When Greg Price, one of my best mates from Sydney, quit a lucrative investment banking career to start a backpacker tour business in his home state of Tasmania, I like many thought he was crazy.
But by following his dreams, in just a few years Greg has built Jump Tours into one of the leading backpacker tour brands in Australia, evidenced by being named as a finalist in the 2009 Golden Backpack Awards.
So I I thought it was time to ask Greg to step out from behind the drivers seat and share with us how he has built the Jump Tours brand.
What is Jump Tours all about?
Jump is about approaching the traditional tour in a different way, keeping things relaxed without unnecessary rules and letting backpackers, budget travellers and students see Tasmania in a small group setting that feels more like taking a roadtrip with your mates.
How did Jump Tours get started?
I first came up with the concept of Jump Tours while backpacking in Europe. I went on a Contiki tour which I thought was a bit contrived, with a tour manager who was a bit too school teacher like.
I had the feeling I could come up with something less corporate and more fun,that could fill a niche in the market in my home state of Tasmania.
Where did the name “Jump Tours” come from?
On the first “test” tour we stopped at the Henty Dunes on Tassie’s West Coast and had the idea to not only jump off the dunes, but record the evidence on camera.
This started a tradition of capturing the increasingly ambitious jumping exploits of our customers that continues today.
When it came time for a short, catchy and memorable name, “Jump” seemed like the natural choice.
Who is your main target market?
18-35 year old international backpackers and students with an adventurous spirit, who want to see more of Australia than just the standard piss-up spots between Cairns and Sydney.
We get a high proportion of solo travellers and about 75% of our customers are female.
How is Jump Tours different from other tour companies?
I’m in the same age range as our target market and so are the people who work for me, so we’ve got an insight into their wants and needs that our competitors can’t match.
I like people to feel like it really is their tour, to have a sense of ownership through simple things like being guest DJ (we let them plug in their iPods and pump up the tunes), signing the bus at the end of the tour and of course, aiming to get the best Jump photo!
As far as product is concerned, our offerings are unique in that they are self-catering tours, a feature that’s not only popular with customers, it has also simplified our operations, kept costs down and allowed us to give our customers more bang for their backpacking buck than any other company in our market.
How do people usually find out about Jump Tours?
How do you go about marketing Jump Tours, and what method has proved the most effective?
When it comes to the overall brand, we go for a cheeky approach and aren’t afraid to poke fun at those sections of the industry that fall into the standard tourism clichés!
I give a 100% rock solid guarantee that no Jump guide will ever wear khaki or utter the words “now if you look to your left…”
I’ve aimed to create an atmosphere where customers feel like we’re all mates taking a road trip together. I guess this philosophy has driven how all of our marketing material has developed, everything from the website to the DL brochures to the signage on the buses.
In a broader sense, tourism marketing is always a balancing act between going direct to the customer and commission based distribution.
For small operators like Jump, travel agents and visitor information centres offer excellent retail exposure in key backpacker destinations that we couldn’t possibly replicate ourselves.
I take the time to meet the people on the ground face to face, streamline booking procedures (the less time it takes to book with us, the more sales they can be pursuing) supply quality marketing material and set competitive commissions.
The goal is that when someone walks in the door and says Tasmania, the agent says Jump Tours.
Once that customer has booked through the agent, gone on tour and had a great time, they tend to tell friends who then book directly with us, so that expensive looking commission can actually end up being better value than it first appears.
What hasn’t worked?
We dabbled with Facebook Ads and liked the finely targeted marketing that it is capable of delivering. The only problem was that it generated lots of hits but zero bookings.
We’ve also had a 1/8th page print ad in TNT magazine over the past six months but I’ve pulled the pin on it. In all that time I only got one customer who mentioned it as something that prompted his booking.
How is Jump Tours using Social Media such as Facebook and Twitter?
The real value of these platforms for us is the user-generated content.
I’ve set up a Facebook group called “Tassie is Jumping” where past customers can join and post their best pics to share with others and stay in touch – it’s incredibly valuable in the technology embracing market in which we compete.
While I can see the potential in Twitter I don’t think we’ve reached a critical mass there yet. Anecdotally it seems that backpackers are less likely to be involved with Twitter than their desk bound mates back home but I’m sure that will change rapidly.
Increasingly, these sorts of sites are what your average traveller turns to when they don’t know anyone who’s been to the place they’re interested in, but don’t want to go in blind.
Their reviews and opinions are newer and generally more relevant than those provided in guidebooks, because they’re written by actual people like you and I!
This makes them of critical importance to businesses small and large – piss off the tech savvy customer at your peril.
Word of mouth will always be the best marketing money can’t buy and the only way to get it is to always strive for quality and ensure the customer has the best time possible!
Jump Tours was recently were included in the new Australian Lonely Planet guidebook. Has this effected sales yet?
I only found out that we’d been listed because people told me that’s how they found out about Jump, and the effect was almost immediate.
There will be a bit of a lead time because obviously not everyone has the latest edition but I certainly expect it to help us in the medium term.
A significant positive is that it has increased the proportion of bookings we get from people before they leave their own country and this had been an area of weakness for us.
You were a finalist in the 2009 Golden Backpack Awards for Best Activity/Tour Tasmania. What does this mean for your business?
It means a great deal.
In an extroverted industry like backpacker tourism you need to grab every opportunity to build your profile and awards like this really assist with that (probably more within the industry than with the actual customers though!).
To potential customers, things like the finalist logo give us legitimacy as a professional operator and could mean the difference between them hesitating or hitting the BOOK NOW button!
It also focuses the minds of staff – they’ve got something to aim for (especially as I’ve promised the mother of all parties if we do a David & Goliath and manage to take home the trophy).
You have a pretty active online presence, and customers can book via your website. What is the percentage of online bookings versus other methods such as via Information Centres?
Between 25-50% of customers book directly with us, most of them online.
It’s very important to make it as easy as possible for the customer to purchase online, so we’re currently overhauling the system to offer availability and confirmed bookings in real-time.
What’s next for Jump Tours?
I’m always looking for opportunities such as those that attracted me to Tasmania in the first place – underrated destinations with a lack of affordable tour options for the budget traveller.
Expansion interstate and/or overseas is an option I’d like to explore one day.
In the immediate future we’re taking the leap into accommodation with the purchase of a holiday house for use by our tour groups on Tasmania’s west coast.
Depending on how that goes, maybe we’ll try and leverage the brand into backpacker hostels!
Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to set up their own tour company?
Work in tourism for someone else first, learn the ropes and get a feel for the industry.
Take time finding your niche and designing a product that offers something newer or better than what’s already on offer.
You need to be sociable, tolerant and have a sense of humour – enjoy what you’re doing and your customers will too!
Never compete solely on price.
Nurture relationships with hostels, agents and information centres – tourism is an industry where there can be many gatekeepers between you and the customer and they can be the difference between a tour that pays the bills and one that doesn’t.
Finally, the younger your target market is, the more important it is to have a sophisticated online presence and this includes a strong focus on social media.