Empire Expansion: Steven Garcia’s Strategy to Acquire Tour Companies and Dominate Global Markets

cabin house extension

Steven Garcia’s Empire Tours and Productions is a company truly built from the ground up. It started with a single walking tour, and today, it’s a worldwide operation with offices in New York, Chicago, Charleston, Austin, London, Amsterdam, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

With the wave of baby boomer retirements continuing to build, the demand for tourism is greater than ever, which has inspired Steven to push for a greater expansion — he hopes to bring Empire Tours to 30 to 40 more cities worldwide.

In a sense, the Empire Tours expansion marks a return to the company’s roots. Many target cities are in Asia and the Middle East, where Steven originally started the business in Taiwan.

It all began with a chance meeting on a Taipei subway. Steven and his wife had just moved to Taiwan, where his wife was teaching English. “Back then, if you were a Westerner, you really stuck out,” he says. So when Steven was on the subway, two other Westerners — an older couple with Detroit accents — noticed him immediately.

Though they were born in Taiwan, the couple lived in Detroit for 40 years before returning to Southeast Asia for work. Because Steven Garcia was so new to the area, they offered to show him around.

“We started walking around a little town and I began telling them about all these buildings and the history and everything,” he says. “And the lady was like, ‘What do you do? How do you know all this if you’ve never been here?’ I said Google and Wikipedia, and I like history. So then she says, ‘Well, I’m coming back in a month with my women’s group from Hong Kong. Why don’t you give us a two-hour walking tour of this place?’”

Steven was hesitant at first. “Being from New Orleans, I thought of tour guides as people dressing up like pirates and getting drunk, so I was kind of weird about it,” he says. Once the woman offered him $1,000 for a two-hour tour, he accepted.

It ended up being a pivotal career move. The group loved the tour, and Steven later found out they were from The American Club, the Forbes top-rated social club in the world at the time. “That kick-started walking tours in Taipei,” Steven shares. “We were doing this all-inclusive package deal, bringing in Westerners from Hong Kong. Eco-tourism was just starting to become a thing back then.”

It’s safe to say that now, eco-tourism is more popular than ever. More people than ever seemed inclined to travel when the world opened back up after COVID. That was great news for Empire Tours and other companies, but it led to environmental and community worries in destination cities.

”There were definitely increasing concerns with overtourism after COVID,” Steven acknowledges. “People were kind of on a ramp — there was travel everywhere. And sometimes it does impact local communities.”

“But there’s a safer way to do sustainable and responsible tourism without overwhelming those places,” he continues. “For instance, 90% of our tours are walking tours. It’s a healthier way, and it’s better for the environment.”

Steven’s love of history and talent for tour design are big parts of the company’s success. However, these are far from the only factors driving the expansion. While a significant portion of Empire Tours and Productions’ revenue comes from baby boomer retirement funds, Steven believes the key to the company’s longevity lies in building a team of younger, dynamic operators and support staff.

Throughout his journey as a leader, Steven has learned to sharpen his leadership strategies and cultivate a top-notch team. “In the really early days, I thought I knew everything. I didn’t have as much respect,” he says.

“Now,” he shares, “I take better care of my employees, and showing that you care coincided with the millennial and Gen Z generations who expect that in the workplace. I learned how to retain really, really good employees who care a lot about the company, and my competitors stayed on the status quo of not paying people enough. I didn’t lose any of my staff during COVID, and I work in hospitality.”

Steven encouraged Chinese citizens to discover New Orleans in the early years of his business. Now, he hopes to inspire Americans and Europeans to explore the wonders of China — from the architectural panoply of Bund Shanghai to the mist-shrouded rock towers of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park — and beyond.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of All China Review.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here