A Freelancing Gig to Consider: Tour Bus Operator


This is way different than being a tour guide for a company. While most operators do engage with riders and love showing off the best parts of their city, this requires a small investment, as well as accountability.  You also have to know how to think on your feet.  

In my area, there are quite a few independent tour bus operators.  Los Angeles is so wide and diverse that there's room for just about everyone.  While a good majority focus on traditional Hollywood, others have success working with niche themes.

For instance, the area where I grew up has multiple locations where many urban films were made. Some of these are in high-crime sections of L.A. and not for the TMZ tour bus crowd.  Operator "Bill" has some interesting feedback to share.

Bill: I do this as a weekend thing to supplement my income as a government worker.  The cost of living is getting more costlier every day (laughs), so I'd rather be my own boss than work for someone else.  That was a couple of years ago.

Years ago, me and some out-of-town guests went on a tour bus trip around the city but their focus was on old school stuff. Like that time on I Love Lucy when she grabbed the fruit from that actor's home.  Anyway, I got to thinking about those movies and TV shows from the 1990s, when Black and Brown life movies were crossing over into the mainstream.

Me: So what was the investment like, what was the ballpark figure?

Bill: Renting a 20-seater every weekend runs me about $400 a month.  Then there are city fees, insurance, and maintenance. Now, some people I know do a bootleg version where they may use their own large-capacity vehicle and pay nothing to the local or state government.  Some been doing it for years but I like to remain legit, even if I take a loss some weekends.

We went on to discuss more stuff like dealing with unruly clients, working with vendors, and how to market services.  Here's the summarized list - 

1. Extroverts can thrive in this business because clients are going to have questions about the places they're going to see.  If your customer engagement skills are shaky, you may want to pass or hire someone who doesn't mind a lot of talking.

2. Find a theme that hasn't been covered.  If a person lives in an area with several points of interest, they should find a way to market their services to local travel agencies, nearby restaurants, and other places that will benefit from cross-promotion.

3. Although tour operators generally aren't required to perform first aid, having a certification that's renewed regularly can certainly pay off. The same goes for CPR certification.

4. While some do a cash business, using an app like Stripe or PayPal reduces the risk of theft.

While not mandatory, joining a group like the U.S. Tour Operators Association can open up new opportunities. The advantages of this service are that it saves the tourist from having to drive around in unfamiliar territory, reduces airborne pollutants, and allows people to get acquainted in a fun environment.