At PaxFlow, the makers of your tour operator software, we’re focused on helping travel professionals automate many processes within their backend office.
However, we go beyond the use of technology as a means to help tourism professionals succeed. We’re big believers in education as a tool to help you grow your travel business. Therefore, from time to time we bring in tourism experts from around the world to help educate you, our blog readers, about various ways you can grow your tourism company.
Today, PaxFlow had the opportunity to speak with David Caporale, from Tribeca Sailing, about his family buissness & their success.
We have an exciting interview planned for you today, so without further ado, let’s jump in!
💬 Hello and thanks for joining us today to talk about your involvement in the tourism space. You work at the intersection where nature and conversation meet tourism. Can you kick off the interview by telling us what drew you towards this particular intersection? Why the focus on nature?
Who does not love being on the water? Growing up near the Great South Bay of Long Island was my happy place. Clamming, crabbing, hanging on the beach listening to the radio for the latest top hits, what a special place to grow up.
My fondest memories of boating are sailing through the State Channel by Fire Island. There you could watch the different bird’s nest just doing their thing, surrounded by seagrass and the famous Fire Island lighthouse. What a great childhood.
Forty years later getting laid-off from a corporate job and trying to work out what to do, brought me back to those memories. I decided to do something I love for employment vs. going back to the corporate world.
Finding it frustrating working for others, my girlfriend suggested I buy a boat and start my own tour company. Fast forward ten years, I have the best job in the world. Sharing my passion for sailing and working on the water with the unbelievable sights, and sounds. Most important getting to sharing these experiences with people from around the world. Tribeca Sailing has brought me back to my happy place.
💬 Can you tell us a little bit about your early days within the tourism industry? How difficult was it for you to get started and what were some of your most challenging early obstacles? How did you overcome them?
FEAR of taking my hard-earned savings to start a company and not knowing what the profit and loss would be, was my biggest concern.
My former corporate life and family upbringing supplied me with the knowledge of what do as a business owner and how to provide exceptional service.
“The second obstacle was knowing that my on-line presence would be the key to success and how best to start that process.”
The hardest part was finding a company that I could trust to build a website. Searching for an affordable web designer and finding a booking software was incredibly challenging. It took me three years to finally find a solution that met my needs. Mistakes were made early on especially on the marketing front. Asking customers how they found me on my website was key to discovering how I should focus my marketing efforts. This turned out to be the key to my success.
What I know now would have saved on unnecessary marketing missteps and costs early on.
💬 How have your challenges changed over time? What are your current biggest challenges and what are you doing to overcome them?
Two months into my business offering two-hour sailing tours of NY Harbor, I asked a guest how they found Tribeca Sailing. I discovered that they found me through Trip Advisor. I asked what that was, and they said TA was an on-line review travel site. They also told me that Tribeca Sailing had twenty five-star reviews. I then officially put my business on TA, requested reviews from my guests post experience, and sales exploded.
The latest challenges have been the dramatic increase in my operation expenses. My boat is docked at the most expensive Marina in NYC and the price goes up every year. I do not like to think about it as it makes my stomach turn. You would think with the pandemic that business would suffer. As my tour is outdoors and locals were looking to “staycation” business has fortunately and surprisingly increased.
💬 What have been some of your biggest success milestones along the way?
Having the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, on the boat for a tour has been the highlight of my career. He was kind and took the time to converse with me. We left as friends, and I have a delightful story to share with my guests about the whole experience.
The reviews and feedback on my experience have kept me going. A typical end of charter response is “I just had the most fantastic time, and this is the best thing I have done during my stay.” Then, I am asked for a picture with the guests. They depart feeling like they are part of the family. Tribeca Sailing is the number two Boat Tour in all of NYC on TA and I could not be prouder.
My boat, named Tara, has become a venue for proposals. After ten years there have been over three hundred proposals and the good news is they have all said YES! My joke is: Most people propose by the Statue of Liberty and if they ever say no, it is at least an hour back to the dock! I hope I never have to experience that possibility.
This year Tribeca Sailing is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. With continued sales growth, I am now able to hire additional captains to help with the load. My girlfriend appreciates me being home on weekends especially during the summer.
