A Chat with Kelsey Tonner, Founder of Guest Focus—How Coaching Can Help Tour Operators


December 12, 2022

5 min read
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Guest Focus, formerly Be a Better Guide, is well-known among tour and activity operators for its amazing track record of helping operators grow their businesses. 

Based in Vancouver, Canada, Guest Focus helps tour and activity entrepreneurs worldwide create, sell, and market their tours and provides coaching on delivering extraordinary service. Its coaching program for guides and tour operators supports their growth plans and transforms them into confident business owners.

Since 2015, the program has helped over 2,000 tour operators from 75+ countries grow their businesses. 

We caught up with Kelsey Tonner, the founder of Guest Focus and Be a Better Guide Project. We asked him about everything from the importance of coaching to best practices in a tour business. 

From Be a Better Guide to Guest Focus, how is your team helping tour operators sell more tours and create meaningful experiences for their guests? What do you hope to achieve with Guest Focus?

We started the Be a Better Guide Project as a way to help fill the world with more inspiring, engaging, and unforgettable experiences. Around that mission, we built a massive community of guides and tour business owners who wanted to create exceptional experiences for their guests.

With our new name Guest Focus, we are still on that same mission, but now with much more focus: Building the world’s best tour business coaching program. 

What are we hoping to achieve? Well, honestly, we feel for hard-working tour operators who feel overwhelmed, alone, and frustrated that they are not getting enough sales. It just doesn’t seem right that folks should have to figure out everything from scratch when there are so many other successful tour companies out there.

That’s why we built this tour business coaching program with a simple, step-by-step process to create, market and sell unforgettable experiences. Then we layer on coaching, on-demand training, done-for-you resources, a 1:1 accountability coach, and a supportive group of fellow operators to help you succeed.

How crucial is coaching or training in helping tour operators improve their business operations? 

Coaching and mentorship, when done well, are a massive accelerator when working towards your personal and professional goals.

Most tour business owners already have a ton of real-world smarts, drive, and tenacity, so succeeding alone is a definite possibility for most of us! But it does mean a lot of trial and error, a lot of expensive mistakes, and a lot of time wasted in analysis paralysis, self-doubt, and overwhelm.

If you’ve got an open mind and an ambition to succeed, nothing will accelerate your progress faster than a tour business coach who has already done what you want to do.

While tour and activity operators are passionate about their business, many may not have experience building a business from scratch. What advice would you give to operators who are starting out?

What is unique about our approach to building a profitable tour business is that we are guest-obsessed. Our Guest Focus FormulaTM gives you the elements you need to keep the guest experience at the heart of your tour business. This is the ‘secret sauce’ to create unforgettable experiences, attract ideal guests, and sell more tours.

So if you are just getting started, your first steps NEED to be choosing an ideal target guest and getting to know their needs, wants, frustrations, and challenges as quickly as possible. 

From there, you’ll have a strong foundation for designing, marketing, and selling your first tour!

From what you have seen from training and networking with many tourism operators, what’s the most common struggling point for tour operators?

The most common challenge we see is ‘overwhelmed.’ For most tour business owners, it seems like there are a hundred things that are all urgent, and it’s hard to know what to prioritize. We can get stuck in perfectionism, over-analysis, or just pure procrastination when we don’t know the right next steps to take.

Marketing is a constant struggle for most tour business owners. We’ve all been burned by tactics that didn’t pan out or marketing agencies that overpromised and underdeliver.

If all tour business owners needed was the latest marketing tactic to sell more tours, then the world would be overrun with wealthy tour operators! The truth is most of us have to get back to basics. To ask ourselves, do we really have a product-market fit with our tours and target customers? Are we serving our target guests and the highest possible level? And are we effectively marketing and positioning our offers in a way that resonates and converts?

You have extensive experience as a global trip leader and have worked with some of the most incredible tour leaders. What are the essential qualities that you think make for a really great tour guide?

There are too many to list—but it boils down to an ‘always be learning’ attitude and a commitment to creating unforgettable experiences for your guests. The how, the tools, and the best practices are all important, but they are nothing without a strong commitment to lifelong learning and professional excellence!

As we know, most trip planning starts with an online search, which makes online presence a crucial factor for operators. What are the things tour operators should pay attention to on their website that can improve their online presence altogether?

In the Guest Focus Coaching Program, we have a lot to say about creating compelling and high-converting sales pages. The key? The copy, content, and layout of this page should be entirely oriented around your ideal target guest.

We all need to talk more about the problems we solve for our customers and be explicit about the real-world, tangible benefits they receive by booking an experience with you.  Too many websites are focused on the operator versus speaking directly to your target guests.

To help you get better results from your website & drive more sales, here’s a complimentary copy of our Irresistible Tour Description Workbook. In this 40-page workbook, you’ll receive practical advice around the content, copy, and layout of your tour sales pages – with real-world examples from some of the most successful tour businesses on the planet.

If a tour operator has a playbook, what should be the top three strategies, according to you?

  1. Make sure that you are crystal clear on your Ideal Target Guest and take the time to ask them about their biggest frustrations and dream scenarios when visiting your destination. This will help you with your tour design, tour sales, AND tour marketing.
  2. Take the time to optimize your booking software and sales pages. An irresistible tour description will ensure you get a higher return on ALL of your marketing spending.
  3. Start by creating a handful of blog posts, PDF guides or lead magnets that help solve some of your guests’ biggest pain points. Share these on your website, across social channels, and in some of your first paid ad campaigns. Show up, be helpful and deliver value (entertain, inspire or educate) wherever your ideal target guests are ALREADY spending their time and attention. By delivering value first, you’re much more likely to build the trust and rapport needed to sell your tours. 

Finally, how can Zaui customers learn more about Guest Focus Tour Business Coaching Programs? 

You can learn more and come say hi at guestfocus.com. We also offer free 45-minute strategy calls with one of our tour business coaches. We’ll go through your goals, explore the challenges you’re facing, and ideally come away with 2-3 quick wins. It’s a great place to start and a quick way to meet some of our coaches. Click here to grab a free coaching call.


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