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Ep.2 Savouring Bath Food Tours with Mike James

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Episode 2

Savouring Bath food tours owner Mike James is talking about the beautiful city of Bath, food and life as a tour guide.

“Early this year, I started to look at third party distribution. And this has been one of the biggest projects that I’ve had over the last year. Of course, our biggest output, marketing wise is our website. That is our shop window.”

Mike is Blue Badge Tour Guide, Tour Manager and owner of the double gold, award-winning food tour company ‘Savouring Bath’.

As we all know, there is an increasing desire for experiences, where people want to immerse themselves in being hands-on, creative or indulging the senses. What better way to experience a culture than tasting its food and speaking to the passionate people who create it.

In this episode Mike talks about:

> His ‘Savouring Bath’ food tours and becoming a Master of Cheese!

> His knowledge and expertise in managing ‘Savouring Bath’ tours and tour guiding.

> The value Mike places on his local Destination Marketing Organisation, as well as the exposure given to his business by third party distributors such as GetYourGuide and Tripadvisor.

> How the VisitBritain online distribution platform TXGB, is helping make his ‘Savouring Bath’ booking processes more efficient.

Full Transcription

Host: Kelly Ballard

Guest: Mike James

At the end of 2021, I had the pleasure of chatting to Mike James, blue badge tour guide, tour manager and owner of the double gold award-winning food tour company, Savouring Bath. And that’s not all this week, if you’re listening during the week, beginning 14th of February 2022, it has been announced that Mike has been shortlisted as one of only 10 finalists for tourism superstar of the year in the prestigious visit England excellence in tourism award in association with a Mirror newspaper. Massive Congratulations, Mike. He is a superstar for so many reasons. So head over to the Travel section of the mirror website and vote for him now before the 22nd of March. You’ll find the link in the show notes. Anyway, back to the show. As we all know there is an increasing desire for experiences. This has been happening for years now. But people just want to immerse themselves in being hands on creative or indulging the senses. And what better way to experience a culture than tasting its food and speaking to the passionate people who create it. In this episode, Mike talks to me about how he experienced a record 2021 Despite the setback of the pandemic. Mike’s been involved in the visitor economy and the world of tour guides for many years. I first met him when he was chair of Cotswold Guides and running Cotswold Ghost Tours. He is a font of knowledge when it comes to managing and marketing tours and tour guiding. He’s also a passionate foodie as you can imagine, and he’s on his way to becoming a certified master of cheese. What amazing title is that? Anyway, find out the value that Mike places on his local destination marketing organisation or DMO’s as well as the exposure given to his business by third party distributors such as Get Your Guide or TripAdvisor and find out too how Visit Britains’ online distribution platform, TX GB, is helping make his booking processes more efficient. We meet Mike, one of our superstar elves of the Visitor Economy as he tells us how it all began.

Guest: Mike James

Thanks for having me because this is really nice for you to allow me to be part of this. Savouring Bath – I don’t want to say it’s been a labour of love because it doesn’t feel like labour at all. But there’s certainly a lot of love that goes into this business. And I think what I always have to start with is that I didn’t start this business. It was started by an American lady called Jennifer, who’s still a good friend of ours. And she had moved to Bath having started a similar business in Aix-en-Provence, actually, which is the twin city of Bath. And she had run a food tourism business there for a few years, which had been very successful. She was married to a British guy, and they wanted to finish schooling their kids in the UK, so they moved to Bath. And when she arrived here, she sort of said, Why is nobody doing this in Bath because Bath’s got this amazing food and drink scene. And it’s missing this in terms of the visitor economy, exposing that on walking on a tour level. So she always said to me, I just sewed a little seed Mike and she’s sort of watching us from afar now. And I’m going to see her again next year for the first time in ages. And I’m really hoping that she’s going to see how that seed has grown because it was very small when it first started. But interest in food tourism over the last 10-15 years has grown steadily. And I really think over the past five years since I’ve been involved in the business, food tourism has seen massive interest and just grown exponentially. And I think it’s this whole desire for interaction and experiential activities. And while classic walking tours of towns and cities have still got a really strong place in tourism. There are more people out there now, especially the younger generations that are looking for something that has got engaged as more of the senses. And our tours really aim to fulfil all that and arguably you do engage all five senses in order to connect with what we’re showcasing.

