexibility in their plans. Audio guides tend to focus on storytelling and off-the-beaten-path topics guests can’t necessarily gleam from a guide book.
In choosing who to focus on, consider families with young children or older travellers who value a slower pace. Alternatively, can you target traveling friends who connect for a brief time in a certain location and then plan to continue on their separate travel journeys?
Your approach may be in creating a self-guided walking tour that works for everyone, but it’s often easier to niche down and design a tour type that attracts a specific segment of travelers.
And as people continue to grow familiar with using audio through podcasts, meditation apps and product guides it’s a natural progression for people seeking a guided approach to a new city.
4. Draft a script with your main focal points
You know the saying, less is more? Focus on a handful of key points through your self-guided tour.
Remember, too that there’s a balance to any script — offer up too little information and your guests may feel lost. Provide too much information at a rapid-fire pace and you’ll overwhelm listeners who may then tune you out.
Think about off-the-beaten path locations and ways of looking at a city with a new perspective. Similar to creating a real tour guide script, you may find it to be harder to ad- lib but allow your personality to shine in your recoding.
As a side note, many comedians use this approach in what’s called a set list. Designed to trigger memory of an event or spur conversation about a topic, these can be phrases or a few words that remind you of what you want to include in your script.
And, voila! Once your script is complete, find a quiet space, take a deep breath and get ready to press record.
5. Determine your recording method and location
With smartphone advancements and improved technology, a DIY-approach to creating audio tours is now much more accessible to tour operators.
When evaluating your recording options, focus on what creates the least amount of resistance in getting the ball rolling.
And, keep in mind that you’ll need some time to practice reading your script aloud and adjust as need.
In the past, older audio tours relied on hired talent and expensive production to produce a finished, sellable tour.
Thankfully, technology has made it much easier for tour operators to create and promote their own self-guided tours — and generate an income from them. The hardest part is just getting started.
6. Record in a quiet space
Capturing your audio doesn’t require hiring professionals or sourcing a podcast studio.
Ultimately a relatively quiet space will do the trick. Truly, you’d be amazed what a closet full of clothes can do for improving audio quality. All you need is a mobile phone or recording device that can capture your sound bites and save as an .mp3 file and you’re off to the races.
Can people download your audio tour from the App Store, or is it something you’ll provide over email? Choosing your end format will help narrow down your recording options as well. Plus, you can do things on the cheap to get started and improve your audio tour over time.
7. Launch your self-guided tour and adjust as needed
Alleviating some of the pressure of hosting on your own website could grant you the freedom to create a self-guided tour that’s captivating and enjoyable — and enable you to share it sooner.
Understandably, hearing first-hand from listeners who partake in the self-guided tour will help you determine whether your audio tour hits the mark. Be sure to grant yourself the grace to experiment and improve your self-guided tours as needed.
8. Decide on your price point
You can choose to provide your self-guided walking tours free of charge, and try to lead customers back to your in-person offerings or you can set a price point for your services.
Before you advertise your self-guided tour, explore what free opportunities already exist and whether the market reach is more beneficial for your end goal.
You’ll find fellow tour operators charging a range from depending on what’s involved and tour duration. Ultimately, decide on a price point that makes developing a self-guided tour feel worthwhile to you.
9. Create a customized tour map
To add value to your audio tour, you may want to provide guests with a customized tour map.
You only need an idea, location, and self-guided tour theme in mind to get started. Ie. Romantic Romania by Foot or Awe-inspiring Views of Venice by Bike.
In your self-guided custom map, be sure to include:
- Main topics
- Points of interest
- Relevant stories
- Virtual add-ons
The self-guided tour experience can be detailed or more overarching, depending on prompts you choose to include.
Taking things one step further, you can delve into virtual tours, so your self-guided tours support your virtual (paid experiences) and vice versa. Variety, they say, is the spice of life so why not embark on a mission to offer a medley of tours your audience can explore. From here, you can let your experience do the talking.
Look outside the box for travellers who might benefit from your tour type, including older adults, families and different traveller demographics.
10. Add flair!
Remember that by creating self-guided tours, you’re not looking to replace the work you do as a guide. Essentially, these audio tours act as a supporting actor or a spotlight for the in-person experiences you offer.
Fortunately, a lot can transfer over in a well-thought-out self-guided audio tour. You can still share your personal voice, favourite sights, local recommendations and expertise that all adds plenty of value. On top of your insight, you can provide guests with a digital map of where to start their experience.
Self-guided tour tech you need to know
Sure, there’s plenty of technology available to help you record and promote your self-guided tours, but you don’t have to invest a ton into creating an audio tour of your own.
Regardless of the technology you in invest in, your ultimate goal should be to create an engaging and memorable experience. And while audio tours are more arms-reach, they can be just as full of fun facts and interesting insights.
To succeed with self-guided tours, guests need to be able to access your audio with a few clicks or the scan of a QR code — similar to how many restaurant menus are displayed today. It’s relatively easy to create your own QR code and make it easy for guests to access tours digitally or on a printed brochure.
Hosting platforms are widely available, with some free versions providing the most reach, like Apple Podcasts or uploading audio to Youtube and embedding directly on your website.
There are a few sites that host the audio file for you, alleviating some of the workload. These include:
And if you’d prefer to hire someone to create an audio tour for your tour business, check out:
Your guests should have no trouble accessing, downloading and playing your self-guided walking tour — ideally with the option to download and listen offline to save on data.
Just like you would with an in-person tour, focus on creating a fantastic user experience first.
Create opportunities for you guests to connect with your tour brand and keep your storytelling skills sharp. Creating a self-guided walking tour increase ways for future customers to get to know your brand, helping to cast a wider net, and reach new audience segments.
It can even be the basis for a themed evening at home, including cuisine from an area, menus, and activities aligned with the local culture. However you decide to showcase your self-guided tour, you may start to see tour guiding through a new lens.