President and owner of Grand View Tour & Travel Denise Hay has spent the past 42 years building a tour business that prioritizes and understands travelers’ needs throughout every part of the group-travel experience. Based in Ocean View, Delaware, Hay discusses her pivot into wellness travel during the pandemic and how the company prioritizes clients’ needs across the spectrum. She also shares her seasoned advice to aspiring tour operators.
“My advice is to keep reinventing yourself, even after you’ve been around for 42 years,” Hay says.
Q. Tell us about Grand View Tour & Travel?
A. We’re a Delaware-based, family-owned small business that got its start back in 1980. We specialize in group travel, and actually, we began with student tours. From there, we expanded into operating senior citizen group tours, and eventually became a travel agency back when you needed to have an International Certificate of Competency license to do so.
Q. What are some of your most popular tours?
A. One of our most popular tours right now is in Nashville, which includes attending the CMA Awards. It’s a really popular tour, and we find our groups love going to Nashville. Last year, we did a Nashville country Christmas tour, which was a huge hit. This year, everybody is really excited about going back to Nashville, but this time to see the CMAs.
Our Nashville tours have a lot of unique touches. For example, we always include a local songwriter to do a private night of performance with the group. We always have some great group meals, and we do a lot of fun things, like going to Historic RCA Studio B to record our own song. After, we’ll head to dinner followed by the Wildhorse Saloon where guests get to hear their “big hit” that they made at the studio.
We really keep it fun, and our tours are most often geared toward active adults. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people have been itching to get out and go explore—and we help them do just that.
Q. What sets your company apart from other tour operators?
A. I think the tour business as a whole, especially the smaller tour operators, really do get to know their clients. A lot of our clients become our friends through the years. We have long-standing relationships with our clients, which is something I am really happy about and what sets Grand View Tour & Travel apart for our returning travelers.
We also bring in a lot of technology on our tours. We have our own customized app that provides specific information for each trip that our travelers take with us. We’re noticing that a lot of people want to be hands-free and travel without paper and documents, which we are able to accommodate thanks to the technology we use. However, if people want to have paper while they are traveling, we can accommodate that, too.
Q. What’s on the horizon for Grand View Tour & Travel?
A. Blending wellness and travel is something I’ve really started to focus on. I love helping people improve their health and wellness, so they can actually live their best life and travel at their fullest potential. When COVID-19 struck, I ended up becoming a certified health coach in my spare time. A lot of my clients decided to start working with me through my newfound health coaching business. While we were locked
down, I helped people prepare to travel again when they were able to. I created a Facebook page called “Travel Light” that shares recipes, health tips, and travel-related advice. My goal now is to continue to build a health-focused business to help more people achieve their health goals before they travel.
There have been so many times when people who haven’t even walked around their own block try to go on a trip. When they arrive for the tour and start traveling with us, their legs are completely swollen, they need ice (often when we’re in a country that doesn’t have any ice available), and they’re in a bad place to continue experiencing the destination that we’re in.
I always tell my clients that now is the time to get in shape. We can make it fun. And, ultimately, I can help them age backward. I help them literally reverse [age], so they are able to travel without aches and pains and with the proper endurance. When travelers are healthy, it’s a completely different experience. That stress of needing to “keep up” is relieved. They are not nervous about walking through an airport or going on a walking tour. I have people who I’ve worked with who have lost upward of 80 to 100 pounds. After they’ve accomplished their health goals, they’re more free and excited to travel again.
Q. What marketing advice do you have to share?
A. We use social media all the time. Sometimes we do live Facebook chats because people like to follow and watch right as experiences are happening. The way I think about social media is not necessarily paying for sponsored ads. Instead, it’s being consistently present on social media, so you’re able to continue to engage people year-round. We also set up private Facebook groups to communicate with travelers and share prompts to start conversations for each specific tour. This gets people really excited and engaged early on. They’re able to ask questions, meet other travelers who will be on their tour, and start to look forward to the trip before it even happens.
Aside from staying active on social media, we always have our tour brochures ready to go at a moment’s notice. People are moving fast, and they want information as quickly as possible. We also provide our brochures and information in any format and delivery method as needed, whether that’s straight to their email, in a text message, or discussing it over the phone.
Q. What advice would you give to someone starting out in the tour-planning field?
A. Travel is a great industry, but in order to survive, tour operators must find their niche. I think they must have a laser focus on what it is they’re going to be offering and find that niche early on. I also think tour planners shouldn’t compare themselves to other tour operators or try to mimic another tour company’s business. People also have to embrace technology across the board—whether that’s having a digital option to tip a driver or using text messaging apps to stay in touch with individuals on a trip. Taking advantage of technology is integral to any tour operator’s success.
Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A. So, 42 years, right? I’ve been in the business for that long, and I work with people today who weren’t even born when I started my business. It’s amazing to think of the millions of miles we’ve helped thousands and thousands of people travel across the world. We like to believe that Grand View Tour & Travel has made a difference in all of our clients’ lives. From opening up travelers’ eyes to sparking something in them that they’ve always wanted to do, see, or be—I think travel has the power to do just that. It brings me great satisfaction and happiness to know we’re making a lifelong difference through our travel experiences.
Written by Erica Zazo
Main Image: Grand View Tour & Travel group accompanied by Denise Hay; Credit: Grand View Tour & Travel