History of City Walk Reykjavik
The history of CityWalk is coming soon here!
The Idea of a walking tour had evolved in my mind for a while before I finally decided to go for it on May 7th, 2014. On my own travels as a backpacking low budget traveler, I had enjoyed similar free walking tours in many of the countries I visited. I had signed up on Couchsurfing in 2011 and regularly showed fellow couch surfers around my city but never thought I was going to make a a business of it.
I finished my BA degree in history in 2013 after handing in my thesis at the end of the summer and jumped on a plane to South America. A 6-month trip I’ll never forget. I came home with empty pockets in April 2014 and after difficulties finding a job I decided to give this idea a try. After a few walks with my Reykjavík born grandfather around town and gathering as much information as possible from him and from my own studies, I was ready. I prepared my hand-sign (which I still use today) and started convincing random visitors roaming the streets of Reykjavík to trust me for two hours of their time as I showed them around. One by one they spread the word and slowly good word of mouth kept me going.
I got my first review on TripAdvisor on may 18th and since then the reviews came flying in! The website (www.citywalk.is) was up on 4th of June 2014 (thanks to my good friends at Avista.is) Same guys also created a wall poster on July 4th that I then printed out and kind friends allover town let me hang them up on walls in hostels and tourist information. That first summer of mine turned out to be great. The last summer month (August) I was starting to average around 20 people per tour, and general income was enough to make a living when I was doing two tours a day. I saw where it was going and I thought that the next summer would be very interesting. I had enjoyed this summer very much, found it to be a lot different than ever before, and I really enjoyed what I was doing and where I was going. I started to get recognition by a few randoms and inhabitants of downtown. I decided to setup a different account for this and get all papers straightened regarding accountants, insurance, and other necessary paperwork crystal clear. Citywalk Ltd. was therefore established on 1. September as a properly authorized company working in tourism in Iceland.
My hopes weren’t high for the winter, a number of visitors drops a lot and few of those interested in walking tours in a snowstorm I had imagined. I decided to keep the rhythm, offer 4-5 tours weekly along with school and thought to myself that would be enough to supply the demand and not bother my studies too much. However, in September I was already in top 5 rankings on TripAdvisor, I could feel the extra clicks and visits to the webpage always increasing, despite the fact that I wasn’t paying for any advertisement. I could feel the power of word of mouth. A number of tourists in downtown Reykjavík kept dropping but I still saw a steady number on my tour, a higher percentage of tourists coming to Iceland had spotted my tour and made plans to meet up with me.
21st of November I hit #1 on Tripadvisor, after running the tour for 6 months. Leaving behind companies that had been up there for years. Now I didn’t only have friends and family allover, I discovered that I had competition, goals, and something in my hands to evolve.
January 2015, had 30% more visitors than January the year before, reaching 60000 visitors in the country, February saw a similar increase and march as well. I couldn’t offer more tours because of school so I started to bring additional guides on the bigger tours, calling those my bodyguards, as a temporary solution, trying to hold on to the personal service. Hoping that those guys and girls would learn my routine and be able to pick it up one day. Eiríkur was one of those, on march 14th he was ready to roll and make his first ever Citywalk by himself. What a great relief and a day for me. I saw him slowly doing better and better on his tour and reaching a level where his delivery was just as good as mine if not better. Holding on to my original script and yet making it in his way and style. Still today I feel fortunate to have asked Eiki, a friend for many years, a backpacker like myself and also a history graduate to come on board with me. He took my company to the next level.
In April 2015 number of visitors on the tour did drop slightly. I booking system was up, we started to publish a “full” pretext on our tours to avoid overcrowding and managed to split up the tours between us. This, of course, caused my personal income to drop slightly, but yet gave me room to work on other things and prepare the upcoming summer. I also finished my exams and school assignments which gave me even more spare time to dedicate to my company. The most recent addition being the pub crawl.
Now I write this in the end of may, every month until now has been a record month in tours offered and total income. It is also ever more work, more e-mails, a lot more private group bookings etc. More guides are in training and the summer is coming.
Citywalk is ready.
Thank you for reading,
A new chapter in the history, this section written in mid-September.
The summer came and was a big one. For me personally, for Eric my co-guide, my company and simply my country in general. August that just passed had 189.000 visitors in total. That’s by far more than half the population here. Luckily, though, not everyone came on a walking tour with Citywalk 🙂
We ran the tour every single day this summer, sometimes even 4 tours a day, where we accommodated more than 100 guests together me and Eiki. To me, that was outstanding, I still can’t believe how we handled all the traffic. I’m so glad now looking back to the point where we decided to set up a booking system and put “full” marker on our tours once a certain amount of bookings were received.
Eric turned out to be a great asset, and along with him came Magnús, the financial expert on our team that runs “Walk-the-Crash” tour. Together we managed to establish him some sort of a platform for his tour, and immediately we saw traffic and interest on that tour which focuses solely on the Financial Miracle that took place in Iceland. This tour has been running now for a couple of weeks and we see that tour as a great established additional tour. The Pubcrawl also has been going great this summer, always plenty of interest and lately averaging just over 30 people on every pub crawl.
