Walk this way
Norfolk Tour Co. switches to online tours amid COVID-19 crisis.
Virginia Business virtually sat down with Joshua Weinstein, founder of Norfolk Tour Co., which provides public and private tour services in downtown Norfolk and surrounding areas. This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with Virginians about how their work lives and businesses have changed during the pandemic.
Weinstein: As you can imagine, tourism and travel were probably some of the earliest industries hit by this thing. Springtime business for Norfolk Tour Company has essentially evaporated. Our business relies on groups of people getting together, so it’s hard to pivot the real-life product that we offer. But we decided to pivot toward virtual experiences. A couple of weeks ago we launched a four-part series called “Virtually Historic,” which is hosted by me. We do these through Facebook Live.
The first one was on a history of the epidemic in Hampton Roads in general, and how local governments and businesses responded. The second one was a virtual walking tour that had samples of stops that you’d be going to in downtown Norfolk, the Freemason neighborhood and the Ghent neighborhood. I had a screen behind me with images, and at the end of the tour we provided everyone with a map with the information I discussed so they could go out and give themselves a tour while we can’t.
Weinstein: We had a pretty good turnout. People were enthusiastic and had a lot of questions. Part of the fun of Facebook Live is for people to engage, so I always encourage people’s questions and comments. We’re also selling gift cards for the tour company, so that’s one way we can generate some revenue.
Weinstein: We specialize in walking tours, bus tours and lectures, and we also hire out guides. Our experience is focused on the history and art of the region. We specialize in Norfolk, but we do tours in Virginia Beach and on the Peninsula as well. We offer walking tours of neighborhoods, itineraries that we create for large groups of retirees that come to the area and guides for motorcoach groups that want a guide. We were just about to launch food and drink tours this season, but then we’ve kind of put on hold. We also provide all of the Neon District tours for Downtown Norfolk Council. We are contracted by them to administer those, which are free to the public in downtown. We have a pretty healthy public tour schedule to put out there, but it’s all on hold. Our bread and butter is private group tours, but we do a lot of public tours as well.
Weinstein: As little as possible. We have so much that we have on hold now. We don’t want to jump the gun. There’s really no easy answer for that. There’s just a lot of lost revenue and lost business that just can’t be rescheduled, that’s just evaporated.
Weinstein: We’re trying to stay in the forefront of people’s minds by doing these virtual programs and reminding people what we do. Because everything that we do is put on hold. We’re remaining in constant contact with our partners about scheduling. And in terms of marketing, I personally haven’t thought that far ahead because a lot of things that have been put on hold, even the start date and in question. Marketing something when you don’t know when it can start is difficult. Coronavirus is just throwing a wrench in everything.
We’ll probably have to wait until all of this stuff is completely cleared and people are ready and comfortable to be in groups again. Until then, I’m more focused on trying to salvage the tour company because it’s only our second full year and we had a really great outlook for the year. This spring put the damper on that. We’re just trying to remain flexible and relevant, and in business.
Weinstein: I’m a little guy in the tourism industry and if I’m hurting, the big guys are hurting too. If the tourism industry is hurting, that trickles down and that means it’s hurting everyone else. All the restaurants, all the performance centers, all the creatives, all the service workers. I would just encourage people to — to the extent to which they can — support people with their wallet that they do so virtually over the phone, through delivery, however they can. A lot of businesses aren’t going make it through this. I think that now is the time to really support your neighbors.
I’m pretty new. I’ve only been in it a couple of years. I just know that it’s really hit us hard. I’m trying to provide content that keeps people engaged and entertained, partially as a public service because it’s crazy being stuck in your house. But also to hopefully generate some revenue and be there when people are ready to go on tours again.