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Travel Toolbox: Choosing a Tour Operator


In some ways, shopping for tours is a lot like shopping for clothes: You can buy them off the rack or have them custom-fitted to your exact specifications, and there are advantages to both. Most tour operators have standard itineraries that they operate over and over throughout the year, and buying one of these tours is a good way to ensure that you’re seeing the best of a destination at a reasonable price. But if you want to do something unconventional or offer unusual experiences, you might do well to work with a tour operator that specializes in customizing tours for groups. These tours often cost more than off-the-rack products but offer more special touches for your travelers.



With hundreds of tour companies operating around North America, it’s an unfortunate reality that some may not be as professional or ethical as they ought. To safeguard the investment that your travelers make in their trips, as well as your own reputation, it’s important to make sure that you’re working with first-rate professionals. Ask for references of past group customers, and check with those people to see how satisfied they were with the company’s service. It’s also a good idea to find out if tour operators are members of professional organizations such as NTA, formerly the National Tour Association; the American Bus Association; or the United States Tour Operators Association, all of which have a number of ethical requirements and best practices that their members must follow.


Sales & Operational Support

If you hire a tour operator to take over the logistics of a trip for your group, you’ll want to know how much support they offer before, during and after a trip. Will they help you in selling the trip by creating marketing materials or sending a representative to do a travel presentation for your group? Will they handle payments and accounting for each group member? What sort of contingency plans and backup systems do they have in place in case something goes awry during the trip? And on a related note, what do they do with your customers’ data? Some tour operators will approach your travelers directly with offers for additional travel after your trip is finished. If this bothers you, get a commitment from your provider that it won’t sell directly to your clients in the future.