Local Expeditions: In Conversation with Nancy Blaine
This month, we’re interviewing women from all over the world who had started there own tour company. We had the privilege of speaking with Nancy Blaine about her experience in the travel industry. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation about Local Expeditions.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where are you from? Where do you currently live?
I just launched Local Expeditions on September 19, 2015, after a career as a textbook editor. Local Expeditions is a Brooklyn-based sharing economy business in the tourist industry. Our website allows customers to sign up for local excursions designed by true locals.
The website also offers a channel for locals to earn an income by designing their own local expedition. If you are someone who likes to show out-of-towners the more obscure locations in your city, then you would make a perfect guide for Local Expeditions. I’m an avid bicyclist and have seen some of the most amazing parts of NYC while riding. I lead a bike tour that uses CitiBikes.
What first inspired you to start your tour company? What’s your company’s mission?
I started this company because I am, firstly, someone who loves New York City but dislikes the traditional tours of New York. Although I have seen most of the standard sights (and I do believe everyone should see them once), the parts of the city that really excite me are the lesser known neighborhoods, shops, vistas and restaurants/cafes. I also started this company because, secondly, I travel a lot!
When I travel I feel frustrated by guide books, websites and concierge suggestions that are the “typical” sights. I want to know what the locals do and there are very few good channels to discover that. I also want an intimate experience—not one shared by every other tourist in the town.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in running a tour company? What are some of the highlights?
Starting any business is a challenge, but a sharing economy business has unique challenges. The first issue is that we are in the process of trying to develop both a customer base and a guide base at the same time. In order to get customers, you need good guides. In order to get guides, you need customers to make it worth their while.
I have been infinitely grateful to the current guides who have been very flexible with their time and their expectations as we are developing our customer base. The second largest issue for any sharing economy business is regulation. New York City is highly regulated and we are careful to distinguish that our guide’s are locals taking people on an expedition that they designed. This is not an official tour and we are not official tour guides (except me—the founder).
How have you spread the word about your tours?
I have a great PR team; they use social media to get the word out and they’ve made sure some articles were written about us by the local press. I’ve penned a guest post on a great blog called Culture with Travel, and I also blog on our website. We are starting an e-newsletter and some other marketing initiatives such as putting postcards in visible places tourists visit, a word of mouth campaign and a holiday gift certificate campaign.
What do you wish you knew before starting your company?
I wish I had known about all the rules and regulations regarding tours in NYC, which I find ridiculous, especially the tour guide test. I recommend doing a lot of market research and testing and especially having an excellent support system, both personally and professionally!
What are some of your company’s upcoming tours/trips?
Local Expeditions is just beginning, but we currently have several excursions designed by locals: “Citibike DUMBO” teaches you how to use the Citibike system and ride in some of the safer parts of New York. We go over the Manhattan Bridge and then walk through DUMBO and then CitiBike back over the Brooklyn Bridge—almost all protected bike paths.
We have many excursions for those who are shy of cycling. “Photographing Coney Island” is run by a professional New York City photographer.” Cathedral, Pastry and Park” is run by the same photographer and is a walking tour focusing on public art and gardens.
“The Yiddish Rialto” was designed by a theater historian and is another walking tour that examines the history of the Yiddish Theater on the Lower East Side. “Prospect Park and Park Slope Brownstones” is a walking family-friendly excursion that addresses history and architecture.
Other in the works include a holiday hotel excursion by a local flower designer who turns hotel lobbies into holiday masterpieces. This one is walking, includes wine and is temporarily through New Year’s day. Each excursion is as diverse as the local who designed it. The similarities among them are these: they are always $40; a libation is offered by the guide; you will be accompanied by 10 people maximum; 5% of each expedition is donated to a local non-profit of the guide’s choice. The rest is up to the imagination of the guide.
Are there any tips you’d give someone else considering starting a tour company?
The best part of this launch has been the enthusiasm expressed by guides and customers. The experience is truly local—in content and in
philosophy—and this has resonated deeply with everyone associated with Local Expeditions.
We hope to see this organization grow exponentially to a national audience. Our goal is to have Local Expeditions in every major city in the U.S. There is no barrier—we just need to get our name out there, and amass great guide’s with a passion for showing people their town.