“Everything is so hectic. Why would you run on your day off?” That’s the question Berta Luise Heide is asking. Founder of WALK THIS WAY and alumna of U-SCHOOL, ESCP’s entrepreneurial acceleration programme, Berta is the creator behind the BertaBerlin walking maps and author of the recently published “Travel the World in Berlin”. For The Choice, Berta explains how she started her business, survived 2020, and where she sees the future of her industry heading.
When it comes to travel, whether in her home city of Berlin or further afield, Berta prefers to slow down, go for a walk and “discover like a local”. And that’s exactly what she wants to help others do, too.
When you walk a little slower, you can see details on your way to the destination. And your destination becomes the walk.
How WALK THIS WAY was born
Several years ago, Berta began renting a room in her apartment to visitors in Berlin, and she found herself constantly repeating the same advice on where to go and what to visit. Then in 2015, she and her mother travelled to Milan on vacation. Knowing her mother’s tastes, Berta planned the perfect walking tour of the city, blending culinary highlights with museum visits, galleries and shopping.The lightbulb moment came not long after. Berta realised that her mother must not be the only one looking for this personalised travel experience. Berta could create these walking maps for visitors to her city, too.
“When you live somewhere you go to the same places all the time. You never visit your city as a tourist, even though you’re super curious and want to discover everything. And I thought okay, I’m starting this business because I love what I do. I love to find new hidden gems and make myself discover my own city again.“
From passion project to business plan
Though Berta may have founded WALK THIS WAY with the primary ambition of sharing her tastes and tips for visiting Berlin with her guests, she discovered that her product served a real need in her city.
Today, Berta has created over 30 walking maps, and established a popular Instagram page and blog where she shares daily tips for visitors (and locals). The BertaBerlin walking maps are curated based on the characteristics of each neighborhood and on what makes Berlin unique. Are you a fan of yoga, beer, or coffee? Are you queer, vegan, or soon to be married? There is a BertaBerlin walking guide for you.
Berta also creates custom maps for local businesses and organisations, such as a “walk through the past” in partnership with the DDR Museum, or a map for those who cannot skip a yoga session even when on vacation in collaboration with lululemon.
After partnering with ESCP Business School to create a customised map for its Berlin Campus, Berta saw a new business opportunity. Though her marketing and public relations background helped her in launching the business, Berta felt there was more she could learn about building a company.
“I’m not from a business-related environment. I have it in me, but I never wrote it down.”
That’s when she made the decision to participate in ESCP’s U-SCHOOL, the entrepreneur accelerator programme at the Berlin Campus. Through the courses and working alongside her classmates, Berta gained not only business acumen but more importantly the structure and strategies to grow her business.
Growing a tourism business in a pandemic
While the global pandemic has slowed down many in the tourism industry, this was not the case for Berta. Last year, she published her first travel book, “Travel the World in Berlin”, and has recently released an app that allows users to enjoy free walks and recommendations.
“I’m always open to new things. I think that’s also what makes life a little easier for me,” explains Berta. “When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t worried about losing everything. I was trying to focus on the opportunities. I had more time to write the book; to focus more on the app so that it will be released in time and people can actually do the walks during the pandemic.”
Berta also considers herself “just lucky”. First, most of her revenue is made with companies for whom she does customised maps, so it’s less dependent on tourism. Thanks to its business model and the diversity of the offers, WALK THIS WAY managed to maintain a stable performance despite the restrictions on travel.
Second, her offer easily lends itself to pandemic-era tourism. The nature of her product, walks outdoors, was something that locals could still enjoy even though international visitors were significantly restricted from travelling last year. BertaBerlin customers are usually split 50/50, with locals and expats making up about half of her market. The travel restrictions and #Staycations meant that half of Berta’s customers were still looking for recommendations around the city.
For example, not only is Berta’s travel book eco-friendly, encouraging visitors to opt for walking visits of the city while supporting local businesses, it also fits with people’s desire to travel the world while being stuck at home. In her book, Berta invites visitors to “travel the world” via six journeys through Italy, France, Turkey, Russia, China and Japan (all in Berlin), highlighting the multicultural experience that makes this city unique.
Looking to the future of tourism
When speculating on the future of her industry, however, Berta doesn’t expect the consequences of the pandemic to stick.
Since starting her business, Berta has seen tourism in Berlin continue to grow. More people were coming every year, attracted by the affordability of the city and Berlin’s famous club scene.
“I’m quite curious how this is going to change after the pandemic because all of Berlin’s clubs and hotels are suffering very badly. It’s over a year now that nobody is actually paying money for parties,” adds Berta. “I really hope that the scene stays, or develops so that it will be something new but still cool.”
“I think next year a lot of people will travel. I can’t imagine that there will be less tourism or that people will be more sustainable while travelling. I can’t really believe that people who love travelling will skip flying at all. But hopefully some people will consider travelling more in Germany or travelling in a different way.”
Berta is certainly aware that she would not be the person she is today without her experiences travelling and living abroad in Canada, Peru and South Africa. So when it comes to reconciling vacation and sustainability, she tends to see her travelling as part of a bigger picture. It’s all about balancing your daily habits, such as riding a bike, taking an electric scooter, or walking, rather than driving a car.
“For example, two years ago I made myself the challenge to not buy anything online . . . I try to do the little things, to make people aware of sustainability and to live my life as sustainably as I can.”
What are Berta’s keys to success?
Find something that is valuable for you and for others. I believe, when you are creating value it will automatically lead to passion. And you have to be passionate about the work you do and be consistent. Because even if it bores you at certain times or is difficult, you can more easily stick with it.
This drive has helped Berta grow her business and continue looking to the future. Clearly nothing, not even a global pandemic or a new baby, can slow her down.
After welcoming her first child at the beginning of the year, Berta’s next big announcement in 2021 is the release of the BertaWalks mobile app, now available in the apple store. The app gives users her recommendations and planned walks at their fingertips, and hopefully provides Berta with opportunities for expansion to new cities around the world.
If you’re looking to keep up with Berta, you will likely find her walking around Berlin, sharing her free tips and recommendations to visitors on Instagram or touring Japan, as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted.
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