The Rise of the Walking Tour

Because of COVID-19, travel came to an almost complete standstill in early 2020 as Americans sheltered in place. As travel bans begin to lift, many travelers are itching to get out from the walls they have been surrounded by for months. The urge to travel has been stronger than ever. However, without an end to COVID-19 in sight, many travelers are re-thinking the traditions of family vacation activities. Enter the walking tour.

While some walking tours are group-based, more cities are offering variations on these tours, including investing in technology for self-guided tours, answering a need for travelers who are curious about a city, but more interested in avoiding crowded public spaces.

Just as spring peeked around the corner and spring break travel plans were finalized, the nationwide lockdown began. Suddenly hotels, vacation rentals, resorts and state parks all over the country shut down or had a greatly reduced capacity. Would-be travelers canceled plans and opted to stay home.

After a month and a half in lockdown, travelers were ready to escape. Many beach locations in Texas and Florida were the first to see a rebound in hotel occupancy (as well as crowded beaches) over Memorial Day weekend. After more cases of COVID-19 appeared following one weekend, travelers began to evaluate their travel, looking for experiences that offered more personal space, such as the walking tour.

When looking at more traditional outdoor activities, hiking the nation’s beautiful parks immediately springs to mind. During the pandemic, the national parks were closed. Many are just beginning to reopen in a careful, phased approach. However, in addition to breathtaking views of the natural landscape, many urban exploration tours have emerged and have risen to be extremely popular with visitors.

One example of a unique tour is Nashville Sites. Nashville Sites is a collection of self-guided thematic tours that take the visitor through various historic sites in Music City. The device-friendly tours are free (and ad-free) and perfect for groups or individuals. They are also family-friendly and pet-friendly.

“The beauty of these tours is that it gives guests the opportunity to have the experience they want to have,” explains Mary Ellen Pethel, executive director of Nashville Sites. “Guests can tour at their own pace, stop and re-listen to a tour to absorb the content, and even rest in some of the locations and take in the history. The tours offer an excellent balance of immersion with historic and modern content.” During the lockdown, Nashville Sites had a surge of visitors to the site because they quickly adapted their model and created a virtual tour that could be taken from the safety of a guest’s home.

Some of the more popular tours include Women’s Sufferage, Music Row, and the Food Tour (a collection of historic restaurants and their significance in Nashville).

On the subject of food, many cities offer food tours through local restaurants which afford guests the opportunity to visit locally-owned restaurants and bars and support small businesses. The popular tour Walk Eat Nashville has been supporting locally-owned restaurants for years, adding new tours as more restaurants open. While affected by COVID-19, the tours are re-opening June 24 and already have great interest. This tour is available as a public tour, but they have also shifted the model to offer private tours for those who wish to enjoy the tour with fewer people.

While the country is coming out of quarantine and travelers are beginning to venture out, many are looking at alternative options for how they spend their time away. Travelers are opting to drive instead of spending time in crowded airports. Some are looking for vacation rentals with kitchens, allowing them to cook and limit time with others. Finally, many are looking for family-friendly or solo activities that will allow them to enjoy the heritage of a new town or city while staying aware of their proximity to others. Walking tours have become an excellent answer for the curious traveler.

Janet Kurtz—President & CEO, Kurtz Hospitality Marketing

As a twenty-two year veteran of sales, marketing, and public relations, Janet has built a lot of revenue. Beginning at a small historic home as her first “big girl” job to cutting her teeth in sales at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, TN and ultimately creating an illustrious career as the Director of Sales & Marketing at The Hermitage Hotel for thirteen years, the market has changed significantly.

Since starting the agency, Janet has helped her clients increase revenues as much as 60 percent year over year. She has used industry knowledge, nimbleness, and an overall results-oriented approach to gaining revenue for her clients.

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