September 30, 2014

Trendsetters

Tour Guides

Historic Tours of America

Mike Vogel | 9/1/2010

Befitting the owners of a company that calls itself "America's Story Teller," Ed Swift III, Chris Belland and Moe Mosher have a tale to tell about how they built their $80-million-in-revenue business. It begins in the depression that engulfed Key West when the Navy closed its station there in 1974. The three bought and renovated about 25 buildings on Duval Street and nearby. They needed a way to entice tourists away from Mallory Square to their tenants' stores. So they bought the Old Town Trolley.

Thus was born Historic Tours of America. Two key decisions: Offering free reboarding all day and a money-back guarantee. Every ticket stub is also a prepaid postage comment card that the company studies assiduously for ways to improve. Their company now encompasses, among other attractions and tours, its one-time rival, the older "World Famous Conch Tour Train," trolleys in Boston, Savannah, San Diego, Washington and St. Augustine and attractions including the Truman Little White House, Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum, St. Augustine's Old Jail and San Diego's Old Town Market. All told, Historic Tours carries 1.5 million tour riders a year, hosts 500,000 at its attractions and employs 850. The trio plans a Boston Tea Party museum, with replica ships and a documented tea crate from the protest. Their nationwide Trusted Tours conducts internet sales for 500 attractions and tours.

Belland, a Wharton graduate, once was in real estate in his native Miami. "I came down to Key West for the weekend, and here I am," Belland, 62, says. Swift, 64, a former Monroe County commissioner, ran a camera store. Mosher, 78, was Swift's barber in high school. "We love history, all three of us," Swift says. "We love restoration."

Chris Belland (left) and Ed Swift III
Chris Belland (left) and Ed Swift III [Photo: Rob O'Neal]

Ed Swift III, President

Chris Belland, CEO

Moe Mosher, Vice president of property

Historic Tours of America / Key West

Key West then and now: "I think it's cleaner than when we were a Navy town," Swift says. "There's a lot more foliage and plants."

Common interest: Workforce housing development

Belland: "In every city we're in, we're a high-profile company because we're out on the street every day. We've always felt a real responsibility in doing it right."

Tags: Trendsetters

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