With live music and a funky school bus leading her biz, Twisted Texas Tour Founder Meagan Fritts is taking Austin tourism to a new level.
By Amanda Pinney, Photos courtesy of Ben Porter Photography
When Meagan Fritts began her career in the tourism industry, she had no idea a brightly colored school bus with a live band would be in her future. After college, Fritts became an international tour guide in Peru, something the now 31-year-old describes as both the scariest and best thing she’s ever done.
“It was the perfect match for me. You got to talk to people, you got to travel, you got to learn about new places,” Fritts recalls.
It was clear to her then she had found her ideal career path.
Although she was enjoying herself, a career in international tourism meant Fritts was on the road for approximately 200 days a year. She knew she wanted to continue a career in tourism, but the long days on the road were starting to take a toll. She decided the solution was to launch her own company in Austin so she could do what she loves but in a less exotic location.
In April 2015, Fritts launched Access ATX Tours, a tour company providing premium private tours in the city. From the Bucket List Austin Food Tour to the Complete Austin Experience, Access ATX Tours features several options for locals and tourists to engage with the city. The company also caters to bachelor and bachelorette parties with a wine-tasting tour through the Hill Country and its BBQ & Brewery Adventure.
“Access ATX tours are a little higher end and have kind of a classy vibe to them without being dull and stuffy,” Fritts says. “They are informational, but our guides share facts in a fun and engaging way.”
With Access ATX up and running, Fritts started brainstorming a unique twist on tourism that would target different types of travelers. In September 2017, she launched Twisted Texas Tour to embody the uncanny spirit of Austin. A school bus painted in wacky colors and a live band jamming on board create Fritts’ vision of a party on wheels for travelers seeking a nontraditional way to tour the city.
“It’s been a really fun project because it gave me a chance to break out of the mold and see what Austin really wanted,” Fritts says. “And the feedback has just been really positive; everyone’s shown up excited.”
The Twisted Texas Tour options are public and include the original Live Music & Brewery Tour and the Brunch Bus, which was added in January 2018. The bus stops at three breweries or brunch locations in Austin, and guests are welcome to bring their own boozy beverages on board. Both tours are popular among the 22- to 35-year-old demographic, but the Brunch Bus attracts the most attention.
“The Brunch Bus was just so new and unlike anything Austin had seen. Even though it launched four months later, it has definitely already beat out the Brew Bus in popularity,” Fritts says.
The Brunch Bus stops at three popular local spots so guests can experience iconic Austin brunch food. On the menu are breakfast tacos, chicken and waffles, and kolaches, and at each stop, guests receive a new dish. Although the locations are subject to change, past tours have featured Austin favorites like Gourdough’s, Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches and Torchy’s Tacos.
“It’s less like a tour and more of a fun and different way to brunch, a different way to hang out with your friends,” Fritts says. “No one has to worry about driving or planning or reservations.”
Aside from the bold colors painted across its sides, the Twisted Texas Tour bus also features live music. The tour company works with approximately a dozen three-piece bands featuring everything from keyboards and guitars to tambourines and harmonicas. The bands play covers of classic songs guests can sing along to, as well as a few original songs.
“People from out of town would always ask where they could find live music, so it was a way to give guests what they want and also contribute supporting the local live-music scene,” Fritts says.
As far as the best season to book a tour, Fritts says there isn’t really a time of year that is off-limits. While a large influx of tourists flood Austin for popular music and entertainment events such as the Austin City Limits Music Festival in the fall and South By Southwest in the spring, Fritts emphasizes tourism is actually much slower at that time. As for the holiday season, tourism experiences a huge spike in the days before and after Christmas, as family members come into town.
“Austin tourism is really interesting because we don’t really ever have guaranteed bad weather,” Fritts says. “In the wintertime, it might be freezing and terrible, but it also might be 65 degrees and sunny.”
It’s no secret Austin is a hot-ticket city and that appeal has certainly affected the tourism industry. According to the Austin Business Journal, more than 150 people move to the city each day. For tour companies, new arrivals are a great market for tourism because they are looking for something to help them engage with Austin and get a feel for where they’ve landed.
“While we have some months that are busier than others, there are people here all of the time, which is great for the tourism industry,” Fritts says. “Everyone has heard how amazing Austin is. We’re all terrible at keeping a secret.”
As for future plans for her business, Fritts wants to continue promoting local bands and eateries by introducing tour guests to more locations. While the majority of those who book a tour are out-of-towners, Fritts is hoping more locals will come along for the ride as word starts to spread.
“My plan for Twisted Texas is just to keep making it the best that it can be and hopefully adding on some other breweries and restaurants because the more places we can promote, the better,” Fritts says.
Other than adding more stops to the mix, Fritts is perfectly content with the experience she created.
“Everyone always asks if I’m going to expand to other cities or what’s the ultimate dream,” Fritts says. “For me, all I’ve ever really wanted is exactly what I have right now.”