How about setting up your own tour company? Interview with Ian from WSE Travel

So you love travel, love meeting people and you want to share your passion with others and make a living from it!? Ever thought about setting up your own travel or tour company? I recently met Ian Ord who has done just that!  So I wanted to ask him more about how to go about setting up your own tour company.

How to set up your own Tour Company – An Interview with Ian Ord from Where Sidewalks End

ian ord from WSE Travel
Celebrating her 80th birthday in Toronto, Ian joined the Jane Goodall foundation!

Having spent more than half his life on the road, Ian Ord from Canada has developed an insatiable thirst for travel. His love for the road less travelled is only surpassed by his passion the planet, its people, and the place tourism will responsibly fit within that realm.

Ian is a travel blogger, host of responsible tourism twitter chats (#RTTC), advisor to the Travel Bloggers for Change charity, and Founder of the boutique positive impact travel company: WSE Travel 

Ian plays a very active role in helping bring global awareness, education and experience to those looking to travel sustainably and responsibly. He hopes that one day eco, sustainable, responsible & positive impact travel will simply be known as ‘travel’, and become the norm in which we all choose to see the world.


Wow Ian, you’ve actually set up your own tour business. I’m really intrigued, can you tell us a bit more about what gave you the idea to do this and how did you make it happen?

Great questions, Anna! Having started travelling solo quite young, I knew early on that I wanted travel to be part of my life in the professional level before I was even done high school. I studied tourism in college, went on to work in one of the world’s largest adventure group tour companies, and then eventually found myself living in a village in northern Thailand, with a personal travel blog, wondering what the next move was.

A few years of focusing on the blog, I realized I had created a well oiled marketing tool with a focus on off the beaten path south east asian destinations. Putting my life’s experience of helping people full fill their travel dreams together with the blog which was more of an inspiring mechanism – the next logical step for me was to help people experience what I was trying to inspire them to do.

Sounds good, so what makes your tours with WSE Travel different?

Well, other than trying to come up with new tour ideas which no one is offering yet, such as our Original Ink Experience  where we guide you through the history of Thailand’s ancient art of the enchanted bamboo tattoos, we bring you to a well respected tattoo master (ajarn)’s den where you will be blessed and receive your own Sak Yant bamboo tattoo, we also try to add as much education into our trips as possible.

We try to educate both on cultural and environmental issues locally, and in turn end up donating part of our profits from each client to a local social and environmental project. It’s not just about being neutral – we want you to have a positive impact from your experience with us! Doing good was never more fun 🙂

Ian from Where Sidewalks End
After a week long trek, Ian is just about to reach Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal

OK, what do you like the best about running your own tour business?

No boss. hahaha I’m kidding, I kinda miss the days of having someone to tell me what to do… and a regular pay check regardless of if it was a slow month or not. Overall, however I love having creative control, and being small enough a company to be agile to the changes we want to make, easily. It also lets us try, and learn, many things as the sky becomes the limit, whereas working for someone else, it’s always under their call. I don’t like that with my staff – I try to give everyone a voice and a vote in the changes we make. It’s a great feeling to create something you feel is making a positive impact in the world.

But nothings perfect right? Are there any downsides?

You can be a jack of all trades, but that doesn’t mean you’re great at all things. There are areas I realize are weaknesses, such as accounting or some of the operational side of things – and though I can handle them on my own, it’s really about being able to hire someone else you trust to be able to handle it for you.

When you create something from scratch from the ground up, it’s very difficult to let go of certain things… but I do believe that’s what makes a good leader – empowering your employees to make executive decisions on their own. It may have seemed like a downside at first, but has definitely become a highlight and opportunity for continued growth.

Do you have one standout highlight or biggest achievement?

I would say that getting recognition early on has been a great highlight so far. It’s a good indicator that something is being done right. I was honoured and humbled to be invited to speak in a panel with the marketing director for Trip Advisor and the Founder of World Nomads insurance in Bhutan, for the PATA Adventure Travel & Responsible Tourism Conference in February 2015. From there, it has been one conference invite after another! I think that’s been a pretty great achievement to become an industry thought leader and authority.

Ian at the PATA Adventure Travel & Responsible Tourism Conference
Ian at the PATA Adventure Travel & Responsible Tourism Conference

That’s amazing! So what has been the greatest challenge?

No great achievement comes without it’s fair share of challenges. I would say the top 3 most difficult challenges I’ve faced have been:

  • Too much work load trying to do everything (marketing, sales, IT, accounting, operations, etc) with no startup budget or investors.
  • Finding the right staff to come on committed as freelancers until a solid stream of revenue was being made to hire on full time.
  • Working within foreign countries policies (i.e. guides must be thai and trained as official guides)

What do you wish you had known before you set up a tour business?

Perhaps that there was so much work ahead of me, and that maybe I should have kept another job on this side until things picked up! There was some tough months in the beginning! That said, would I have worked as hard if I had another job? Likely not – so it’s hard to say, really.

And you live in Bangkok now. So for people visiting Bangkok do you have any local secrets you can share?

Sure thing – there is SO MUCH cool stuff in Bangkok. Most people only come and see the Grand Palace and the reclining Buddha, while staying on or near Khao San Road. The city is one of the biggest in the world, quite modern in some ways, and quite ancient in others.

There is an amazing mix of mystic sacred traditional practices and beliefs, amidst massive shopping malls that feel more like theme parks. From Cat Cafes, to biking around rainforest parks  to forensic museums, to VIP movie theatres with beds, it’s got something for everyone! It’s a perfect chaotic balance of old and new.

Dig a little deeper than skin deep and Bangkok could end up being a life changing experience in itself – but be careful, as with anywhere, to learn about local scams as well. WSE Travel’s blog has lots of really unique things to do in Bangkok as well!

Ian exploring an airplane graveyard in Bangkok!
Ian exploring an airplane graveyard in Bangkok!

So, what about the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Mentally? Physically? With business? That’s a very hard question to answer. Had you asked me 5 years ago, I was at the height of my career with the large corporate tour operator, I probably would have said I’d still be there.

Now I’ve got my own business, and have begun work on a fundraising platform for local projects to connect with businesses. I hope to have that off the ground as well as have expanded WSE Travel into other corners of the world.

I don’t think I’ll still be living in Thailand – it’s a big world after all… perhaps Spain, the Philippines, Colombia… those are all current contenders for my next home base… I don’t like reading too far ahead on my own story.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what tips would you give for people wanting to follow in your footsteps and set up their own tour business?

If you’ve got an idea – go with it! This is the best time in human history for people to innovate and get a global reach of potential clients. Before starting a tour, take a few tours with different companies similar to what it is you want to create. Take notes about what you liked about the tour, the guide, the attractions, and what you didn’t. That is market research in a nutshell…

Love what you do and what you are creating. Passion resonates down to staff, and to clients alike. Be original (but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel), and add value. The more thought is put into what your client gets out of your experience, the more enjoyable it will be for your client. Most importantly, and as cliche as it is, have fun! Celebrate winnings with your staff (and yourself). Good luck!

Thank you so much Ian! Best of luck with everything! If you are heading to Thailand and are looking for an off the beaten track experience definitely check out Where Sidewalks End!

Are you working abroad and want to be featured here? Contact me if you would like to be interviewed and to help inspire other travelers?

Do you Live to Travel, or Travel to Live?

  the greatest risk of all quote 

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Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End August 4, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Thanks so much for the interview Anna! Hopefully this helps to inspire others to share their passion of travel with those who don’t understand the benefits 🙂 It’s a pretty awesome planet we live on!

Anna August 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Thanks so much for being involved Ian! Really inspirational story!


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