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How to Build a Slow Travel Business Tips and advice for tour operators

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We recently invited Richard G. Edwards (CMO, UnTours) and Alice Ford (adventure filmmaker and entrepreneur) as guests on our Business of Slow Travel webinar — part of our ongoing Slow Travel Network series.

Our community asked a lot of questions, and got a lot of great answers! How do you create a slow travel business? What destinations are best for slow travel? Who is a slow traveler? What are the advantages of the business model? We set out to answer these questions with the help of our experts.

Here’s a summary of the discussion containing key points and actionable insights to help you implement slow travel into your own business model. You can also watch the full webinar replay at the end of the article.

Gallery image 0 Richard and Alice were guests on our Slow Travel Network webinar, moderated by Lucía Prieto.

Table of contents

  1. What is Slow Travel?
  2. What are the components of the Slow Travel business model?
  3. Who is the Slow Traveler?
  4. Tips for applying Slow Travel in your business
  5. Can you apply Slow Travel in any destination?
  6. How does transport fit into the Slow Travel model?
  7. Adding value as a Slow Travel business
  8. Wrapping Up: The Slow Travel business mindset

👉 Got questions? Ask our experts and the community in the comments below.

What is Slow Travel?

We asked the panel for their definitions of slow travel. Is “slow travel” really a thing?

Richard: It’s all about slowER travel – slowing down and taking a little bit or a lot more time to be in a place. When we talk about slow travel, what we mean is to just slow down and be in whatever destination you’re in, take a few breaths, look around, be a part of it, figure out who’s living there, figure out the history, and understand where you are.

For so long travel has been about how many things you can see and how fast you can see them. One reason we started the Slow Travel Network is to get away from thinking that travel is just about ticking off boxes.

UnTours, a pioneer of slow travel, started as the first B-Corp, set up the model of slow travel in the 1970s — staying in one place, not packing/repacking.

Alice: Responsible, sustainable travel also goes hand in hand with slow travel. A key component of slow travel is being mindful of your surroundings — where you’re staying, what kind of activities you’re doing and how your footsteps are affecting the place that you’re in. If you happen to be in a very cultural rural place – getting to know the people that are there, the local culture, the local cuisine.

Richard: From the business point of view, it all comes down to:

  • lowering your negative impact
  • improving the positive impact on communities
  • improving the customer travel experience
  • improving your margin by creating unique experiences that other people can’t replicate
  • improving your businesses bottom line

There isn’t a perfect definition, or one true definition of slow travel. Slow travel combines a number of concepts — so it’s helpful to look at existing slow travel businesses to see the concept in practice.

What are the components of the Slow Travel business model?

We asked how the slow travel business model can benefit tour operators.

Alice: A key component is putting people and local community in the heart of your business. There are many good ways to incorporate slow travel – include local home stays, or even camping or glamping that allows people to really interact with other locals. Include experiences involving history, culture, learning about local gastronomy, and companies that are giving back to the local economy.

Richard: It’s about creating deeper relationships with the suppliers that you’re using. Accommodation owners would rather have five, six or seven night reservations than one night. You’re going to have a higher priority with those suppliers because you’re sending them more business.

Creating better, deeper relationships with that particular accommodation owner also means that every supplier that that accommodation owner is involved with – the local restaurants or experience provider – is also going to be part of your business. That makes your client more important to those suppliers. It allows them to give them more attention. That just changes the whole dynamic of how everyone involved is working with that traveler.

Who is the Slow Traveler?

We asked the panel if there’s a particular kind of “slow travel” customer. What are their demographics?

Richard: Women are the decision-makers when it comes to booking a slow trip at UnTours. We’re not doing anything specific to talk to women only but they are the ones getting in touch and being proactive about the trip booking process.

Slow travel is great for families with kids as well. When you’re on vacation, you don’t want to always pack and unpack, especially with kids. Staying in one place longer is way more comfortable.

Alice: A large percentage of people over 55 are slow travelers. They’re more inclined to not have to move around, change a lot of hotels. They are more interested in learning about history and culture and having those actual deeper connections to the local community.

