The Woman Reinventing How Guides Do Business

Entrepreneur Shay Bellas is launching NaviTour to help guides—and the people who book them—thrive in Maine.

If one word defines the force driving entrepreneur Shay Bellas, it’s inspiration. When she sees a need or an opening, she builds a business. After owning and serving as general manager for the Maine Freeze, the state’s trailblazing pro women’s football team, Bellas launched a marketing services firm she still runs, 19 Oak Strategic Sales and Marketing. Her latest venture, NaviTour, a tourism tech company, aims to change the way guides in Maine (and eventually, everywhere) do business. The website and mobile app will allow people to book experiences with local guides—from yoga instructors to James Beard award–winning chefs—and provide those guides with a platform to manage their businesses. Bellas joined forces with travel experts and other experienced entrepreneurs to bring NaviTour to life. The team is building the website and app and soliciting feedback from guides. The startup plans to launch in time for the start of the tourist season in May, but one goal of the service is to create more year-round opportunities for guides in Maine.

Where did the idea for NaviTour come from?

My family and I were on a bucket-list trip, and I’d signed us up for a tour. I had a question for our guide beforehand, but I couldn’t contact them because I had booked the experience through a big, impersonal travel website. Everything was a couple of steps removed. We’re all used to being able to get answers in seconds from our phones, so it seemed ludicrous that there was such a disconnect. It got me thinking that it would be great if there was an app that let you get in touch with your guide directly. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was a whole host of things an app could do to help both guides and their guest

What will the app be able to do?

Guides will be able to book tours and experiences, manage their calendars, track expenses, publicize their businesses, update their content and their social media, and be in touch with guests before and after the tour. Guests will be able to find tours—and not just the expected ones but amazing new experiences, too—ask questions, share photos and reviews, recommend their guides, and transact, including tipping, which is super helpful. Guests can even invite friends and family to remotely join in.

“Maine is rich in undiscovered opportunities—magical places and people most guests don’t know about. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was one place you could go to find all of that?”

What are the challenges faced by Maine guides?

It’s funny because we couldn’t be in a better place to start. Maine is a microcosm of the global tourism business, and we have thousands of guides offering all kinds of experiences. Even though people are far-flung, there’s often only one degree of separation, so it’s been relatively easy to learn what the challenges are. Number one is that so many guides struggle to make a living, so guides supplement what they love to do with what they have to do for work. That’s in large part because the traditional touring season is short, just five months out of the year.

How will NaviTour help?

I think our biggest advantage is the support we’ll give guides. NaviTour will match each guide with an account manager, who will help with self-promotion and marketing, and will brainstorm with them to develop ways to enrich and expand what they offer. It’s also a priority for NaviTour to make sure that guides are earning a livable wage. If we can grow the tourism pie, they’ll be able to work more than just Memorial Day through leaf-peeping season.

What are the types of experiences that will be available to book?

There are so many activities and experiences, beyond the usual outdoors fare. We have places and outings for hardcore sportsmen and women and ways to sample a day in the woods or on the water. We have spectacular sights. We have food and beer tours. Maine is also rich in undiscovered opportunities—magical places and people most guests don’t know about. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was one place you could go to find all of that? Not just for people from out of state, but for Mainers, too? And offer more experiences for people visiting Maine to enjoy. NaviTour will do that.

Learn more by visiting or downloading the NaviTour mobile app.

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