“The classic image of a tour was ready to be disrupted,” says Stephen Oddo, CEO and co-founder of Walks when talking about what inspired the creation of this tour company. Adding that, “Growing up around the travel industry, I had been around so many giant tour groups either on cruises or land packages, taking uninspired tours with uninteresting guides.”
Disrupting the classic tour model is precisely what Oddo and his fellow co-founder set out to do as they went from “two guys giving exceptional tours of the Roman Colosseum” to building a tour company that encompasses 13 cities across five European countries and the U.S. So what sets Walks apart from other sightseeing tour companies? Oddo says it’s a combination of several factors.
“We partner with attractions to create exclusive tour products that you can’t find anywhere else, or we find a way to twist a classic tour so ours always stand out,” he notes.
Examples of these exclusive experiences include visits to tourist hot spots after they’ve closed so Walks guests can avoid the crowds and enjoy special access to attractions such as Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, Paris’ Louvre and more. Keeping tour groups small (up to 15 people maximum) also contributes to the exclusivity and intimacy of a Walks tour, but, according to Oddo, the tour guides are at the heart of what allows Walks to give its guests an unparalleled experience in their destination.
“Walks only works with the top guides in every destination, and we have a rigorous feedback and review system to ensure ongoing quality,” he says. “Too many tour operators out there treat guides as a commodity rather than the star of the show. We wanted to elevate that, and as we’ve grown, that’s remained the central focus of our brand.”
Walks currently operates in Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Pompeii, Paris, Barcelona, London, New York City, and San Francisco, California. As the company continues to grow, it has expanded its offerings in existing destinations, as well as new cities. Last year, Walks launched its Walk On Walk Off tour, which is a flexible tour pass that allows guests to join several tours within a given time period without reserving specific departure times and dates beforehand, making it easier for travelers to join short, thematic tours in major cities.
In 2019, Walks will debut tours in New Orleans, Athens, and Madrid starting this spring, and in Italy, guests can look forward to the new Venetian Lagoon Boat Trip. On this itinerary, guests will avoid the glass and lace shops on Murano and Burano in favor of visiting museums that have recently opened on those islands. The tour also includes a visit to an ancient vineyard on Mazzorbo; a closed, 13th-century Franciscan monastery on San Francesco del Deserto; and Venice’s oldest church dating to the 7th century on Torcello.
“We believe our core set of values can be applied anywhere,” says Oddo while also noting that the company will likely continue to expand in new destinations. “We’re always looking to the future at Walks. In terms of destinations, we’re continuing to expand at a good pace in North America and Europe over the next couple of years, and beyond that, we’re absolutely interested in expanding our reach to other top destinations across the globe.”
Working with Travel Advisors
For travel advisors in need of guidance to book their clients on a Walks tour, Oddo has a few words of advice for working with the company.
“The best place to start is registering on our Travel Agent Portal. We work with agents and agencies directly, and are a preferred partner of Signature Travel Network and Frosch. You’ll also find our products tagged with ‘WALKS’ on Travelbound, and we’re listed on GTA, Hotelbeds, and Bedsonline as well. Walks attends the major travel trade shows such as ITB, WTM, IPW, NYT Travel Show, and the Signature Conference, to name a few, so come by our booth and say ‘hi’,” says Oddo.