On the flipside, there’s also younger travelers who are into slow travel for different reasons. There’s also a huge share of travelers in the 20 to 35 age range that are more like budget travelers which can be also considered slow traveling because that fits their budget better.

Slow travel is for people that have more of an interest in having that personal connection when they travel rather than the luxury experience. I think the more money you have, the less likely you are to slow travel so I do think it’s more of a median income or money saving personality trait that makes you want to slow travel more.

Tips for applying Slow Travel in your business

We asked the panel for their tips for businesses that are trying to move to the slow travel niche.

Richard: It’s all about slowing down those itineraries to bring more value to a place. Use your sales ability and offer to your customers: “hey slow down a little bit instead, stay a little longer”. Incorporate a lot of the things/experiences where your clients become more valuable to that place, they’re able to see more of it. At some point, your clients progress and will find out that slowing down is really a better way to go.

Incorporating local experiences helps to create relationships with local suppliers. Your sales point as a tour operator becomes more than just finding different accommodations for your clients. The value you bring to the table is more important by helping people connect more with the place.

Work with DMOs. They’re much more excited about having a company with clients who are staying longer in their place and are more invested with you as a business. You might get financial, marketing support, local connections.

Alice: Buy more things locally and work with other local suppliers. Not only will this help you build better connections with the other local businesses in your area and support your own community but that will show to your customers that you are a mindful business.

There are benefits of promoting other experiences and places in your community, and working with certified organisations such as B Corp and 1% for the Planet. Add them on your own website or channels – it allows people to stay longer and appreciate the place more, as well as see where your values stand.

Look into B-corp certification. If you are a tour company, accommodation owner, this is a great way to show your commitment to sustainability and the ways you’re giving back to the community. It opens a lot of doors and gives access to many useful resources.

Can you apply Slow Travel in any destination?

We asked if Slow Tourism can be applied to destinations with mass tourism (e.g. Paris).

The panel agreed it’s all about slower travel and more mindful choices – what you’re choosing to do in that destination, where you’re choosing to stay and eat, your travel decisions and contributions.

Alice: You can’t always travel slowly all the time, but you can be more mindful. Rural and nature-first areas are great indications of slow travel destinations. But big cities can also be great places for that type of travel.

Trekking and backpacking long-distances are also examples of slow tourism. Depending on the trail, you can find local accommodation, resources and you also meet many people along the way.

Richard: You can spend a week or two in a cute little neighborhood in Paris away from the popular places, get to know the local shops and cafes, connect with the people and contribute more in that sense.

Slowing down and trying to make a contribution to the local economy can be done almost everywhere.

How does transport fit into the Slow Travel model?

We asked the panel about the role of transportation in the slow travel business model.

Richard: In terms of sustainability impact, flights are always going to be on top of the list. Slow travel has an opportunity to offset the negative impact from the aviation industry. With a slow travel mindset, you can decide to go on one big flight and stay more in one place, than having 4-5 day vacations several times a year. Maybe you’re having one or two vacations that are longer so that’s really eliminating a lot of CO2. That’s already one decision that is lowering your overall aviation footprint. You can be creative with how you’re getting around, there are a lot more lower impact ways than 60 people on a big bus tour.

Large cruise ships can’t squeeze into the definition of slow travel, but small cruises can. Hurtigruten are refitting their ships to be amazingly sustainable. When you’re on those small ships you’re able to go into either a port and not completely take over a community, or you’re not even going into a port. That can be really low impact if managed correctly.

Alice: Take a look at Byway Travel that helps you book train travel and is all about flight-free travel.

Adding value as a Slow Travel business

What’s the added value of tour operators in the slow travel business?

Richard: There’s been an evolution of information about traveling. First, there wasn’t enough information on the internet about destinations and experiences so that kept travel businesses in business. Now, it’s become really easy to find information – but there’s too much information so it’s hard to sort through everything.

The role of the tourism sector is offering our expertise, vetting the products and building that trust with the client that you’re giving them the best options, or at least giving them the correct information about the options.

This information helps you as a travel business to separate yourself from someone having to do it themselves – many travelers are looking for that. That’s what our business is based on.

Wrapping Up: The Slow Travel business mindset

Richard: The Slow Travel business mindset consists of small adjustments that we, as a tourism industry, can make together. It’s in our hands to be more mindful of how to benefit communities, slowing down, and helping our customers have a better understanding of the places they visit.

