Sunday, March 7, 2021

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Sabine Elsässer
Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

ForeverBarcelona private tours of Barcelona, Spain and its surroundings

Please introduce yourself and your startup ForeverBarcelona to our readers!

I’m Marta Laurent, CEO and Founder of ForeverBarcelona, a leading company offering private tours of Barcelona, Spain, and its surroundings. I hold a Languages and Translation degree from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. I lived in Paris, Miami and Moscow to polish my foreign language skills before returning to Barcelona to work at the Sagrada Familia Church, the most visited monument in Spain. There I helped transform their Attention to the Visitor office, while at the same time I started to give personal tours of Barcelona for guests of the finest hotels in town.

Nowadays ForeverBarcelona is formed by a dozen hand-picked tour guides able to give tours in 8 different languages, plus a compact admin team working remotely. We don’t have brick and mortar headquarters: our company is run 100% online. Even before the COVID pandemic we were already an 100% online company… except for the tours, that are given in-person.

How did you get the idea of ForeverBarcelona?

I have to give credit to my friend Dave Madison from California who owned a web server and insisted I should have a website to advertise my tours. In those days, only large tour agencies had a website, so mine was probably the first private tour startup to go online in Barcelona. This was how ForeverBarcelona was born.

Why did you decide to start with ForeverBarcelona?

One thing came after the other. I came up with the name ForeverBarcelona when I needed a domain for my website. At the beginning there was almost no traffic and it wasn’t bringing me any business yet. I worked as a freelance tour guide for local hotels and travel agents, and had almost no direct clients. But then, little by little, tour requests started arriving online until there was a point that I needed help to cover the increasing tour demand. That’s when I realized ForeverBarcelona had become a real business by itself. I started collaborating with a colleague that I trusted, and she recommended other colleagues to join the team as the demand kept increasing. That’s how we built an outstanding tour guide team. Then the next step was creating a bookings department to manage the admin work.

What is the vision behind ForeverBarcelona?

We want to make travelers fall in love with Barcelona. We are passionate about our land and we know it has many faces, so our job is to find the aspects that will delight our guests, adapting our speech and itineraries to create the trip of their lifetime. Connecting with them and providing knowledge, entertainment and care are the bases for an authentic and successful experience.

How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?

The main difficulty at the beginning was creating a website not knowing how to code (and not being able to pay someone to design it for me). It was the early 2000, Blogger was just starting up and WordPress wasn’t even on the mainstream radar. My first website was a bunch of Microsoft word files saved as html and uploaded to my friend’s server. Pretty basic, but good enough to start with… at least in those times.

My parents were small-business owners, and I learned resilience and resourcefulness from them. That made me an avid learner that finds solutions when challenges come. I’m also fast implementing what I learn – procrastination is not in my vocabulary. So as a result, ForeverBarcelona has always been seen as a leader and an example to follow among the local guide community. If there’s been one other remarkable challenge, that has been learning to delegate on a team and taming my perfectionism.

Who is your target audience?

We work mostly American travelers coming to Barcelona: couples, families or small groups of friends in their 50’s and over. Professionals with an income that allows them to travel at least once a year abroad and stay in nice hotels and that appreciate the luxury of having a guide to their own. They have an interest in the local culture, history and food and don’t want to be herded around with a bunch of strangers. And they want to have their questions answered, to go at their own pace. They don’t want to stand still and listen to a boring speech but to weave meaningful conversations with their tour guide and connect.

What is the USP of your startup?

Over the years experience has led us to design a broad portfolio of tours that cover most of the needs and interests of travelers coming to Barcelona in an efficient way. But we understand that every person is different and we are happy to tweak those itineraries to adapt them to our guests’ unique interests and requests, or even create something totally different from scratch.

Professionalism and attention to detail is at our core, but our guides are also knowledgeable, fun and warm. They all have a gift to understand the needs of their guests and adapt their tour so it can be unique. Our tours are not scripted: there’s no parroting a text learned by heart. The same itinerary can be entertaining and light for a family with kids one day, and academic the next day for a couple of retired university professors. 

Of course, our guides are also entitled to skip lines at the sites, and our admin team works behind the scenes to make sure all the details are ready for the tour to run seamlessly. When the itinerary requires a car, we use professional dedicated drivers, so our guide can continue to dedicate their full attention to our guests no worrying about traffic and directions. 

Can you describe your typical workday ?

My workday has changed a lot since the pandemic started. I’m not out and about giving tours anymore now that there’s no international travel. Instead, after leaving my kid at school my day starts with a cup of chai tea by my computer. My strategy during this down time is improving everything as much as possible, to be at the top once things get back to normal. And we are already competing against large tour companies. So I’m working on SEO, content creation, website redesign and speed optimization, among other things. I’m also reading blogs, taking courses, participating in forums and watching videos… anything that inspires me and can help me take ForeverBarcelona to the next level. 

Where do you see yourself and your startup ForeverBarcelona in five years?

Hopefully back to giving tours again! COVID permitting… I see my team in full motion again, proud of being part of ForeverBarcelona. There’ll be at least a couple more awesome tour guides joining us. We’ll be receiving raving reviews again, and generate revenue well beyond six figures. I see myself living a nice balance between guiding, working on business strategy and management, and having free time to be with my dear ones.

What 3 tips would you give to founders?

1. Never stop learning. What worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, and the tool that will help you grow better and faster is already out there. Find it.

2. Action is everything. Implement as you learn, or you’ll end up overwhelmed by a neverending to-do list.

3. Take care of your team and make them fans of your company. They’ll be there for you if you’ve been there for them. 

Picture Source: 2010, by Scott Schwartz

Thank you Marta Laurent for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

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