Host: Kelly Ballard

I mean, I’ve been on two of them now. And they really do give you that sense of you get heritage, you get culture you get behind the scenes, you meet the people. And that’s just what you want when you come to you when you go to a new place, isn’t it? 

Guest: Mike James

Yeah, I think there’s a real thirst out there. Now, when people travel, that people want to connect with something which is local. I went on an ocean cruise a few years ago with my in-laws, it was a special birthday for them. And we said, we go with them. And one thing that really shocked me was that, you know, while these cruises are amazing, I didn’t really feel that I was able to connect with local culture in each place, because we’re onto an island, do your trip, have a quick few hours on the beach, and then you’re away before dinnertime, you know, four o’clock, you’re away. And all I wanted to do was go and have dinner in a restaurant or and see what the nightlife was like, you know, and connect with local people. And I think that is very typical. Now, there is more of a thirst for that out there in the tourism industry, people do want to see what is going on on a local level. And what we’ve really seen this year, in fact, somebody was just saying to me this morning, pre COVID, there were a lot of daytrippers coming to Bath. And obviously that has really changed because of the nature of what we’ve had to deal with over the past couple of years. And there’s not so many daytrippers, but the fact is that now people are staying longer. And this is what we wanted for our visitor economy for a long time. We want to see people bring more business into the city by staying for it, even if it’s just a night, you know, and then there is this opportunity to connect more with what is going on on a local level and with people. 

Host: Kelly Ballard

Yeah, interesting. So that growth Mike that you’ve seen within your business. It’s not just you that takes the tours, is it? 

Guest: Mike James

Yeah, yeah, I was actually just looking at figures this morning. And so the last full year for us was 2019, of course. And we did produce tours in 2020. But obviously, it was really scaled back because of what we were dealing with. But this year, we reopened what late April, early May, and we were up to speed by June and by August, we have busted our volume for 2019. And we are on track now to finish at double 2019 volume by the end of the year, which is really incredible. You know, I could never have anticipated that. And that’s not even a full year. So goodness knows what next year is going to bring. But it’s really exciting to be able to say that, I’m really proud.

Host: Kelly Ballard

I’m intrigued in terms of the changing type of visitor, how are they different, especially in a place like Bath?

Guest: Mike James

Oh, interesting question. We’ve always had a very strong regional and local visitor client base. I would even go up to in some cases, what 70 something percent, maybe even more than that. International visitors, for us, have always been a much lower percentage of our client base. But then this year, of course, we’ve not had any international visitors. So of course, that’s not really changed for us. However, internationals are starting to come back. A month or two ago, now the UK was opened up to American businesses, again, who fulfil various criteria of vaccination and what have you. And we are starting to see some of them on our tours, which is great. But how that is going to translate next year are we going to see more of that? I think there’s so much pent up demand out there at the moment, I’m going to be working for a tour operator next year doing tour management, as you were saying, and I haven’t done that for two years. But I know that tour operators, especially in North America, have got so much pent up demand that I think that market is going to be exceptionally busy next year. Now as far as that can translate to Savouring Bath we won’t see much of any of that market because most of those are on group organised itineraries they’re in for a day or two and they have activities planned for them. But we will see increased amounts of profit, for example, from international markets. And I really hope that they engage with us more because I can see certainly in this country that there is more of that first problem domestic travellers have to engage with, what is local, and I believe that that’s out there in international markets as well.

Host: Kelly Ballard

Interesting Mike before we move on to markets and marketing if you’d like to just tell me a little bit about you and your team and how you manage Savouring Bath with such demand.

