The Next Big Idea? On Location Tours
Georgette Blau always wondered why no one offered a tour of New York landmarks featured in TV shows and movies. So she decided to start her own.
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New York is one of the great tourism destinations of the world. Not only can you visit the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, you can walk the same steps as your favorite characters from TV shows like Friends or Seinfeld. It was her own love of pop culture that led Georgette Blau, 35, to become a tour guide 11 years ago, when she founded On Location Tours. Today, she doesn't have the time to conduct the tours herself, especially since On Location has expanded to offering tours of popular Washington, D.C.-based TV shows and movies in addition to its New York City tours, which entertain some 2,000 tourists a week.
It all started after Blau, a native of Norwalk, Conn., moved to New York with a friend in 1999. She had always wanted to live on the Upper East Side, so she started scouting out the area around East 86th Street. She also happens to have a fondness for old TV shows, so as she was walking around the neighborhood, she stopped and stared at familiar sights. "Hey, that's the Jeffersons' building," she said aloud. That's when it hit her that there were a lot of similar spots from other TV shows and movies around the city. Maybe, she thought, she could make some money giving tours.
Inspired, she acquired a tour guide's license from the city and bought an old bus, which she then painted to look like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. She began offering hour-and-a-half tours on the weekends to about 60 people a week, whom Blau shuttled around locations from shows like NYPD Blue, Seinfeld, Will & Grace, and The Cosby Show. Eventually she added movie locations as well, including classics like The Apartment and campy favorites like Crocodile Dundee.
Today, Blau runs a daily three-and-a-half-hour tour called the New York TV and Movie Tour, which covers about 50 TV shows and movies filmed in New York. She also offers a separate Sopranos tour, which remains popular despite the series ending in 2007. Blau has since expanded into Washington, D.C., where she offers tours based on 30 TV shows and movies like the X-Files, Forrest Gump, Minority Report, and The Exorcist.
Blau credits her turning point with the finale of the popular TV series Sex and the City, which ended in 2004. Her company was featured on the final episode and thus received substantial interest from fans after reruns of the show started playing on TBS.
Another big surprise for Blau has been how many international customers her tours attract -- particularly in the wake of the recession. Not only have Americans cut back on their vacations, but the cheap dollar has made travel more affordable for others around the world. As a result, Blau says that about 70 percent of her business now comes from visitors from countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Japan, Italy, France, and Spain. She has even begun offering tours where the guide speaks German and Italian. The hard part in doing that, however, is finding a good tour guide who speaks the language. "All of our guides are actors or actresses," Blau says. "So they act the part. But if they aren't from another country, people tend to be turned off by the accent."
Blau says people tell her all the time, "Man, why didn't I think of doing that?" Her response: "I always wondered why no one else was doing it."