A Scottish walking tour business set up by two friends after they realised one didn’t exist for visitors to Glasgow to do is toasting a success which has seen them expand the tours to across Scotland and even into England.
Dunfermline native Jenny Benson and Liv Barber, from Kent, met while studying business at university, and founded Walking Tours in the UK in early 2017 ‘to fill a niche in the tourism market for Glasgow’.
Despite initially being “terrified” due to their lack of experience, the tours proved a hit for visitors to the city, so much so that they were encouraged to expand the tours to across Scotland “so they could show off even more of beautiful Scotland” in 2019. In 2022, they then expanded further to south of the border.
Speaking to The Herald, Jenny said: “We both loved Glasgow so much so we thought we’d give it a shot starting a daily walking tour, realising that there wasn’t any at the time we started, in 2017.
“One of the first things we did was set ourselves up as limited company, costing us £12 or so, and built a Facebook page and a website. We really didn’t know what to expect but within a few weeks we were getting inquiries already.
“Initially, we were terrified of even doing the tours because we had no experience, training or anything – but we did it and we loved it. Our first customers were Sarah and Pedro, and neither of us will ever forget them, they were so lovely. Every day we had a booking, we’d go out together and deliver a three hour tour and then go home and be giddy at the idea of growing it beyond ourselves if it worked out. Slowly, we got to the top of Google over a couple of months, and people were coming on tours every day.
“By the end of the first summer of doing the tours ourself in Glasgow, we got our first guides on board. We made some mistakes over the next couple of years (and still do) but decided in 2019 it was time to expand.”
Walking Tours in the UK now operates in 11 cities across Scotland and England: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, St Andrews, Inverness, Oban, Aberdeen, South Queensferry, Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds.
Visitor numbers on their Glasgow tours have rebounded post-pandemic, with the business welcoming 7,700 visitors so far this year, compared to just 3,000 in 2021 when international travel was restricted due to the pandemic.
The bulk of visitors on the Glasgow tours have come between May and September, peaking in August when the company took 1,200 people on guided tours of the city. Approximately 40 per cent of those taking the tours have also come from the USA and Canada, compared to just under 10 per cent in 2021.
In respect of their expansion success, co-founder Jenny credited their “fantastic” guides with being the driving force behind it.
Jenny added: “Our guides all over the country are absolutely fantastic and they’re truly what makes running this business amazing and a huge factor in its success. We have people from all walks of life; from Amy in St Andrews who worked in F1, to Susanne in Inverness who promotes the gaelic language, to Tommy in Glasgow who has his love for Charles Rennie Mackintosh displayed on him with tattoos all over himself, right down to Arthur in Birmingham who is more in love with Birmingham than possibly anyone else on the planet.”
Commenting on the success of the walking tours, a VisitScotland spokesperson said: “Walking tours are a wonderful way to explore a city, learn more about a place, its people and truly take in all the sights.
“Visitors are increasingly looking for experiences that offer physical and mental wellbeing benefits and locations that boast great walking experiences are high on the must visit list.
“And according to recent YouGov research commissioned by VisitScotland, as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022, we know that almost half of UK adults (49%) would find a story told by a guide or storyteller most appealing if they were visiting an attraction, taking part in a tour, or exploring a destination in Scotland.
“Going on a walking tour is also great option for visiting a Scottish city, town or village in a responsible way, leaving as little environmental impact as possible. This helps to protect the natural, social and cultural assets which make Scotland so special now and in the future.”