Guest: Mike James

Yeah. So, um, I own the business as you say, I bought it from Jennifer in 2017. And she kind of left me holding the baby and I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing at the time. I brought a lot of my experience from various other roles throughout the tourism industry. I’ve worked in operation roles for tourists, tour operators, and obviously loads of different customer facing roles. But I really had to find my own way with it and find my own style. I did have a lot of support from a very good friend who’s another blue badge tourist guide in the city. And she has continued to support us this year, and last year, but she’s now starting to get regular blue badge style touring work again. So I’ve had to expand our team this year in order to fulfil the demand. Most of this summer, I was running all the tours myself, I was guiding everything. And seven or eight tours a week was normal for us. And that’s a busy year. I mean, if we got eight tours in a month two years ago, I would be excited, you know, so eight tours a week was massive for us this year. And obviously, our production work is quite demanding because tours don’t just happen, the clients turn up, they meet the guide, and then the tour happens. But what goes on before that, there is as much work going in timing wise as there is to actually operate the tour. So each tour is three hours long. But there is an accumulated three hours of work that goes into every tour to produce it. Because you have to book the suppliers, we write the itinerary there’s processing bookings, as all this background admin stuff, we produce bespoke maps for each tour and all these other bits and pieces as well. So I’m now looking at planning for next year in terms of our staffing, and how I’m gonna get the support to manage that volume increases the way that it has done this year. But also we’ve taken on new guides this year, we took three new guides. With that we’ve still got two of them, one moved on, but also the lady that supported me originally, she is still helping us a little bit when she can. Prior to COVID. I had two other guys, but they’ve moved on into different things as well. And they were both local guides, they were already qualified locally. But the guides that I’ve taken on this year, I’ve had to train. And I’ve trained them from scratch. And one of them had some visitor economy experience, but the other was an actor. And actually, in some ways, he was more natural to it because he’s got this kind of ability to improvise in front of people and work with what he’s got to hand and make it all come alive for his audience.

Host: Kelly Ballard

Is that more important, would you say, than a passion for food?

Guest: Mike James

In some ways, yes. Because I think what you have to remember is that our tours, I’m not that classic guided walking tour, we got as tour guides, we just facilitate the A-B and we’re connecting our clients with the producers and the retailers of the food that they’re sampling, we include seven different stops as standard on each tour. And at each stop, they get a small sample of the product. And in most cases, they get to connect with the staff at that business. And we are there simply to facilitate that. And it’s coming back to this whole desire that people have to want to connect with locals. And a lot of our clients go away from our sources but we just love being able to talk to these people. And you know, if I was talking at you for three hours, you’re gonna get bored at some point, or you’re going to drift and the fact that regardless of how entertaining I may or may not be. And the same goes for any of our other guides. But the point is that when you have this variation, and there’s different people presenting in different ways and talking about different things, that there is more capacity for engagement and, and holding people’s attention. And it really works. And I love to be able to walk into a business and say, Oh, this is Rob, or this is Fran, this is Heather. And they take over and they do their little piece. Whether it’s five minutes, two minutes or half an hour, it just keeps the whole tool very varied. And people really love that.

Host: Kelly Ballard

That’s great Mike, tell me about the awards you won..

Guest: Mike James

So I’ve been looking at award systems for some time. And there’s loads of award systems out there. But I was very, I was very picky. Actually, I didn’t want to get involved in an award system which was not sponsored or didn’t have some kind of national recognition. So we chose to go down the industry specific route. And the nationally recognised award system for tourism has the Visit England Excellence Awards at the top. But you don’t you don’t apply for that you have to go in from the bottom and work your way up. And the bottom level is what you mentioned the Bristol, Bath and Somerset tourism awards and that’s a county level award system. So there are different councils all over. I think we’ve got about four different counties in the southwest that are amalgamations of counties that they have awards for. And if you do well in that you can get nominated for the next level. So we won double gold as you said, in March, Bristol, Bath & Somerset, which was really overwhelming, it was the first time I’ve entered an award system. And I poured a lot of heart and soul into my application, because you go through this long application process and you get restricted amounts of words that you can put into each section. And you have to answer very specific questions and show evidence and all kinds of stuff. And so I put a lot of work into that, and then kind of forgot about it. And then we won at this online ceremony, and actually this year, because of COVID, these ceremonies were really restricted. And in fact, our region in the Southwest was only one of like two or three regions that I think actually went ahead with their awards. And the Visit England Awards for Excellence didn’t happen this year. That will happen next year, they’re planning to go back to some degree of normality. But having one double gold, at county level, we were then nominated. And I still don’t know who nominated us. But whoever it was, if you’re watching, thank you very much. We were nominated to go forward to the regional level, which is the South West tourism awards, of course, that covers the whole of the Southwest. And then we won bronze in both of the same categories that we’d won at a county level. So that was tourism, sorry, tourism, innovation, and experience of the year. And I haven’t got our awards here, but they sit on the shelf behind where I’ve worked in town. And yeah, very proud of them. And then if we’d done well, at that level, you know, theoretically, we could have been nominated to go forward to the Visit England Excellence Awards. But of course, they were cancelled this year. So I’m not entering this year, because I got some very good advice, which was, if you don’t win gold in your first year, then don’t enter the second year, leave it alone for a bit. Some people will enter next year, who knows. But it’s going to come down to timing, but I’m just really proud of how well we did and it was very overwhelming. 

