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Group Travel 101: Working With Tour Operators

Planning a great trip for your friends can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to go it alone. Professional, qualified tour operators can take on all of the travel logistics and deliver you superior experiences.

What is a Tour Operator?

A professional tour operator is a company that designs, markets and operates group or individual tour programs as a business, and for a profit.

Like any other profession, there are great tour operators, good and mediocre ones, and a few that you should avoid. Conscientious tour operators have spent many years learning their trade, participating in industry events and educational seminars, traveling extensively and preparing to serve group organizers as best they can.

Except for the largest international corporations, almost all operators specialize in one or a limited number of product types, destination areas or target markets. As a result, you might find it helpful to locate an operator whose area of specialization matches the places you want to go or the type of trips you want to take.

Good tour operators should belong to one of several national trade associations, such as the National Tour Association, United States Tour Operators Association or the American Bus Association. And when you’re researching these companies, keep in mind that reputations for honesty and integrity are not automatic: Tour operators must continue to earn these accolades every day, even after many years in business.

Tour Operator Value

One of the best reasons to work with a tour operator is to offer quality trips to places you’ve never been yourself. Many travel planners are comfortable putting together a one-to-three day trip for themselves, but use tour operators for longer tours or trips to more exotic destinations.

Tour operators have a vast amount of experience and buying power. They can combine all of their business (i.e. multiple tour departures) to negotiate rates that you would never be able to get on your own. And using their services allows you to concentrate on promoting, filling and enjoying the trip, rather than working handling all the logistics.

Most established tour operators offer an entire program of incentives, such as commissions on sales, complimentary trips, customized fliers and trip documents, promotional giveaway items and familiarization tour opportunities.

Tour Operator Tips

There very well may be tour operators based on your city, and these companies may be a good place to start when planning trips. But in today’s world, the location of a tour company’s headquarters doesn’t matter much, so don’t limit your searches to organizations that are located close to you.

If you have researched tour companies and narrowed your choices down to a handful of candidates, it might be helpful to check out the professional credentials of the people planning the tours for each company. Travel professionals can earn industry certifications indicated with initials CTP, CTIS, MCC, ACC, CTIE, CTC or DS, which you’ll often find after their name on business cards or email signatures. These people are among the best travel experts in the business.

Finally, don’t limit yourself by working with only one tour operator on every trip you plan. Instead, get a couple of competitive bids on any trip, requested from a short list of trusted companies. This helps you make certain that these suppliers keep their pencils sharp and work hard to keep your business.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.