Avoiding Tour Day Disasters

There are so many ways tours can go awry. Some issues are huge; others are minor. Every last one of them is annoying.

It’s impossible to control every situation or plan for every contingency. Trying to do so would be a colossal waste of energy. However, it’s worthwhile to spend some time thinking about how you will handle various situations. Then if they do arise, you won’t be immobilized because you’ll have already figured out Plan B.

Weather Woes

You can’t control the weather, but you can work around it to some extent. It’s part of the game when you offer outdoor tours.


A sudden downpour can ruin even the best laid plans, but it isn’t the only weather condition that can cause problems. Walking around outside in the bitter cold can be utterly miserable and slippery sidewalks are dangerous. The heat isn’t much better. Keep your eye on your customers. If you need to suspend the program in the middle of the route and give everyone a refund, do it. 

If your tour runs regularly and you need to cancel, it’s not that big of a deal. If the tour is a one-time event, however, you’ll need to make some decisions. Will you reschedule? When? How will you let people know? The answers to these questions will vary depending on whether or not you take reservations. 

People You Depend On

Sometimes the people you’re depending on, the ones who promised to help you, bail out at the last minute or simply don’t show up. If it’s almost tour time, the reasons they don’t appear are irrelevant. You’ve got a tour to run. If there’s no guide, you must step in. You do have a copy of the tour script with you, don’t you? 


If you’ve invited an expert along, a professional photographer to give the group picture-taking tips or an architectural historian to point out the finer features of certain buildings, and that person doesn’t show, you’ve got a decision to make. If the expert was the main draw for the tour, you might have to cancel. But before you do, ask yourself if there’s any way to salvage the program. Do you have enough material to offer the tour on your own?

Be honest. Tell people what has happened. They have traveled to the site to participate. They may want to come along anyway. Could you give them a discount? Believe it or not, these things sometimes turn out to be more fun than they would have been if the expert had been along.

Contact everyone who is supposed to work on the tour – guides, helpers, experts, people who are opening venues and anyone else involved – two days before the event and verify they are onboard.

Self-inflicted Wounds

What if you’re the one who causes the problem?

You’re the guide. You don’t have a backup or a helper because you are a one-person operation. You wake up on tour day with the worst case of laryngitis in recorded history. Or your voice is fine but as the day goes on you realize there is no way you can be more than 3 or 4 feet from a bathroom.

You’re OK but a family member becomes ill or has an emergency of some sort. What are you going to do? This is something you need to think through. Decide how you are going to handle this sort of situation before it arises.

Traffic, Parking Problems and Detours

There is absolutely no excuse for arriving late for your own tour. Here’s how to make sure it doesn’t happen: Plan ahead!

Arrive at the tour departure point at least half an hour before the tour is scheduled to start. If people join the tour by simply walking up and paying, get there 45 minutes early. You may end up standing around killing time, but your customers will find a person waiting for them when they arrive. 


If you have to drive to the tour location, do a practice run and time it. Do it on the same day of the week, at the same time you will really be traveling. In other words, if the tour is going to be on Saturday at 2pm, don’t do a practice run on Tuesday morning.  Once you know how long it takes, double your travel time. The same rule applies if you’re walking, taking a taxi or bus.

If you are driving, figure out where you are going to park. Identify a couple of alternatives in case you encounter full lots, road closures, detours, etc. Make sure you have enough gas.                       

You arrive at the tour departure point and there are city trucks and workers all over the place. They’re pouring concrete and the sidewalks along your intended route are closed. You will have to decide whether you can still run the tour. Sometimes you have to reschedule. Other times you can figure out a way to work around the obstacle.  

Each year there is one fall evening when one of our tours is disrupted by a huge street party. We could reroute the tour to avoid the party entirely. However, that would mean eliminating the final and best stop of the tour. So at our next-to-last stop we tell our folks, “There’s a big football party going on at our next stop. There are lots of happy people and a lot of noise. So let’s talk about what we are going to see now while we can do it without yelling.”

Collateral Glitches

If you have handouts, make them in advance. Don't wait until the day of the tour or even the day before. Leave enough time to finish preparing the handouts even if the printer breaks, you run out of paper, or there is a massive power failure. 

You’re ready to start the tour and your microphone’s dead. Again, check the battery the day before or as early as you can. This applies to all electronics and battery-powered devices. If your equipment fails completely, be prepared to go on without it.


You arrive at the creepy abandoned theater. It’s the main attraction, the place everyone wants to see, the stop the whole tour is built around. Even though you’re right on schedule, the door is locked and the lights are off. Not a living soul in sight.

Variations on this theme include keys that don't work, security alarms that go off and neighbors who call the police. Make sure you and the building owner know exactly how this stop is going to work. Who is responsible for opening the venue? When will that happen? Who is responsible for closing? Who do you contact if you have a problem and how? Practice it. Go there, in the dark if your tour will be at night, and try the key. Make sure you know what you're doing in advance.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only things that go wrong on tour day. Next time we’ll look at Five More Tour Day Disasters and how to avoid them.