Small Business Success Story: Sell Duck Tour Tickets Online

Small Business Success Story: Sell Duck Tour Tickets Online

Sell Duck Tour Tickets

Once the hero of WWII, now the darling of sightseers worldwide, today's brightly colored amphibious duck tour "trucks" have come a long way from storming the beach at Normandy. And tour operators have come a long way by building thriving small businesses from the decommissioned military hardware. This post looks at examples from around the world and the small business success story of how to sell duck tour tickets online.

History of the Duck Tour

You may have seen a giant brightly colored vehicle drive down the street in your town. And to your astonishment, it drives right into the water, its occupants cheering loudly with joy. For the unfamiliar, one of the most popular ways to sightsee is on a so-called duck tour that uses decommissioned military amphibious vehicles. The tours often begin on the public roadways, making stops at historic sites on land, then drive directly into a nearby bay-front or shoreline for sightseeing by water.

WWII DUKW amphibious vehicle The vehicles used on a duck tour actually have a long history of distinguished service in wartime. The nickname “duck” is a disambiguation of the original moniker DUKW which stems from the manufacturer's code (D for the model year 1942, U for utility, K stands for all-wheel drive, and W for having two the vehicle's axles). The phonetic play on the acronym began with the soldiers of WWII as they prepared for the invasion at Normandy beach. The nickname “duck” stuck and the big trucks have been called that ever since.

Tens of thousands of DUKWs were built by the world’s militaries, but as the world transitioned from war to peace, the “ducks” were decommissioned and sold at auction. It was a Wisconsin small businessman who had the bright idea that he could use the one-time weapon of war as a fun way to see the sights. According to Wikipedia, the very first duck tour was in 1946:

Mel Flath and Bob Unger in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin [began the first duck tour]. Flath's company has changed ownership since, but is still in operation under the name Original Wisconsin Ducks. His family continues to operate a duck company called the Dells Army Ducks in the Wisconsin Dells Area.

Since that first spark of business innovation in the 1940s, duck tours have become one of the most popular ways to sightsee. Duck tours operate in virtually every major tourist destination city around the world and for good (business) reason. Upping the thrill factor a few notches over traditional sightseeing has proven to be a very profitable business.

Profit Powerhouse

As a case study for how to sell duck tour tickets online, one needs to appreciate just how often the business model is cited as an example. One such authoritative source is the PBS television show 'Small Business School' that has featured various duck tours several times in the past. Past shows have interviewed tour operators as well as city tourism officials, touting the resourcefulness of duck tour operators re-purposing the vehicles as the centerpieces of a small business.

Tourism and sightseeing are, of course, major industries, but they are also a form of theatrical performance. The tour guides are very often actors who embellish the tour stops with humor in order to make a more memorable experience. Duck tours are no different, but they also add a "thrill ride" factor to the mix. In the highly competitive market of sightseeing, every little bit helps in attracting vital tourist dollars. In an episode of Small Business School, host Hattie Bryant said off duck tours:

The key to the entertainment aspect is the tour guides themselves. They develop their own World War II character and "stay in character" the entire time they are working. They are excellent story tellers; and, even though Andy gives them a script, they are encouraged to make it their own. Audience participation is key.

Later in the show, Bryant interviews a duck tour operator and emphasizes keeping operating costs down and working with officials from the city in which the tours are conducted. There is more to operating a successful duck tour than just buying a DUKW amphibious vehicle at auction!

Small Business Success Story: Sell Duck Tour Tickets Online

Leading by example are the following duck tours. Each one a small business success story as well as being representational of how duck tour business is thriving worldwide.


In the city of London, a duck tour operates seasonally providing both learning and thrills to tourists. London Duck Tours stops at the popular sites one would expect (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc.) then plunges into the Thames river for boat cruise. The most popular themed event is the 'James Bond Tour' which is sold as special ticket package on the company's website.


In Austin Texas, the Austin Duck Tour drives through the city streets on a fun and informative journey during the Summer months. When active, the duck tour runs five times a day, with each tour including a cruise on Lady Bird lake. To sell duck tour tickets online, the Austin Duck Tour uses a pre-paid reservation system which serves the needs out-of-town visitors who usually book months in advance.

Sell Duck Tour TicketsThe spirit of a successful small business can be seen throughout the super ducks tour website.

The same ThunderTix plan Boston Super Tours uses can be yours, including the ability to set recurring dates and times. Note that our technology supports integration with popular coupon services like Groupon to spur additional ticket sales. Plus, we help small business be more profitable by never charging per-ticket fees.

When the 'Small Business School' television show stressed managing overhead costs as being key to success, that includes your choice in online ticketing software. If you would like to see just how much ThunderTix could help reduce one of your overhead costs, check our online calculator!