Courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau
What started as a single tour operator’s idea in the late 1990s has become one of the most influential organizations in the tourism industry.
Travel Alliance Partners, commonly known by its initials, TAP, is a growing consortium of tour operators from across North America that have teamed up to offer their best products to group leaders and individual travelers. The organization was envisioned to create unity, focus and cooperation in the tour-operator industry.
“The concept of TAP was started with Serge Talbot of Talbot Tours,” said Stefanie Gorder, executive director of the organization. “He decided that there needed to be a focus on cooperation in the tour-operator world, as well as working with partners. Everyone liked the concept of his network — a private business about moving market share for everybody.”
The new company was formed in 2001 and today has a membership of 33 tour operators. Those operators all adhere to standards of participation developed by TAP’s founders, and they combine their individual expertise and their inventory to create a wide array of tours they can all sell to their own customers. Each member company operates tours into which the other member companies can sell, creating a network of constant sharing and collaboration.
“Everyone sits at the table, rolls up their sleeves and acts as one,” Gorder said. “They share industry secrets that work for their companies. Some focus on students, some focus on seniors, some focus on groups, and some focus on independent travelers. If one company was strictly focused on group business and was missing an opportunity to sell to independent travelers, they now have the opportunity to sell to independents through TAP.”
This collaboration and cross selling has obvious benefits for the tour operator partners and creates a lot of advantages for group leaders and travel buyers. Among the foremost are a series of TAP tours called Guaranteed Departures, tours guaranteed to run no matter how many or how few people sign up for them.
“A Guaranteed Departure is one of our standards,” Gorder said. “That means that the tour will operate no matter what. From a selling standpoint, it’s low risk. It’s a fantastic tour that was built by a regional expert. We were the first ones to offer that.”
Each TAP tour operator offers at least one Guaranteed Departure tour each year. The trips are often their most popular tours, and the tour operators are so confident in their products that they promise to execute the trips regardless of how many people buy into them. Because the trips are distributed through the entire TAP network, they often attract travelers from around North America.
In addition to the Guaranteed Departures, TAP offers two other categories of products: scheduled tours and custom tours. Scheduled tours cast the net of TAP products around the world and will operate if enough customers sign up. Operators often use scheduled tours to test the popularity of a product; if a tour sells well, they might bring it back as a Guaranteed Departure for the next year.
Custom tours expand TAP’s catalog even further. Custom tours feature itineraries, built by member tour operators, that are available to groups upon request. The experiences can be tailored to fit a group’s specific needs and can be scheduled at a time that fits the customer’s calendar.