How to Become a Virtual Tour Events Company

All of the sudden Chicago Detours is temporarily a virtual tour company! It’s a new and unexpected change for our small business, as are many things for everyone right now .

We are now into a month and a half of lockdown during the COVID19 pandemic. When that was announced, it spelled a (temporary) end to our tour company business of providing walking tours and private group tours for locals and visitors. So, we had to figure out how to adapt in a real hurry. Within two weeks Chicago Detours began to offer virtual tours.

The weeks since then have been a whirlwind of planning and preparation to become a virtual tour company. Our workload is dominated by designing the tours and marketing them. We’ve gotten some great press from Chicago Tribune, Block Club, TimeOut, and NBC. That said, we’re thoroughly enjoying this new line of work and have some really exciting virtual tour topics lined up. We have a virtual boat tour of the Chicago River planned for May 9th, which is already piquing interest across town.

Zooming Through Virtual Tours

Ellen giving a virtual tour of Chicago building types in neighborhoods

The biggest challenge in become a virtual tour company in all honesty, was not content. We have tons of stories, ideas, and facts that we have cultivated from 10 years of sharing tours, public talks, and blog articles. Our challenge as a now virtual tour company was to figure out how to bring all these stories of history, architecture and culture to people’s couches. Just like countless other small businesses, we turned to Zoom as the solution to the problems presented by social distancing.

We chose to host Zoom meetings that would run 30 minutes on weekday evenings and 50 minutes on weekday afternoons. We had to just guess at what time of day people might want to join our tours while we had been thrust into an entire disruption of regular daily schedules. Then we had to figure out: How can you create an online tour experience that replicates the distinct pleasure of walking and talking through town?

Virtual Tour Formats

On that first week, we had big swings that taught us a lot about guiding tours from an online platform. Our Executive Director, Amanda, hosted the initial couple of Historic Happy Hours and Virtual Tours.

As she led us into temporarily becoming a virtual tour company, she worked out approaches to the digital tours that we now consistently use: Google Street View, slideshow presentations, and creating an interactive dynamic through the chat functionality. The former allows us to skip up and down thoroughfares like LaSalle Street, or just regular neighborhood boulevards. Such an experience, even through a Zoom screen share, helps provide a tangible sense of the physical layout of the cityscape. The latter always us to display historical images and videos, just like we do with iPads on the walking tours.

But really, we can’t explain how fun it is to interact live with a group of 60-120 people for each of these digital experiences. We have for a limited time the videos on our Youtube channel if you’d like to see for yourself how a virtual tour works. Or, if you follow us on Facebook you can easily access the livestream.

Thanks for Supporting Us!

We’re incredibly grateful for the support that Chicago Detours has received since the lockdown began. The initial days were immensely stressful, as we reckoned with the sudden disappearance of our entire source of revenue. The online tours have not replaced our lost income. We are offering most of them for free and accepting donations to keep us afloat in the meantime. A band of “regulars” is signing in every day and new faces appear for each virtual tour. Corporate groups, families, and universities have started signing on for private virtual tours.

It means the world to draw people’s interest in these uncertain times. Your support has kept our business operating and it means the world to us. Please register for a virtual tour here!

See you on Zoom!

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and (Virtual) Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
Robert
GetYourGuide

Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
Heather
TripAdvisor

Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
Lorit
TripAdvisor

Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K
TripAdvisor

Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K
Yelp

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F
Yelp

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