Now I sit here in September, looking ahead for the winter to come and I am currently alone again, Eric is on a holiday for the moment and will be alone for the next months until he comes back, hopefully soon enough 🙂 It looks like it’s gonna be tricky months ahead now where I need to pull the weight. Trying to recruit seems to be difficult as most people I’ve been in touch with have given up trying to turn into guides. Hopefully, we see a change in that. In any case, it’s all going steadily the right direction and you have no idea what’s coming next!
March 22nd, 2016!
Winter is over! It’s official. After very busy months guiding by myself and answering e-mails in September and October, Eric came back home in November. I was so relieved to get a break after working almost every single day, and completing almost 50 tours in one month. That’s almost two a day!
December was actually quite calm, for both me and Eric. We are not used to working so little haha. The new year saw a huge change Tax wise, an 11% VAT was added to tourism which is a direct cut on our total income. We’ve also set up recently a new booking system for our fixed price tours, offering them to be pre-paid which makes running things more automatic. February was huge for us! Not as we were expecting. The weather was also quite good, and most people stayed with us throughout the biting cold! In March we saw a new addition! Sara, also a history graduate and a high school teacher whom I met during my studies in my MA program. Charming and appealing, hardcore feminist mother, actually from quite a different background than myself. We’ve set high hopes for her on our squad, and she’s already completed months of training!
The Financial tour has been rather quiet over winter, holding on to roughly 4 tours a month, but lacking the numbers for some reason. The pub crawl on the contrary has been insanely busy, every tour fills up, and a great party on all occasions. I’ve had my brother helping me and eric out on that one, Jón Arnar and various other friends alter and join in with us for a different night out than the usual pre-gaming Icelandic stuff.
The summer is ahead and looks like the team will consist of 3 full-time guides! then another two on the side!
Looking forward to seeing you!
14th October 2016!
It’s time to sit down and write a few words again on the last month and the progress…
The summer was very busy to say the least. April started slowly and it looked like we had too many guides at hand, the demand wasn’t that great that month, actually a drop in number of visitors to Iceland that month. The month before, March 2016 turned out to be a record month, so the following month came to us as a surprise. I think all tourism companies in Iceland experienced the same thing in april. Things picked up again in may, and in june Sara was done with school and full time guide for CityWalk. However, Eric suddenly came down with a sore ankle after a football accident and was out of action for almost 3 weeks in june. For the most part of july, all guides 3 guides were in full action.
Magnús kept on running the financial tour steadily and the pubcrawl became more and more solid every weekend we ran it and now its very routined.
We are starting to notice a slight drop in numbers on our tours, seeing that the summer traffic is by now finished. Storms, rains and soon cold is going to take over.
A new website was launched in october and we are starting to think of the next steps in evolution of CityWalk!
7th March 2017!
Hello everyone! This time, we are at 5 guides total! Sara kept on going through the winter part-time, seeing she was busy with school also, she was mostly doing tours on weekends, which was great balance to me and eric, who managed to get a day off on weekends every now and then.
In november, we recruited a new guide, who was originally supposed to be a summer recruit, but turned out to be instantly full time and guiding just as much as me and eric. Joe came in at the right time, december and january had a ridiculous increase of visitors to the country. All seeking northern lights that hardly ever showed. The ShittyWalk was there to welcome everyone the morning after a long drive in the dark night.
As I write this, Tómas, has just started working for us also. He had been coming on and off to check us out through january and february and finally finished his thesis in history. Thus ready to go guiding. Again, timing was perfect. Eric was going on a 3 week holiday doing tours in Vietnam on motorcycle! The numbers of visitors in Iceland have never been greater at this time of the year, february at 148.000 total, and CityWalk, managed to accommodate almost 3% of those, a percentage number we’ve never achieved before.
The pubcrawl is now running on fridays and saturdays all weekends, plenty of helpful staff there jumping in to our aid.
Me personally, getting a lot more busy with office work, communications, e-mails, private requests, general expansion ideas and shift management. On top of that, a baby boy on the way this coming july!
Great times ahead!
6 months later! November 2017!
First of all a son is born! Now 16 weeks old as this is written (I think). Bjarni Valgarð Briem, named after my father in law and the father of my father! Time flies. I had some time off for faternity leave thankfully and could think of something else occasionally than the expansion of CityWalk.
We’ve had Tómas now for half a year and Þórdís who joined in June as well doing great for us guiding the “free” tour. More on more private group requests fly in also and we are actually seeing a significant increase in market share. Tourism in October in Iceland grew by 17% from 2016, which isn’t very much compared to the past years. We received a lot more than 17% more than last October, number yet to be sorted. The summer naturally was busy, and we were occasionally blessed with good weather! Now the first snow has fallen and a few storms down already. Some traffic to our financial tour which was slightly rebranded as “Money Talks” which refers more to current events over the financial collapse tour. We just opened for a running tour also, lead by Björn, a relative of mine actually. We are hoping this to be a great addition. So far a handful of happy clients! The pub-crawl is also very steady.
I’m personally still guiding, roughly 20 tours a month or so, but most of the time working on the laptop or talking on the phone. The future plan now is not recruitment, but rather expansion from within. More partnerships, and possibly added products! Stay tuned!