The Tourists are Coming — With Cash

Down Town Huntington Beach. Art Fair

Down Town Huntington Beach–Art Fair A lot of tourists would like someone to to check out the “local” scene–pubs, music shopping … Photo Cred (cc) David Parikh

Orange Count is becoming THE destination for tourists traveling from other parts of the country and overseas.  TV shows such as the Real Orange County Housewives of Orange County, Growth of Orange County Brands such as Hollister and Pac Sun, and interest in the surfing culture have put Orange County on the bucket list for many families.  All over the US, people walk into retail stores to see the HP Pier displayed on a huge screen.   And of coarse we have the magic kingdom.  A while back, people would dream of going to LA and make a day trip to Orange County, now that is reversed.  They will make a bus trip to see what’s left of Hollywood, and spend several days in the safety of the OC.

To be honest, we don’t really know what we are talking about.  These are just Ideas, we are still working on this article.  Please send us your comments!

Your Market

The business opportunity, in our opinion, is based on the question that most visitors will have.  After we do Disneyland for a day or two, then what?  Most visitors have a week off for vacation, and want to take full advantage of their time in the OC.  They want to experience what they have seen on TV, and try new things.  You can open up a whole new world to them.  How much time can they spend in the usual tourist traps buying over priced T-Shirts ?

Orange County is Different than People Expect

People want to see what they have learned about Orange County from the TV and high priced clothing stores.  Never mind the face that what you see on TV only represents a small minority of Orange County.  Just as in the 1990’s the TV show Seinfeld was criticized for leaving the impression that there were no Non-White people living in New York, today’s “reality” TV shows have also forgotten to include Non-White people in their scripts.  As reported by Wikipedia, the 2010 Census reported that residents of Orange County that are classified as White-Non-Hispanics is only accounted for  44% of the population.  About 1/3 of the population is “Hispanic/Latino” and about 1/5 of the population is “Asian/Pacific Islander.”  Many visitors are surprised by our diversity.

And there is a lot more to the OC shopping and people driving expensive sports cars.  You have an opportunity to expose people to that.

You probably have experience do this if you have been taking your relatives out when they come to visit.  If you like to meet new people, go places, or just can’t stop talking this business is for you.  You will need some transportation, and the ability to accept credit cards.  See our Business Links page for info about how to process credit cards without paying for an expensive business bank account.  We will not discuss insurance issues.

Types of Tours

To be successful, you will need to focus on areas that have been neglected by the major Tour Companies and offer your customers a quintessential Orange County Experience.

Active Tours/Experiences

Let your guest experience the OC Lifestyle.

  • Skateboard Lessons
  • Surfing Lessons
  • Bike Tours — You provide the bikes
  • Segway Tours — These tours are already happening in Long Beach and Huntington Beach.  This is great for the Senior market who might not be able to walk for long distances.
  • Kayaking
  • Fishing
This is great for those of you that have a college degree or are a graduate student and have not quite found a place in the business world to put your knowledge to work.  These are a set of tourists who feel better about taking a tour if they actually learn some thing.  A great example of this is Big Onion Tours in New York.  Each tour is taught by graduate students or people who have completed their college.  Taking the tour feels like a college class; and like college classes today they are full.
  • Historical Perspective  For instance, there are a lot of areas with historical significance that might interest visitors.  San Juan Capistrano Mission and surrounding area or  Down Town Santa Ana and the historic court house are other interesting areas
  • Cultural (1) Hispanic Areas such as Flower Park in Santa Ana has a lot of well kept old homes, and you can experience the modern Hispanic culture with Taco Trucks parked right on the street.  (2) Little Saigon (3) The Korean District (4) Little India in Artesia
  • Biological Tours  We have some great parks and wetlands.  But they are not promoted, so most people don’t know they are there.  The
  • Museum tours
Location Based Experiences
  • Art Tours
  • Bar Hopping
  • Night life
  • Shopping/High End Shopping  There are already tours from the Disneyland area to South Coast Plaza.  These are focused on Asian visitors who are staying for a few days and want to buy things that they do not have access at home.  In some Asian cultures, it is expected that a gift is brought back for members of the family, so much of their time is spent shopping.  (Ironically, they often end up bringing back stuff that is made in their home country–Japan or China–but is not sold locally.)   Visitors are also want high end Western Brands.  This may mean a trip to a more up-scale mall like Fashion Island, the outlet malls, or boutique stores.
Foreign Visitor 
  • Language.  Most of the tours given are in English.  If you know a foreign language, you might be able to cater to tourists who feel more comfortable in their language.   For instance, we observed visitors on tours having their children try to repeat everything that was said in French.  It did not look like an enjoyable experience for the parent, kid, or other people on the tour.
  • Another possibility is that you provide transportation to the areas where visitors want to go from their hotels.  This seems to be sold as a “tour” from the visitors hotels, although all the tour guide does is drive them to the location take them back to the hotel.

Tour Pricing

Your audience will be people who have spent a lot of money to get to the OC, so they have money to spend.  Big Onion Tours of NYC charges about $18/person and takes a few dollars off the price for students and teachers.  That’s for walking tours which can last between one and two hours; and it is not uncommon to see more than 10 people show up for the tour.  They charge a bit more for Museum tours and for tours that include lunch.  Also, the tourists will thank the guide and give a tip.

We noted some other tours around our area which were going for about $64/person and up to $100/person if you provide transportation or a bike/segway rental.  So it would not be hard to get up $300 and up per tour.


Today, most people plan their trip through the internet.  So having a good webpage with testimonials, a discription of your background, and the tours you offer is essential.  Internet advertising will drive people to your website.  Google ads, and various internet visitor guides are a start.  Just try typing in the google box what a tourist would when planning a trip: “orange county tours” “day trips orange county” …  You can get an ad on the right side of the results with google ads, and you can get your website to come up in the searches.

Another way to go would be to hook up with a travel agent and split your fees.


Well the beauty of a freelance tour business is that you don’t have to go out every day.  If you don’t get booked, just do some thing else that day.  The main cost is your time, marketing, and insurance (which we have not discussed).


In California your biggest hassle setting up will be dealing with the regulation hurdles.  There is not just one regulatory authority, and we are not sure this information is 100% correct.

  • City.  You will need to get a city business license to get going.  This will be based on your place of business.
  • California Board of Equalization.  You will need a “resale” permit so that you can pay money into the state.


Getting started in Business

Assuming you want to give tours or drive people around in a vehicle.

  • Department of Motor Vehicles  You wil need a valid drivers licence.  From what we understand, as long as you are transporting less than 7 people you can get by with a regular Class C license.  If you are driving a bus which can hold more than 8 people you need to get a class B license.
  •   You are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission and need to get a TCP Class A Permit or a S Permit.  If you just have one vehicle, the S permit seems like it’s most appropriate.  This costs $1,000 to register and $100/year thereafter. To get an application, go to the CPUC’s website and click on form PL 739.  You will also want to review the what you are applying for by clicking on the link called Basic Information for Passenger Carriers and Applicants.   You will also need to meet the CPUC’s insurance requirements which for vechle that seats 8 or less is $500,000.  And your personal auto policy will not cut it.  See our limo page for insurance buying tips.


© 2012