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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Tips for Choosing a Tour Operator

There are hundreds of tour companies in the United States, and they would all love to have your business. How should you go about choosing the ones to work with?

The choice of a tour operator could be the most important decision you can make in planning trips for your organization. Since tour operators influence almost every aspect of a group trip — and hire the all-important tour director who will host the experience — a tour company can make or break your group’s travel experience.

If you have strong relationships with tour providers that have served you well in the past, by all means, keep working with them. But if you’re new to travel planning or are undertaking a different type of trip than what you have done before, you should spend some time carefully researching and vetting tour operators before you commit to doing business with any of them.

Here are five key areas you should consider when choosing a tour company for your organization’s next trip.

Specialties and Expertise

Just like individuals, every company has its own core competencies — things it does very well — as well as areas of weakness. Very few tour companies have the resources to plan and execute excellent trips anywhere in the world. Instead, most have developed expertise in a handful of destinations, travel styles or customer experiences. To ensure that your clients always have the best trip possible, it’s important to select travel partners that specialize in the kind of travel you want to do. This applies to cruise lines, too, as well as operators that package cruises along with land tours.

Exclusivity and Customization

Some tour companies are built on a retail model: Most of their revenue comes from individuals, couples or families that buy trips through travel agents or directly on the company’s website. Those companies will be happy to book a trip for your group, but unless you’re careful, your people may end up on a trip with others they don’t know. If you want a private tour for your group that is tailored to fit their interests, make sure to look for tour operators that offer group-exclusive trips and customizable itineraries.

Price and Inclusions

Price isn’t necessarily the most important consideration when choosing a tour operator for your group, but it is a major factor. Shopping on price can be tricky, though, because the quantity and quality of inclusions in a tour package can have a dramatic effect on the cost. As you price out tour options, make sure you ask what kind of hotels the tour operator uses, how many meals are included each day and what key attractions and experiences are built into the package. Sometimes the more expensive trip delivers the greater value.

Credentials and Coverage

When you’re asking customers or members to trust you with thousands of dollars, you can’t be too careful. Some travel companies — even large ones — have gone out of business and absconded with customer deposits, leaving groups high and dry. When you vet a tour company, look for information about any professional organizations they’re a part of. You should also ask for proof of liability insurance and traveler protection programs that would protect your customers should the company fail to operate the trip.

References and Reviews

Any company can create a website and sales materials that make it look great. So when you’re dealing with a potential travel vendor, go beyond their marketing channels to find out what customers have to say. You should ask the company to provide references from organizations similar to yours that they have served, then call those people to get their honest feedback. Larger companies may have reviews listed on sites such as TripAdvisor or Cruise Critic, and you should check those to make sure consumer experiences have been largely positive.