What if the secret to designing great tours and running a super successful travel business, all came down to a fairly simple recipe? One that requires a lot of hard work and grit, and definitely a lot of passion, but that technically anyone could follow?
On today’s episode, Lauren Hefferon, the founder of Ciclismo Classico, reveals the recipe she continues to follow for success. After 33 long years in her cycle tour business, Lauren is an absolute industry veteran and I am so honored to have her on the show.
She founded Ciclismo Classico way back in 1989 and was actually the first female founder of any cycle tour business. We chat about how her business has evolved over the years, and why she thinks creativity is key to designing good tours. And of course, she walks us through the recipe that she follows for a successful business.
If you’re in need of a little motivation to finally launch your own tour company, or if you just like a peek behind the curtain on how Lauren continues to grow her business, then this is the episode for you.
Starting a cycle tour business
Lauren has always been really into cycling, and she loves combining it with travel. “For me, a bicycle is the way to learn about the world”, she says. When Lauren was in high school, she started guiding trips, and when she was in college, she was learning how to be a bicycle tour instructor.
Over time Lauren kept building on her leadership and bicycle experiences until she started her own company, Ciclismo Classico. The start of her business was a really creative process because she took care of the design elements herself, and then she experimented to see what would get traction and move in that direction.
Back in the eighties, cycling was beginning to take off, but there wasn’t too much competition, so it was a great time to start this kind of business. Lauren started with a couple of trips to Tuscany, and she loved it. She really felt this is her purpose in life, something she’s good at, and that adds value to other people as well.
Originally Lauren did everything in her business by herself. She would find inexpensive, high-touch ways of building her business, and the business grew slowly but steadily. One by one, she started hiring employees, and by the end of the nineties, she had around 10 employees in the United States, plus tour guides.
Adapting to change and challenges
When Lauren originally started Ciclismo Classico over 30 years ago, the world looked very different from the way it is now. There were no cell phones or internet, and one of Lauren’s marketing strategies back in the days was giving slide show presentations at REI stores.
One of the big changes since the start of the business has been the shift to digital marketing and having a website rather than a brochure. Other challenges have been the increase in growth and competitiveness, operational issues with tours abroad, and transitions of employees.
But with the experience of the last few years, as well as being in business when 9/11 happened, Lauren realized how vulnerable the travel business really is. A lot of operators have had to cut back over the last few years, and while demand is coming back, they haven’t yet rebuilt the infrastructure to what it was before, so the two years off to full-blown back on is a challenge.
“Our goal right now is to rebuild the team and also new technology”, Lauren says, “that’s tough when you’ve been using a certain kind of technology or a certain kind of process before, and now you have to adopt new technologies, new habits.”
The recipe for successful tours
Lauren shares that the way she personally travels is very serendipitous, and she likes to take a bit of that approach into her trips. Of course, as a tour business, they need to create plans and schedules, but the guides are encouraged to look out for opportunities where something extra can be added to the tour.
In Lauren’s opinion, there should be a certain amount of planning, but with enough flexibility to allow for some spontaneous moments to occur. She gives the example of when you see a local guy picking wild strawberries, she would have a conversation with him.
“I would encourage a person traveling, to utilize those opportunities. Because if you’re not, you’re really just pedaling from point A to point B with your head down and not learning anything. And that seems to me a waste of time. I mean, you could do that at home on a bike ride.”
Lauren compares her trips to a recipe. Certain elements are included every time because they’re what’s been promised to the guest. But guides get to be creative with it as well and find magical moments along the way.
More from this episode
- We discuss strategies for recruitment, retention, and training of guides.
- How do you successfully develop an operational strategy to create smooth cycling trips?
- Lauren shares real examples of serendipitous moments that have made a trip special, and how she might try to incorporate some of those into an itinerary.
- After many years in the business, how has Lauren’s role evolved, and what does it look like nowadays?
- How many guides come on each Ciclismo trip, what are their roles, and how do they manage the group dynamic?
Learn more about Lauren
After graduating in anthropology from Cornell University, Lauren studied fine arts and photography in Florence and annually cycles thousands of miles throughout Europe and her beloved New England. She has been a professional bicycle tour guide for over 40 years and as the founder of bike tour company Ciclismo Classico, is considered a pioneer in bicycle travel.
Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org