💬 In increasingly crowded markets it’s becoming a challenge for tour operators to cut through the noise and get their marketing messages heard. What strategies have you seen tour operators successfully use to cut through this noise?
Getting people to know that a small boat tour, for six people or less, is my largest struggle. Once they get on board the boat the first comment, they all make is “I did not know this was even possible.” I recently went to a meeting run by the Downtown Business Association responsible for tourism in Lower Manhattan.
They provide information including the volume of visitors and their spending habits. I asked their marketing specialist a specific question, “How do you attract people to my business who would otherwise know that the business even exists?” His answer was “If I knew the answer to that question, I’d have a bigger office.” While I still do not have the solution to that question, I continue to make sure that if someone is searching for an experience such as mine, that I have high visibility. My solution is to continually work existing traditional aspects of marketing such as reviews, SEO, and social media.
💬 I’m sure experience design plays a big role in what you do as a nature tour operator. Tell us a little bit more about how you go about designing “experience”? What are some of the most challenging parts of this process?
My secret sauce for the tour: Having a sense of humor, the ability to listen, read the room (or boat in my case) and deliver on guests needs. I used to feel pressure to show as many sights and interesting facts about the harbor as possible. Over the years, I have added material and have learned more about the ecosystems of the harbor. Most importantly, I have learned how to customize how I behave on the fly. If a guest wants to just relax, I let them be, offer to take a picture and just answer questions as necessary without over pontificating.
If people want me to perform, I have plenty of personal sea stories and tales about marriage proposals (that have been, how do you say……interesting). Guests want more facts about the quality of the Harbor and sea life. I talk from the heart and bring up personal stories to make my guests feel like they are part of a family. I know this sounds hokey, but it is especially important to me.
💬 Let’s talk a little bit more about sales and growth now. When you were first getting started, how did you go about finding your first customers? How has that process evolved over time?
During my early years I relied on my online presence, flyers, signage and attending the Tribeca Film Festival which had a local business street fair. My pricing was based on the few tour business in NY and I came in at a much lower cost to win the price war. Over the past 10 years, competition had dramatically increased. Pricing is a delicate balance between service, location, and operating costs. Over the past 10 years my pricing has increased based on what guests are willing to pay. I might not be the least expensive but for my offering and location I have found that my pricing is fair and justified. I no longer do any print work, give aways or even paid advertising. SEO is king and my primary focus.
Another major adjustment I have had with my business strategy is the change from per person ticketing to only offering private tours. Pre-pandemic with many tourists in town I felt the need for volume and priced each seat at $95. With the pandemic for safety reasons, I only offered private tours. I offer two types of ticketing options. The first is up to six people and the second is up to three people. Only the guest and their party will be on board. I was petrified that sales would decrease without the volume. Just the opposite occurred. People felt safe outdoors on the water and sales increased.
💬 Tell us a little bit more about how big of a role the internet plays in your success? What are your three biggest online organic growth channels?
Without the internet, Tribeca Sailing does not exist. Without Google, Tribeca Sailing does not exist. Nothing more to say except, Google owns me. For growth, working with the travel trade is necessary. Finding resellers who have acceptable commission rates is paramount and continuing to find ways to make social media a help and not a burden.
💬 What are your three biggest online paid channels?
Website and nothing more. When I search for activities on Google, I scroll past paid ads to the organic results as I trust them more.
💬 If you had to double down on just one growth channel (paid or organic), which would it be and why?
SEO is king. No one will find you if the maturity of your website is not optimized with keywords for organic searches.
💬 What are some of the biggest mistakes you see new tour operators make when they first enter the market? How can new tour operators avoid these mistakes in the first place?
Pricing lower to attract new business. I am now a firm believer that quality offsets price. There is a new operator in the harbor who is constantly on a tour. I have explored his website and understand his business model. There is no way his business must be barely profitable as most of the booking come through Airbnb and their commission rate is 20%. Two issues, the boat is going to wear out from overuse and profit margins are awful especially with the cost of operating any vessel in NYC.
Thank you greatly for taking the time to chat with PaxFlow’s blog readers today David. We really appreciate it. To our blog audience, if you’d like to learn more about David Caporale and the work he does, you can follow him on Instagram or visit his website here.