Host: Kelly Ballard

 

You should be. That’s amazing. So you know, obviously the past 18 months to two years have been awful, despite having these awards during that time. And you’ve had to change your business, I’m sure and think about things in a different way. So what are some of the, without dwelling on the negatives? Let’s think about some of the positives that have come out over the past 18 months. How are you doing things differently?

Guest: Mike James

Whoa, so Okay, first of all, when COVID hit last year, I spent about 10 days refunding tickets. And of course, that was a bit depressing. But I already had a plan because I’d been well, you mentioned ghost tours, I used to do talks for women’s Institute’s and social clubs. And they were really popular. And I thought, well, if I could do that with ghost tours, then maybe I can do it with Savouring Bath stuff as well. So I always had it in mind to put this talk together based on one of our tours, which is our showcase tour called, Food heroes. And it really shows off Bath’s culinary heritage and some of the products which are really important to the city, not just from a heritage level, but represent the people in the city who are championing their corner of the culinary industry today. So I started putting this into a talk. And I thought, well hang on, Zoom is becoming a thing. I mean, Zoom is just like everyday use now, right? But at the time, 18 months ago, nobody had ever heard of this. And suddenly it was booming. And I thought, well, if I can do this as a talk in person, I can do it on zoom as well. And therefore maybe I can promote a virtual tour. So it took me about six weeks in order to put this talk and presentation together because I did it in a PowerPoint and, and there’s a lot of animation and visuals involved, which is mostly stock material. And actually, we also put together a concept where we could send out a hamper with samples. And that kind of worked, we played around with it. And to be honest, now I will probably do it without the hamper, because it’s just much smoother. But the hamper sort of kept people happy in lock down, you know, and it had some lovely samples in it. And the idea was you could start with samples as I went through the tour. And it was about an hour. And if they had samples, it was a bit longer and would allow for a break. And actually, after doing it maybe five, six times. I thought well, we’re doing all right. And we can afford to change this up a bit. So we looked to create a charitable fund. And all the proceeds from that tour, I think about 90% of the ticket value goes into this pot that we are eventually going to donate to charity. When we can find somebody that fits our values. Beyond our virtual tours we really have adapted, but we’ve adapted more to dealing with volume than we have in any other way. Of course we’ve had to adapt things like terms and conditions and our refund policy and we still have COVID flexible terms in place, which allow people to cancel, cancel closer to the day of their tour to allow for illness and all that kind of stuff. But also, you know, when we were coming out of lock-down, there was all this legislation about mask wearing and social distancing. We’ve had to bring that into play in terms of how we guide with people, we had to reduce our capacities, we used to work to eight people per tour. And while we’re still advertising that we’ve been working to six, we’ve actually found that the difference between six and eight people on a tour is massive. And somehow, people connecting when there’s eight is nowhere near as easy as people connecting when there’s six. And we’ve found that people are going away from a tour of six work, maybe it’s three couples, or a family of four and another couple, they’re going away swapping email addresses and phone numbers, and that didn’t quite happen as much when it was eight. So we’ve really benefited from that. And of course, we’re selling less tickets per tour. But seeing that happen is so much more rewarding in some ways. And I think we’re possibly going to stick with six in the long term. I don’t know, we’ll see what happens, but for the moment it is definitely working.

Host: Kelly Ballard

And I guess following on from that, how has your marketing changed? We talked briefly about markets, but how are you reaching people? How has the market changed?

