Charlotte Everett, London
I’ve been a free tour guide with Sandemans for 8 years now, and in this time I’ve noticed a big change in customer demographics and behaviours. My decision to invest in a card reader to take payments was motivated largely by a desire to move with and adapt to the times – the reality is that a lot of travellers these days simply do not carry cash, and I was increasingly finding this to be a reason (or maybe even an excuse) not to tip me at the end of the free tour.
In London, most guides (myself included) finish the free tour about a 10 minute walk from our sales location (an end location in our city). In the past couple of years especially, I have noticed a growing number of people coming up to thank me at the end, but saying that they don’t have any cash on them. When I’ve told them that there is an ATM next to the pub we’re about to go to, I’ve found that some people stopped at the ATM but never actually appeared in the pub – and others said that they weren’t following me anyway, as they needed to leave immediately. In a number of cases people offered to pay me via PayPal, but only two payments (out of maybe 15-20 people who offered to pay via this means) ever manifested. I was starting to notice that “sorry, I don’t have any cash” was becoming problematic enough to see a gradual drop in my income.
SumUp card reader was recommended to me, and it has really revolutionised my business. I managed to get the reader on special offer (£19, usually £29) – and there are no monthly fees. The card reader is linked to your smartphone via Bluetooth; customers enter the amount they wish to pay via the app on my iPhone, then payment is processed using the card reader via either chip and pin, contactless, or sign. The card reader appears to accept all cards – I’ve had some really obscure ones, with no problem. Customers can also pay via Google Pay or Apple Pay. SumUp make their money by charging me 1.69% commission. It is such a minimal amount, that I have found this to be totally worthwhile – especially since a number of people who would have not paid anything before, are now tipping quite well. I’ve also noticed that some of the nationalities who would have only given me a couple of coins before, typically now tip a higher amount if paying by card. I think it is a psychological thing as the card reader legitimises things – I’ve never had anyone who has paid by card tip less than £5, and some of my best tips in years have come since offering the card payment facility. There are still a minority of people who don’t give anything despite card payments being possible – and there are still people who insist on tipping me in obscure currencies. But overall I have noticed a drop in foreign currency tips, and even fewer people not tipping at all.
At the end of my tour, I mention “I know it’s 2019, and a lot of people only travel with their credit card these days. I prefer cash as it’s faster, but of course I also have the facility to accept payments by credit or debit card, Google Pay, or Apple Pay”. Customers are visibly impressed, and I do strongly believe that in their minds it gives a more professional impression, and legitimises my business.
SumUp is linked to my bank account, and payments are processed and sent to my account within 5 working days. Each day that the card reader is used, they generate and email me a Daily Payout Report, as well as a monthly statement. This is really fantastic for bookkeeping and your business records in general.
I’ve had a number of smaller tours where all of the payments I’ve received have been via card – although in general I still receive most of my tips in cash, the card reader has really saved me these past few months, especially in the difficult climate we currently have in London. I would highly recommend any guide invest in some sort of card reader – I’ve only had a positive experience, as well as a little boost to my business.
Filipa Mladenova, Barcelona
I would like to tell you a bit about my experience of enabling people to pay me by card. I have tried the card payment method only in Barcelona (since August 2018), and the experience would probably differ between countries. but as someone who has been guiding previously in Paris for about 5 years, I could imagine that there it would work even better, for example.
As a tour guide when I give a tour, I am not only concerned with the quality of the information presented but also with the service provided. At the end of the tour, I want people to look back on the experience and evaluate it as something that was worth their time and energy. As you likely know, the payment at the end can be tricky and it takes a while to get comfortable. A moment of awkwardness can ruin the entire experience for both guests and guides alike.
I have acquired a TPV machine (card-terminal) with the sole idea of facilitating easy payment for people, and making the process easier on myself. Before, when people asked me for an ATM I would try to direct them in the hope that they would actually return. I remember multiple occasions being left frustrated over a group of international travelers leaving without paying anything or giving me some last coins because they were “not used to carrying cash” and they didn’t feel the huge tax for taking money out from an ATM was worthwhile. For anything else they can pay by card, why should the tour be any different? So, when I was presented with the opportunity to acquire the terminal, I didn’t need any convincing. I ordered it from CaixaBank, I have a separate account and pay 10euro per month for the service.
Now when people ask me for an ATM or look at me apologetically because they forgot to take cash, I just say, “No worries, you can pay by card.” The reaction is always the same; people are pleased and pay you while commenting how wonderful that is. The very first time when I mentioned that it is possible to pay by cash or card, I saw one traveler put away her coins and paying me 10euro instead by card. I have many other examples but I think you get the point.
Most of my tips are still in cash, pretty much shifting with the demographic of the tourists. I usually ask people where they are from when they pay me by card to see if there is a connection – French, Indian, Brazilians, Dutch, Israeli, English, Australians, Americans are the most frequent users. I don’t want to say that my average has changed dramatically, as this could be cyclical and depends on so many other variables (especially with Barcelona going through its own random craziness), so I don’t have a good base for comparison . But I can definitely confirm that people that were more reluctant to pay cash before are much more comfortable paying by card. There are still the ones that would give their last coins and the occasional ones that would sneak out without even saying goodbye (I have no solution to that one yet) but for the most part, I believe that one could only benefit by facilitating more options. Enabling people with more payment methods only increases your chances of getting a better reward, while showing that you are more than just a street performer.
The model of the Free Tour is not that new anymore and more people are aware that at the end some payment is expected. However, most people are unaware of the taxes we pay, the registration we go through, the constant preparation of materials, the hours reading and the money spent on reading materials, cultural visits or marketing. The Free Tour concept is getting more popular among travelers and tour guides alike and competition is becoming fierce – official tour guides become more frustrated and travelers more confused about what the Free Tour actually entails. In the majority of cases people believe that we abuse the system and we can’t expect someone to understand that we don’t end up with everything given to us at the end of the tour.
In order to look more professional, we need to not just constantly improve the intellectual content of our tours but the service provided as well. The card payment machine is a small step in not only making your income a bit more visible, but also more professional in front of clients and competitors alike. I personally want to show that I enjoy my job, but I don’t want people to mix that with just doing it for fun. It is still a job that enables me to survive as a member of society. It might seem like a stretch but the moment people see the machine, they know this is more than just my pastime hobby. They know that I take it seriously and that I expect them to take it seriously as well.
From a personal perspective, it is also great for my accountant and the local tax authorities to have something more tangible on my Free Tour income statement than just taking my word as to what I declare. Although the majority of my Free Tour income is still cash-based, having even a small proportion of it in a digital, trackable format is great for my legitimacy in the eyes of these bodies.
It is wonderful how many messages one can transmit with just the use of a simple apparatus such as TPV. I can strongly recommend the use of this machine, and can assure you that the small monthly investment required for the use of the technology will be more than made up for in professionalism, legitimacy and increasing tips from those who come from a country that is less cash-based.