In this episode of TravelPreneur, we engage into the heart of New Orleans with Christopher Falvey, co-founder of Unique NOLA Tours. The focus is on crafting distinctive walking tours that transcend the ordinary. From true crime to family-friendly ghost tours, the episode explores how Unique NOLA Tours ensures each experience is not just informative but genuinely special, catering to diverse interests and age groups.
Lessons You’ll Learn:
Christopher shares valuable insights into the challenges and triumphs of establishing a niche travel business, emphasizing the importance of luxury experiences. Navigating the industry, he discusses the evolving landscape of guided tours, foreseeing opportunities for Unique NOLA Tours to provide premium, high-end services. Balancing historical accuracy with an engaging tour experience, especially in a city as rich with history as New Orleans, is presented as a key lesson in offering luxury to travelers.
About Our Guest:
Christopher Falvey, the co-founder of Unique NOLA Tours, brings a wealth of experience to the podcast, demonstrating his commitment to delivering luxury experiences. With a background in tech and a passion for New Orleans history, Christopher’s journey unfolds as he shares the unique aspects of his tour company, dedicated to offering an unmatched level of luxury and authenticity.
The episode covers a spectrum of topics, including the essence of New Orleans’ vibrant culture and how Unique NOLA Tours captures and showcases the city’s spirit through luxury experiences. Looking ahead, Christopher discusses his aspirations for the tour company, envisioning a future where Unique NOLA Tours becomes synonymous with premium, exclusive travel. For aspiring travel entrepreneurs seeking to create luxury experiences, he imparts advice on starting a niche travel business, emphasizing a focus on profitability and intentional growth within the realm of luxury travel. The podcast concludes with a recap of key insights and expressions of gratitude to Christopher for sharing his transformative journey into the world of luxury tourism.
Our Guest: Christopher Falvey- Tech Guru Turned Tour Maestro.
Christopher Falvey, co-founder of Unique NOLA Tours, is a dynamic entrepreneur known for building things from scratch. With a background in technology, Christopher initially ventured into the tech industry, where he founded a company specializing in booking software for tours and activities. His journey took a turn towards creating something uniquely his own, leading to the establishment of Unique NOLA Tours. As a seasoned professional with roots in the tech world, Christopher brings a blend of innovation and a deep appreciation for historical accuracy to the realm of guided tours in the vibrant city of New Orleans.
Passionate about offering distinctive experiences, Christopher emphasizes the importance of research in crafting historically accurate and engaging tours. His commitment to authenticity shines through in the diverse range of tours Unique NOLA offers, from true crime explorations to family-friendly ghost tours. Christopher’s approach to tour guide training underscores the significance of selecting guides who embody the local flavor, ensuring that each tour feels like a walk with a knowledgeable friend through the captivating streets of New Orleans.
Christopher’s journey, from his tech roots to becoming a key player in the travel business. His commitment to profitability from day one and focus on intentional growth provides valuable lessons for aspiring travel entrepreneurs. With a keen eye on the evolving landscape of the travel industry, Christopher shares not only the challenges and triumphs of Unique NOLA Tours but also his vision for the future, promising continued innovation and captivating experiences for travelers seeking the essence of New Orleans.
Christopher Falvey: But you really want to get into the story and the story of a crazy happening, say, 200 or 100 years ago itself is history. And it ties into history. But our true crime tour, for example, you want to really focus on the over-the-top aspects of what happened, being historically accurate with New Orleans history as it is and all the things that have happened in this town. We don’t need to make up any stories. They’re crazy enough on their own.
Megha McSwain: Welcome to Travel-Preneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist, Megha McSwain. Each episode we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel businesses if it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on Travel-Preneur. Hello, travel enthusiast, welcome back to another episode of Travel-Preneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we’re stepping into the heart of New Orleans with a fascinating guest, Christopher Falvey, co-founder of Unique NOLA Tours. Welcome, Chris.
Christopher Falvey: Hello, Megha. How’s it going?
Megha McSwain: Good. I’m not too far from you. I’m in Texas, so we’re neighbors.
Christopher Falvey: Oh. That’s perfect. We get a lot of guests from Texas. We’re very popular destination. Texas and Florida is our local groups that coming from local areas.
Megha McSwain: Right. It’s such an easy trip, driving or flying.
Christopher Falvey: And I get to Texas quite often myself.
Megha McSwain: Sure. Yeah. So Unique NOLA Tours aims to go beyond standard walking tours, and those are very popular in New Orleans. How do you and your team craft experiences that are not just informative, but truly special for your guests? Something really stand out?
Christopher Falvey: The real number one key for us is research. We spent a lot of time researching our tours to be completely historically accurate, and this even goes for, say, our ghost tours, which have a little bit more of a fun aspect to them. But they are historically accurate, and all of the stories are grounded in real stories that happened in history. So when you say you have a ghost tour, for example, when you add some really historically accurate stories on top of the ghost stories themselves, you get a complete mix in terms of an experience. Another thing is people love to have myths busted, and New Orleans is just full of a lot of myths that people have been telling for the last 300 years. So with our research and things like that, we like to give people a picture of these sorts of things are not historically accurate, or this is a myth that you hear a lot in New Orleans. And this is actually it’s more exciting how it really happened. So yeah, that’s research is number one. That’s how I approach that.
