Swinging 60s London tours go virtual

With coronavirus pressing the pause button on his successful Swinging 60s London tours, Paul Endacott of Music Heritage London has taken the opportunity to think outside the box. Fiona Horan finds out more.

How was 2020 looking for your business before the whirlwind of coronavirus appeared over the horizon?

‘I’ve been promoting London’s vast music heritage for the last five years, with scheduled and bespoke guided tours by Routemaster bus and psychedelic mini-bus, with music and live commentary. This year we have rekindled our relationship with the Royal Albert Hall and were about to roll out a new experience for music tourists, with a specially created one hour tour inside the Hall, followed by a tour with us. Our trial tours went very well – Tripadvisor reviews were fantastic – and we were looking forward to working with the most iconic music venue in the world.’

And then the lockdown started?

‘We found ourselves in a predicament. Like many businesses in leisure and entertainment, our customers vanished overnight.

Time to think outside the box. We turned to digital meeting room Zoom to see if there was any appetite for a virtual tour. Perhaps we could reach music-lovers not just in the UK, but across the world? I advertised a Rolling Stones virtual tour on Facebook and got over 2100 likes from Argentina, to name just one country. Traction was amazing!’

So how do your virtual tours work?

‘The tours are live. We prepare still maps and images in advance, and go out in the psychedelic mini-bus. I give live commentary and we have a co-host who has experience or expertise on the subject. For instance, Tony Bramwell, who worked with the Beatles and knew them all from childhood, was supposed to be at a Beatles convention in America talking to 70,000 people. Instead, he’s sitting in Totnes – so he was keen to come on board. Patricia Inder, John Lennon’s teenage sweetheart, is another co-host. She is a fountain of knowledge about those days, when the Beatles were composing their first hits and the scene later in London when she hung out with the Rolling Stones and Chrissy Shrimpton.
And, for an insight into the fashions of the era, we have Leslie Cavendish, the Beatles’ hairdresser, who also cut the hair of the Bee Gees, Keith Moon, Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead, and Formula One champion James Hunt.’

Are there technical challenges?

‘For larger group bookings, you need a sort of virtual sound desk engineer to control the experience, allowing people to ask questions, controlling the sound, and switching to still images. Clearly we need to look into interpreters for South American and other clients. We are just finalising a deal with a company that specialises in this.’

What are the advantages of virtual tours, and do you think you will continue to offer them after the pandemic has passed?

‘International reach is one obvious advantage – bringing the streets of London to the world. We are less limited on the numbers of people and we can offer them a unique experience – every tour being different. Our booking service is integrated with Zoom, a simple one-click process, and I think a lot more people are used to using Zoom than they were a few months ago! We hope that groups might enjoy such an experience together whilst travel is restricted, and we intend to add more themed virtual tours and keep them going once the real life tours are back up and running. And, if our virtual passengers come to London to join us in person on the bus, they can get a £10 discount off the price of their ticket!’

Swinging 60s London tours