Guest: Mike James

So earlier, sorry, early this year, I started to look at third party distribution. And this has been one of the biggest projects that I’ve had over the last year. Of course, our biggest output, marketing wise is our website. That is our shop window. We’re very much an internet based sales business. And we don’t sell tickets over the phone or anything like that, everything is built into our website. Of course, we talked, we advertise a phone number or talk to people if they need us. And we’ll help them through booking whatever on the phone but our website is really important to us. And we actually decided at the end of last year, we’re going to rebrand. So we’re still taking a long time to do it. But we’re going to be launching that new branding in January. And we spent the last year working on a new logo, which is about finished now. We’ve generated loads of new video assets, which I’m really, really proud of, and I’m itching to get those out. But we’re just trying to hold them back until the new year when we’re launched all that. But it’s been an interesting process, this rebranding, but we have this distribution project that has been probably my biggest learning curve if I’m being honest, as there’s so many different third party distributors out there. And with the launch of TX GB a couple of years ago, that really changed things and brought my attention to the world of channel management. Even though TX UB is arguably not a channel manager, they’re certainly, channel managing our live allocation. And it means that I can sell through third parties, like DMO’S, and anybody else who we sell through another distributor who has TX GB on their website. And we can plug that into anybody’s website. So they can sell our tickets and benefit from that in terms of commission. That’s really, really helped because it means that I don’t have to manage somebody else’s allocation. So for example, some of the big players out there, like TripAdvisor, that you mentioned and Get your Guide, which we’re still working with get us. But we don’t have channel management with that. And that means that every time I take a booking in my business, no matter where that booking is coming from, I have to go into Get Your Guide, Trip Advisor or any of these managed distributors, and change their allocation to reflect what we actually have in live terms. And that’s a lot of work. And I’ve really learned about this over the last year. And one of the big things I’ve learned is that commission has to reflect value. And, the value is reduced when it is managed allocation rather than channel managed because I just don’t have to think about channel management. If Visit England is selling from my live allocation, they take the booking, I didn’t do anything different, I just deal with it as a regular booking, because it’s taking it out of my life allocation. Whereas I put in a lot of work to those managed distributors. And this year has been tough for those third parties because obviously they’re not seeing the same kind of visitors booked through them that they would have done in a normal year pre COVID. 

Host: Kelly Ballard

Which channel are you talking about? 

Guest: Mike James

Well ‘Get Your Guide’ is one of our main disruptors that is managed. Who else have we got? Oh, Airbnb has been an interesting one to work with. But then Airbnb is very different because they demand single travellers. And we can only operate with a minimum of two people per tour. So we have to produce a specific product for them that can work with one person. So we created a tour which doesn’t have samples on it, for example, just to sell through Airbnb, and has a reduced price which suits their general market, but also they want exclusivity. So if I was selling a tour on my website, and somebody and it was also being sold on Airbnb, then if somebody bought it on Airbnb, I would have to take that off sale on my website because they want exclusivity for their clients. So again, there is this whole management process when it comes to distribution. And if there is no channel management, and obviously, there was always a commission involved. For me, I have to make a very clear decision as to whether or not I want to keep selling through that third party. Because if it’s not reflecting value for money for the commission that I’m being charged, then it’s not earning any money. And it’s not necessarily adding to my business. But then of course, the offset of that is they do expose us. And they put our products out there. And if you search on Google for food tours in Bath, one of those distributors, at least one is going to come up, and it might not say Savouring Bath, but it will be us.

Host: Kelly Ballard

So there’s been a lot of debate around TX GB and getting businesses to sign up to it has been relatively slow to start with. But from your perspective, it’s a real positive thing is it?

Guest: Mike James

It is, I mean, I’m not gonna lie, we’re not selling loads of tickets through it. But it’s an exposure thing, you know, if these distributors are using TX GB and they want to sell our product, I mean, you know, look, it’s the DMO’s that are relevant to us if we worked with the Cotswolds, and the Cotswolds team are lovely, we work with Great West Way and Visit Bath, of course, and Visit Bath is one of the organisations that people keep telling us they’ve heard about us through. So in the end, if we’re on the Visit Bath website, and they make a booking, there’s a button that says book now, and there’s another button that says go to the website. I don’t care which one they’re pressing. But of course, if they press the one that says go to the website, then I’m not paying that commission, because it means I get the direct booking. But at the same time, you know, I’m still paying my membership fee for Visit Bath. So they’re still getting something out of it. But in those terms, exposure is really valuable. But I have to pick that moment of, you know, how much am I actually getting out of this in terms of actual ticket sales? And how, and I’m talking about managed allocation now, not channel managed. But I have to pick my moment of how much am I getting out of this net in terms of exposure? And how much am I getting in ticket sales? And what’s it worth? Is it worth me putting all this extra work in? So for example, Get Your Guide has been pretty good this year. But I don’t know if it’s good enough for me to say I’m gonna keep putting this extra work into it. I still have decisions to make about that. And some of the other distributors have sold even less. I mean, Get Your Guide just sold some but they’ve not sold masses. But that’s not the point. They’ve still got our name out there. And they’re still promoting us. And that’s what’s really important to me is that we’re getting that exposure, regardless of what tickets they’re selling. Obviously, I can say I would like to sell more through them and then it proves their value. 