Megha McSwain: And how do you ensure each tour captures the essence of New Orleans while catering to different interests from the travelers of different age groups?
Christopher Falvey: Oh, well, what’s really important is our tour guide training and being very selective about our tour guides. We take a lot of time. If we have to train a tour guide from scratch. We spend a lot of time with them before we put them in the field. And we also look for guides that have been around for a very long time that know New Orleans, and the goal there is for our guests to feel like they’re walking with a local, and we allow our guides because they’re very seasoned and very well-trained. They don’t really follow a set script we have now. We insist on certain stories and certain stops and things like that. We let our guides decide how they want to present the tour, and because we trust them and because we’ve vetted them and know that they have a lot of local flavor on their own, it ends up with the guide giving something that they love to impart from their experiences in New Orleans. And we love when they give personal stories along with we want them to go off of book if you will. So the tour guide is everything. The stops are the stops and they’re not as interesting. If you just walk on your own and look at the buildings and see where things happened, the tour guide is everything. And they’re all locals. They’ve all been here for quite a while. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having someone new to New Orleans be a tour guide. There’s nothing wrong with that. But they have to fit that local flavor and bring some local flavor.
Megha McSwain: Right. Can you share an example or a memorable moment during one of your tours that reflects the essence of what Unique NOLA Tours offers?
Christopher Falvey: Well, I’ll stay away from some of the stories of the bachelorette parties that have gone a little sideways. We get a little bit of that, but that kind of just stays on the tour and we just moved right on that. We have a tour that goes to bar stops along the way. It’s a huge hit for Bachelor and bachelorette parties, and 90% of them are wonderful. But I will tell you, the one thing I really love is when people take a tour and then come by the store the next day and want to take one or even two more tours with us. It really shows us that people appreciate, first of all, our tours. They love the tour. That’s great, but they also appreciate the variety of tours that we offer. So we have everything from history tours like a true crime type tour and then through the ghost tours. So we have this long, wide range of types of tours. The history tours are kind of a morning type thing. The ghost tours, of course, are really great at night. People love a tour they took over late at night. A ghost tour come by and want to take a history tour, and then we become friends with these people during their stay because we have this sort of home base that they can come into the shop and make the shop very friendly. It’s a store. It sells all sorts of not really touristy stuff, but really like oddities and things like that, which is kind of separate from what we’re talking about here. But it’s a really friendly place and we want to be friends with them for the time.
Megha McSwain: What challenges, if any, have you faced in establishing Unique NOLA Tours?
Christopher Falvey: This is my first time with a seasonal business, so that’s new to me. I come from a variety of areas. I come a lot from tech. I had a company that built booking software for basically tours and activities like I do now, and then I moved on to just creating with my partner Monique, our own tour company. So the real challenge there is learning and predicting the seasons. We run 365 days a year, so it’s not like we are only open X days, like water-based activities, say in Florida, and stuff might only be open during the summer. So we run 365 days a year. But our summers are very slow. Our Octobers are crazy busy. And then there’s other little micro ups and downs. That’s been the biggest challenge for me just running the company.
Megha McSwain: How do you see the travel industry evolving, especially in the realm of guided tours?
Christopher Falvey: One of the things I’m seeing a little bit more of is people treating themselves, if you will, to private tours, and that’s something we do offer. We have most of what we do is our public tours that run every day, the same time, every day. But people are itching for an even more intimate experience. As a sidebar to that, we actually focus a lot on the intimacy, and that’s something that people have really gravitated to post-Covid, especially. So, for example, we’re allowed to take out up to 28 people on a tour per guide. That’s how the regulation is. But that’s like way too much we feel. And you know what? We would probably make more money. It’d be easier to schedule. Everything would be so much easier if we did that. But we insist on having 15 people per guide, so we will send multiple guides out in the go along the way.
But the tour itself is not going to be more than 15 people, so we charge a little bit of a premium for that because everyone else does the 28. It’s less of a cattle call. It’s less of, especially the late-night tours, trying to get across Bourbon Street and things like that, but also any of the tours, you just get a much more intimate experience. That intimacy is something that we’re seeing people really enjoy. And I think some people look to private tours and things like that during Covid. I deal with a lot of our private tours here and a lot of that is corporate. Makes sense. It’s conventions coming into town, so they’re going to want to do very large tours with 400 people, with a ton of guides, all of that good stuff. But I’m seeing more families call up and say, hey, we’d like to do a private tour just with our family or just myself, me and my spouse, or me and my partner. I’m getting a lot of that. And so we have a price point that we can do that it’s going to be more expensive than a normal tour, but you’re going to get a much different experience. So we’re seeing a lot of that in terms of people requesting that.
