From Group Tours to Self-Drive

How Overland Ireland is building a whole new product line for 2021.
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"Business has basically been zero"

It’s a story now familiar to many tour and activity operators in 2020. Overland Ireland Tours has been taking inbound travelers on multi-day tours across Ireland since 2014, had a banner 2019, and big plans for 2020. But those changed quickly over a couple of weeks in March. 

“Business has basically been zero since then,” admitted Reinier Van der Maat, the company’s CEO. But that’s not keeping Van der Maat and his team from persevering, nor from making big plans for 2021. 

Getting 9 in 10 customers to leave their deposits

First, they worked with each customer to minimize the volume of refunds.

“We’re very clear in our communication that all of our deposits are non-refundable,” Van der Maat said. “From the moment we get their deposit, we always start working for them.”

 However, he acknowledged that the extraordinary circumstances meant they had to work carefully with each customer inquiry to convince them to keep their deposit with the company.  “We communicated with each client straight away, and we got a lot of emails from guests who appreciated that. Transparency is king,” he said. 

But the next challenge was even more significant: how to envisage a future for the company when there is so much uncertainty about group tours. Van der Maat’s plan: a new line of self-drive and self-guided tours. 

Serving the Self-Guided Traveler

“We always wanted to do it, but we never had time,” said Van der Maat, who’s originally from the Netherlands, spent time as a guide for Nomad Adventures in South Africa, and gave up a career in accounting to start Overland Ireland Tours. 

The primary driver for the initiative is traveler concern around group travel. The potential risk of exposure to Covid 19, said Van der Maat, doesn’t expect to run any group tours through the first half of 2021. Although they offer private versions of their group tours, the higher cost may limit potential demand, which is why the company is making a bigger bet on self-drive tours.

Van der Maat and his team worked with Chris Torres and Tourism Marketing Agency to develop the new tours’ product line concept and marketing. They will be offering their app, “Paddy, the Pocket Pilot,” which will include itineraries, hotel reservation information, and all of the local detail for each tour. 

Van der Maat acknowledges there’s still plenty of uncertainty ahead, but he’s determined to see the business through to the return of travel.

“That’s all about spreading our bets,” he said. “While others are sleeping, we can move on.”

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