Host: Kelly Ballard

What percentage of you’ve got that direct versus those that are coming?

Guest: Mike James

Over 90%? Yeah, yeah. And if you think the rest of that, that 10% is distributed across all of our distributors.

Host: Kelly Ballard

Yes. Yeah. Yeah, it’s still interesting, 

Guest: Mike James

The thing is, what’s important to say there and I really do have to say this, is that that 90% might be a lot smaller, in terms of numbers of bookings, if we weren’t being exposed by those distributors that are selling that 10%, you see what I mean?

Host: Kelly Ballard

Yeah, yeah. Okay. And, I mean, you mentioned your work with some Destination Management organisations there, and are they important to you in what you do?

Guest: Mike James

Yeah, very much. When we process our bookings. One of the big things that we’re processing is demographic, statistics, demographics is one of those things. And we ask every book, Where did you hear about us and Visit Bath is always top two. If not, top three. Google is one of our biggest hits. In fact, it’s always our biggest hit and TripAdvisor is probably in the number three slot somewhere off is really important to us. 

Host: Kelly Ballard

That’s good. And so if there were three channels of work that you really need to focus on, what would they be in your business? Overall? If you’re going to spend your time doing any marketing, what comes first, second, third?

Guest: Mike James

Google Visit Bath, and then third party distributors in general.

Host: Kelly Ballard

Right. Thank you. Okay, that’s interesting. So, what exciting things have you got planned? You mentioned you’ve got a rebrand coming up in the New Year, which is fantastic. Anything else that you’ve got coming up for you? 

Guest: Mike James

Yeah. So a couple of things actually. Well, first of all, I have accepted some tour managing work next year, which I’m really excited about because it was the kind of thing that I did a lot before I took on Savouring Bath, and then pre COVID I was still doing it. And it’s one of the things that I’ve missed massively in the last two years. And as much as I love Bath, I kind of need to get out every now and again, just to remind myself how much I love it.  Tour managing is one of the things that always fulfilled that. There’s nothing like going away as there is coming home. And coming home is often the best part of going away. Because it just reminds me how much I love this place. And tour managing still allows me to really thrive as a tourist guide. But I obviously work up and down the UK. And I’m working with small groups. So I’ve got eight tours next year that I’m going to be taking, mostly North American clients. And as a result of that, I’m not going to be around with Savouring Bath as much as I have been. And we’re getting people in place now to take over the work that I would normally do when I’m here. And that’s really exciting because I’m working with some lovely new people at the moment. And we’re going to be recruiting again in the new year for a couple more tour guides to lead our tours. So that’s really exciting. And then you may remember that we launched a cheese tour this year through the work that I’ve done with the Academy of cheese and training with them. 

Host: Kelly Ballard

Does everyone know what you mean when you say that?

Guest: Mike James

They do? They do. You know, what’s even more fun, Kelly is that there are four levels of training with the Academy of cheese. And all those level three, level four don’t exist yet they will do. The fourth one is going to be ‘Master of Cheese’. So at some point in time, if I get to the end of this, I will be master or master of the academy. I think it is Master of Cheese.