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Christopher Falvey: They kind of work hand in hand. New Orleans’s history is fascinating, so we know where to put what type of historical facts. So we have, for instance, a true crime tour that goes into murders and things like that that have happened throughout history. With that, we’re not going to go into a lot of United States history and how New Orleans was founded and things like that. You might touch on that a little bit, but you really want to get into the story and the story of a crazy happening, say, 200, 100 years ago itself is history. And it ties into history. But our true crime tour, for example, you want to really focus on the over-the-top aspects of what happened. Being historically accurate with New Orleans history as it is, and all the things that have happened in this town. We don’t need to make up any stories. They’re crazy enough on their own and balance that with we offer some tours in the morning like I had mentioned, that are a little bit more pure history. Those are like neighborhood tours. So the Garden District and the French Quarter, we do Garden District and French Quarter tours. We don’t necessarily call it a pure history tour, because it’s both history and also showing people a lay of the land and giving people options for things they can do while they’re here on vacation. So we call it the French Quarter tours called our Locals Guide to the French Quarter. We balance a little bit of history, but we say we don’t want to be too bookish. You have to go into history and then tell a story along with it. It can be a personal story or a story about a person that brings out the personality of that person. So people feel like the living history of the city.
Megha McSwain: And looking ahead, what are your aspirations for Unique NOLA Tours? What do you see in the future as far as continuing to offer these types of tours, but maybe even offering something different or new? Things are obviously changing constantly.
Christopher Falvey: We have some ideas at all times for new tours. The details of course, we keep under wraps, but we have like 4 or 5 potential tours that we’re always researching, so we do some basic research at the beginning and then dive deep into it. We are always trying to find new and unique things, for instance, recently we just launched a tour about medical history in New Orleans focusing on pandemics, plagues called the pestilence, pandemics, and plagues tours. It’s a history tour. It’s not kitschy like a ghost tour-type situation. So that was something that nobody is doing here. And so we try to go into some subjects and take some risks as a nimble company, taking a risk on a new tour. That’s a subject matter that nobody’s expecting. We love that we put our heart and soul into the research. For sometimes it’ll take up to a year to research it properly. Yeah, to really get it right so that we feel like we’re putting an expert voice forward. We don’t want to just throw out Wikipedia facts. We take that research very seriously. So we’re always looking for new tours, ideas. And sometimes if they don’t work and sometimes you have to balance it with just business realities of making sure you have a good, solid set of tours and don’t spread yourself too thin. But that’s where we’re going.
Megha McSwain: Cool. For individuals aspiring to start their own niche travel business, what advice or lessons that you’ve learned would you offer to them?
Christopher Falvey: I would definitely say, focus on profitability and being profitable from day one, and that’s something that even when I was in tech and running my own tech businesses, there’s an attitude that you can start with a ton of debt or spreading thin on investment money and things like that. If you’re talking about a niche travel business, find something where you can be profitable from day one. And hey, even if that means $1,000 of profit over a certain period of time, just focus on that and then grow from that. And don’t feel bad if you’re growing slowly. There’s certainly just a reality of running a business. You have to move fast, be nimble, all of that, that’s just a given. But you can grow slowly and intentionally, I would say.
Megha McSwain: Have some patience with it.
Christopher Falvey: Yeah, absolutely. Keep focus on the intention of your business. Keep profitability in mind. That way you don’t find yourself six months in, seven months in with loaded with all this debt, and then you can’t do something. That would be a really great pivot because keeping a focus on profitability, even if it’s just a little bit from day one, keeping that balance allows you to do these fun pivots to something new, for example, for us to invest in a new tour which takes some investment, not as much money, but energy.
Megha McSwain: Awesome. Well, Chris, thank you so much for sharing your journey and all that you’re doing. Let our listeners know where they can get in touch with you, where they can take a tour if they want to.
Christopher Falvey: Absolutely. So the best place to find us is online at uniquenola.com. That’s uniquenola. There you can find right there a list of all of our tours. You’ll see our location, our contact information. Of course, you can just book online, but if you need to talk to us about any questions about the city, about coming here, advice, restaurant ideas, all that good stuff we’re a phone call away for all of that as well, or private tours, things like that. But all of that’s on our website, and that’s the easiest way to get in touch with us. And when you’re in town, we have a store at 815 Toulouse Street, right off of Bourbon Street that’s open every day around 10 a.m. to around 7 or 8 p.m. when the last tours go out. So we’re always there, and that’s always a great place you can buy tours, and you can also talk to us about New Orleans in general and find some great oddities.
Megha McSwain: Cool. I definitely want to visit the store the next time. And that sounds fun.
Christopher Falvey: We’d love to have you.
Megha McSwain: Thank you so much, Chris, and to our listeners, please follow and subscribe for future episodes and leave us reviews. That helps us out a lot. Thank you so much, Chris. Take care.
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