Q&A: Rauf Shakir, CEO of USA Guided Tours

Q&A: Rauf Shakir, CEO of USA Guided Tours

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Traveling with USA Guided Tours means a personalized approach to sightseeing, led by locals with a passion for their city.

The company was started nearly a decade ago by Rauf Shakir and partners. He had years of experience in DC hospitality, working as a bellman/concierge in a hotel, a driver for a tour company, a tour guide, and a travel salesman.

He combined that knowledge and his local travel connections with one bus from two partners in 2013, resulting in USA Guided Tours. Two years later, they had launched operations in New York City as well. Now, the company has two dozen vehicles in DC and NYC, running full-time tours in both cities.

We sat down with Shakir to talk about what USA Guided Tours has to offer and what they see coming up in the year ahead.

What would you say USA Guided Tours’ passion is?

We love showcasing, highlighting DC. That’s really my passion. Obviously, New York as well, but we just love showing off the cities to visitors. I think where we excel is trying to put together a unique experience that allows people to really get a good feel for the city from an authentic standpoint, from a local standpoint, and at the same time, doing it in a way that’s entertaining and engaging.

Aside from the expertise and passion, what do you have to offer that’s unique?

The latest, most unique experience we offer right now is our open-top tours. We have a number of open-top sprinters that have retractable roofs, which we can open completely in the summertime. But even when it’s raining or it’s cold, we close them and the roof is all glass, so it still has a 360 panoramic view. These tours been extremely popular, in particular in New York because you have the skyscrapers.

One of the things that we’ve done here in DC to distinguish ourselves is that we’ve added some of the attractions that usually require reserved entry to our public tours. For example, we have our VIP tour, which includes reserved entry into the US Capitol building as part of the tour. And it also includes reserved entrance to the National Archives. So, they actually get a chance to go inside the Capitol Building, and traditionally during peak season, you have to get passes in advance, so a lot of people don’t actually get a chance to go. Adding those to our public tours, that’s really been popular.

Why is family travel important to you?

When we first got into the business, our main focus was really just to visitors looking for services in DC, but throughout the years we’ve offered experiences for a lot more school groups. When you’re offering a tour experience for kids, it’s a little bit different than adults, right? Obviously, the attention span is not there, so we’ve really tried to train a lot of our tour guides in working with school groups. Then, when it comes to like family travel, DC is one of the top destinations for families in the US. Even our public tours, we’re having a lot more families that join lately. So, our guides are always finding ways to make sure that we’re keeping our younger audience engaged in our tours and not just the commentary that’s for adults.

And how do you facilitate that?

We are really hands on when it comes to the planning and the services we offer. We have our in-house concierge that works with agents and groups in the planning process. For any agents or directors or principals of schools who are looking at bringing groups of kids into the city, we can really work with them and customize, and offer them a really unique experience based on the needs they’re looking for. That’s really one of the main things, because I think a lot of times, companies have these preset itineraries that kind of plan for school groups. And sometimes those work, but we like to communicate with the groups, find out what their interests are, what is the age of the children, and what are they looking to experience? Why are they here? Then, we can really customize a unique experience that can fill everything they would like to do.

Anything else you’d like FTA members to know about USA Guided Tours?

I wanted to mention the fact that we own like a wide range of vehicles in our fleet. I think that’s really important. We have everything from SUVs to 14-passenger sprinters to 51-passenger coach buses. So, if groups are coming and they’re looking just for transportation needs or charter services, that’s something that we can deliver on. Sometimes, when you look at a tour company, you think we only provide the guide service, but we also provide transportation services as well.

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