Watch the full interview

If you enjoyed this article and want to hear more, see our full interview with Richard and Alice below.

A big thanks to Richard G. Edwards and Alice Ford for sharing their knowledge and expertise!

Also thanks to our moderator Lucia Prieto from IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) and MEET Network, our producer Maria Stoyanova, and everyone who tuned in to participate during the LIVE show.

👉 Join the Slow Travel Network to stay updated with upcoming events and member opportunities.

Recommend this?
3 Reviews 5/5


Founder, One Horizon Africa

I think the article is excellent. Not sure about the name though. But this is the first really serious article that we have seen on the concepts espoused here. We at One Horizon Africa have built our entire business around these concepts for over 20 years. But our frustration has always been itineraries that we see clients have that are exhausting, incredibly environmental catastrophes but which maximize income for agents. So well done and do hope we can contribute to this debate in the future

7 months ago
CMO, UnTours & UnTours Foundation

Thanks for the feedback, Colin. Much appreciated. What would you change the title to instead?

7 months ago
Founder, One Horizon Africa

Hi Richard -please don't take that as a criticism. But I think the word 'slow' has some inherent negative connotations. I understood what you were trying to say in that people can take the time to have an experience that is really enriching (rather than rushing from destination to destination) as is currently the norm. My clients (who are predominately over 55's) tend to be those that have, been there...done that) but now want to really get to know and understand the people and communities they are visiting. And I think that sentiment is equally communicated by the young adventure type travellers as well. So, whilst I don't have a word at the moment - perhaps a phrase can capture that essence is something that needs a bit of attention. We have struggled with it ourselves. But I really applaud the intent of what you are doing and hope you 'nail it'. I will stay in touch

7 months ago
CMO, UnTours & UnTours Foundation

Hi Colin - zero offense taken. It’s the same reaction I had for years. As we approached the brand refresh, if you will, of UnTours, I searched high and low and mediating on the conundrum myself to find a more compelling alternative. In the end, though, it really is about slowing down. And the stark contrast between the word and meaning, set against the visions of buzzing around at full speed at the mere mention of Travel, is having the desired effect. We’re getting people to consider their surroundings more closely, and more importantly, their impact on those surroundings.
I’m not a fan of all the travel terms out there at all, believe me!

7 months ago
Founder, One Horizon Africa

Well done, Richard. I totally understand where you are coming from. If I can help in any way, please let me know but you have started a great debate and that is terrific.

7 months ago
Head Chef, Travelfish Pty Ltd

Great post, and while I realize this is a tour-focused discussion, from an independent travel POV (my area), I find the following a bit problematic:

“Slow travel is for people that have more of an interest in having that personal connection when they travel rather than the luxury experience.

I think the more money you have, the less likely you are to slow travel so I do think it’s more of a median income or money saving personality trait that makes you want to slow travel more.”

The first par, I guess it depends on how you define luxury experience … stereotype warning klaxon etcetera. That said, I know that most of the people I consult with for independent travel planning have absolutely no shortage of coin, but they’re very much—I’d go as far as to say above all else—after a personal experience. That’s why they’re paying me—or some other planner.

To my mind, slow travel by definition requires more of a wealth of time than money—though a wealth of dosh as well won’t hurt. Sure you can tackle it as a state of mind, in that even if you only have 12 hours in Bangkok you can still take it slow, but more generally, many see it as a methodology across a far longer period of time.

For that, you need time to make time—which perhaps goes some way towards explaining the two age groups mentioned earlier—empty nesters verging on retirees, and pre-nesters with more flexible commitments. Or, to put it another way, I’m not convinced that people with less money have more time.

PS, Ian could you PLEASE make the text boxes on mobile bigger?! Has been a labour of procrastination writing this on my phone!

7 months ago
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How to Build a Slow Travel Business

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How to Build a Slow Travel Business was posted by Maria Stoyanova in Article , Slow Travel , Sustainability , Marketing , Tour . Updated on Nov 24, 2023 (6 months ago). How to Build a Slow Travel Business is rated 5/5 ★ by 3 members.