Host: Kelly Ballard

I can see your social media feed now

Guest: Mike James

But it’s been an amazing journey. You know, I started this thing with the Academy of cheese two years ago. And it was all because I thought, Oh, I really need some more knowledge on one particular product that I’m working with in my tours. And I thought, Oh, here’s something good that I can do. And it was a day course. And I went up to London, and we did it in the classroom with about 20 people. And it was such fun, I really, really loved it. And I didn’t realise I was going to love it so much that I came away from that. And I said to the lady who had led the course who I’m now working for in the cheesemongers, by the way, two days a week work in a cheesemongers until Christmas. And she taught this course and I said to her I love this so much, I want to see it right through to the end. So I did my level two this year in February online. And that was when stuff got real, you know, it started getting really scientific and they’re talking about rennets and bacteria but I really, really loved it. And I’ve just I’ve just I never thought if you told me like even two years ago, that you’re I’ll be working with cheese the way I’m now I would never have believed you. But it’s been such fun. And you know, this was sort of a precursor to the idea that we would run a product specific tool, somebody once asked me for a coffee tour. And I thought, well, I love coffee, but I don’t think I know enough about it. And I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be for me to find somebody that’s got that much knowledge, but I can get on board with the cheese thing. So that’s when I started this training. And we started this cheese tour in June. And it was kind of an experiment. And there were a couple of things that I really wanted to focus on. One was shorter tours, because our tours are three hours. And while everybody comes on our tours and gets the end and says oh, it’s gone really quickly. Sometimes selling the concept of a tour that is that long is tough. And a one and a half hour tour is a much easier package to sell. So we wanted to, we wanted to strike that gap. And we also wanted to do something that was product specific. So this has been an experiment. And actually, it’s gotten to the point now where I’m kind of thinking, Okay, we don’t need to do this one and a half hour thing, we can make the cheese two or three hour tour and it will still be successful because it’s worked. But I’m just going to be looking at formatting that toward the New Year. And bringing it in line with our other programme of three hour tours. And then maybe we’ll produce something else that is one and a half hours. I don’t know. But for now, I just want to get this cheese tour, right? People have really had some lovely feedback about it and really enjoyed it. And I’ve loved working together. So that’s gonna be a big project in the New Year. 

Host: Kelly Ballard

Excellent. lots to look forward to. So my last question before, before we go, I just wanted to ask for your advice, really, for anybody that wants to get into touring, you know, being a tour guide? What advice would you give somebody that’s thinking, you know, what, I’d love to do that, what is it that somebody needs to have? And how can they learn?

Guest: Mike James

I think tour guiding is one of those things like the coffee shop syndrome, you know, oh, we can start a coffee shop, we can do that. It’s not as easy as it looks. And it might feel easy to start with. But as I say to all of my guides, when I train them one day, you’re gonna get a really awful tour. And it might be tomorrow, and it might be in three months and it might be in three years, but it’s going to happen and you’re going to walk away from it feeling horrendous. And it happens to all of us and it can be one for one of 100 different reasons but That’s when things get real. And that’s when a lot of people have thought it’s a nice idea. Also, I’m not going to do this anymore, because it can be soul destroying, you know, it’s like your personality is being attacked. But the fact is, it’s just because your personality hasn’t necessarily fit with your clients or what their expectations are. And that’s fine, because we all have different expectations. But what makes a really good tourist guide is being able to, and I was taught this, like 30 years ago, being able to gauge your group as a lesson that you will start to learn, you will never stop learning. Gauging your group, I mean, I definitely haven’t mastered that yet. But having people in front of me and figuring out what it is that they need from me, both in content and approach and wording and mannerism. It doesn’t happen in a heartbeat. It takes years and years of learning, and content, you know, your history. If you know your history, that doesn’t necessarily make you a good tour guide, there is so much more to it than that. I would say for anybody that is considering being a tour guide, then yeah, by all means start out as in sort of a voluntary role, whether it be with a National Trust, or a local guiding Association, who will be running free talks or something like that. Use that as a means to gather experience. And then align yourself with somebody who is in a professional setting, and get some training. And there are all sorts of different ways that you can train, we train our own guides, I don’t necessarily need them to be trained on any sort of nationally recognised level, because we want them to be delivering something very specific, that relates to our suppliers. But then, if somebody was considering wanting to train as a blue badge guide, for example, that’s regionalized. And the Institute of tourists guiding normally has a list on their website of what examinations are coming up and what courses are being run. But sometimes they can be few and far between. And they can be quite expensive and a big time commitment. So I hope that answered that question.

Host: Kelly Ballard

And you know what, for the show notes, I will make sure that website goes into the notes. Yeah. If anyone wants to find you, Mike, where can they find you?

Guest: Mike James

I have two different websites, www.savouringbath.com is where you’ll find all our tours listed. It will be changing drastically within the next two months. So keep your eyes on that. You can see our lovely branding here, which we’ve had for about five years now. That’s all going to be replaced in the next couple of months. So you can book our tours there. We run repertoire tours on a weekly basis from Tuesday to Saturday. And they’re all bookable online. And we also offer bespoke tours for private groups, and you just need to get in touch with us via the website to talk to us about those. Otherwise, I provide blue badge tour guiding services through www.mikejames.org. I haven’t updated that website for a long time, but you can contact me there as well.

Host: Kelly Ballard

Great. Well, Mike, thank you so much for your time and your inspiring stories. It’s great to have you here. Thank you so much.

Guest: Mike James

Thanks for having me.

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