Expats are by nature adventurous. The most adventurous of all might be expat entrepreneurs bent on shaking up their new towns with their business visions.
Not too long after she arrived in Stockholm with her Swedish husband Patrik, Tiffany Alnefelt started thinking about a side business. Both have full-time jobs. But after multiple interviews with Tiffany, it’s clear there is an intuitive business mind at work, matched to ambition … the drive to create a cool – and profitable –business.
The genesis of her now 18-month old Stockholm Historic Pub Tour was a literary pub tour she enjoyed in Dublin, Tiffany Alnefelt said from Stockholm. Then, she started refining the concept based on Stockholm’s comparative advantages, as they say in macroeconomics class.
“I realized history would be a better draw,” she said. But not pedantic tours of ancient buildings. Something to bring together people in a cordial setting who might not otherwise meet. A business in which word of mouth from happy visitors would be the best advertising. The secret ingredient turned out to be beer … from Vikings’ mead to the craft beer at modern brewpubs popping up.
“You learn so much about Swedish culture when you look at how the drinking culture has changed throughout history,” Tiffany said.
Stockholm has so many historic watering holes, the first step was to decide which to include.
From our interview:
Though there are several locations in Gamla Stan that have a long history of being restaurants and pubs dating back even before Den Gyldene Freden, it’s rare to find a place like Den Gyldene Freden that still offers the same atmosphere with the same name and in the same location as i had when it opened in 1722.
“You find so many years of history in such a small space,” Tiffany said. The Old Town of Stockholm stands out in Europe because unlike Paris and London, it’s been spared from wars or large-scale urban renewal. “A lot of cities don’t have that because of fires and disaster. In Copenhagen, they talk about ‘the First Great Fire’ and ‘the Second Great Fire,” Tiffany said. “Stockholm has been lucky in the limit of destruction.”
Now, after early testing on family and friends and a little tweaking, the Stockholm Historic Pub Tour is a success because, well, who doesn’t like beer and hanging out? But it’s also a study of a business concept that seems easy to pull off, but requires elegant execution. “It’s the best business model there is … with minimal startup costs,” Tiffany said. The fee is 495 Kroner, or about $60 for a 2 ½ hour tour that includes six beverages. “We have solid partnerships with pubs because guests come back and eat. It’s great marketing and publicity. The only cost we have are for guides.”
The popularity of Stockholm Historic Pub tour is due both to word-of-mouth, and glowing reviews on TripAdvisor, bringing in everyone from bachelor parties from Hamburg to older beer enthusiasts.
HERE’S DISPATCHES’ Q&A WITH TIFFANY ALNEFELT
Dispatches Europe: I was looking at the Stockholm Historic Beer Tour Facebook page, and wow. The numbers are crazy! Crazy good!
Tiffany Alnefelt: Last year, we hosted 592 guests on the historic pub tour. We had so much fun and couldn’t wait to see where 2016 would take us. So far this year, we’ve hosted 482 guests and it’s still just June. We crossed that magical 1,000 guests mark in May when we welcome five folks from the USA. Skål to that!
Dispatches: What is the essence of the Stockholm Historic Pub Tour?
Tiffany: While on the pub tour, guests drink their way through Swedish history from mead to microbrew. In two and a half hours, we travel 1,000 years through history starting with anecdotes from the Viking era and ending with the current trend of microbrews. One of the highlights of the tour is the Viking tavern (Aifur) we visit where we share the saga of the mead of poetry while our guests sip their own mead. There are helmets and shields on the walls of the dimly-lit tavern. All of the waitresses and waiters look like they’ve just stepped out of the year 980, and they can answer any questions guests have about that time. What makes our tour great is that we don’t just tell our guests about the various periods of Swedish history, we give them the chance to immerse themselves in that time. It’s the atmosphere – the camaraderie, the storytelling and, of course, the careful selection of drinks that makes our tour unique.
Dispatches: To what do you attribute your success?
Tiffany: Our goal is to provide a memorable, unique experience for our guests, and all of our guides stick to that as their number one purpose. The maximum number for a group on a normal tour is 12 people which means that, by the end of the night, everyone has had a chance to get to know everyone else on the tour. It isn’t uncommon for guests who have never met to stay at the last pub and have dinner together. The great vibe, the atmosphere, and the talent of our guides is what leads many of our guests to share their experience with friends or write a 5-star review.
Another reason why so we’re so successful is the fact Patrik and I run this. We both have careers. But we do it ourselves because we believe in giving people added value. Also, we’re careful to hire guides as excited as we are. What’s interesting with a concept like this is, guides can make you or break you. It’s so important to have guides people remember and connect with.
Dispatches: How do you recruit?
Tiffany: Great guides just seem to find us. We have one guide, Colin, who basically contacted us because he is a beer enthusiast, and thought it would be a lot of fun. He’s an American expat and he’s been a phenomenal asset! In addition, we have a Swedish guide, Rebecka, who recently joined the team. She also has a great talent for connecting with guests. A good guide starts with a core script and each makes it his/her own. And we’ve gotten a lot of great information from guests.
Dispatches: How do you market it other than on social media?
Tiffany: We have a Facebook account with more than 700 likes and a TripAdvisor page with more than 60 5-star reviews. That’s the best marketing we could get! In addition, we have brochures that we have distributed to hotels throughout Gamla Stan as well as to Stockholm Info, a tourist bureau in the city. We have partnerships with two Swedish companies that offer gift cards for various experiences, and we are featured on several travel websites in various countries.
Dispatches: Did you target a particular demographic?
Tiffany: We have had all ages (above legal drinking age, of course) on our tour from university students to retirees. That’s what’s great about our tour. The opportunity to learn history while having a beer is a prospect that appeals to a large demographic. There is no specific nationality or gender that we appeal to more than another. The only demographic we don’t appeal to is the one that is looking to drink and party. For that demographic, there are other tours.
Dispatches: Do you get company events and team-building outings?
Tiffany: Yes. More and more, as a matter of fact. We have had quite a few well-established companies who have booked tours as a gift to their employees, and it’s a perfect event for companies that are entertaining clients or colleagues from outside of Sweden. We have also had a fair share of business people who are solo travelers to Stockholm who are looking for an opportunity to do something a little different, learn some history, relax, and meet other people instead of simply taking one more meal alone.
Are the people who come on your tour history buffs? Beer connoisseurs or people expanding their social network? Tourists? What is the typical historic beer tour profile?
Most people who come on our tour are at least a little bit interested in beer and history. Some of the guests have had tremendous knowledge about beer and even brew at home, but most guests are moderately knowledgeable about both Sweden’s history with drinking and drinking in general. It isn’t unheard of for guests to contact each other or even meet up again after the tour, but I don’t think any of our guests come with the specific purpose of expanding their network. There are meet-ups for that.