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The 16 Types of Tour Operators That Keep Curated Travel Alive

Types of Tour Operators
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29 min.

Tour operators act as creators of unique and unforgettable travel experiences. They use their expertise and connections to arrange the best and most affordable transportation, accommodation, and activities. Today’s travelers are lucky to have them, and so is the industry as a whole. 

If you are in the travel business and you’re trying to compete against DIY tourism, it’s useful to know and understand the different types of tour operators and how they are classified. 

The Enduring Importance of Tour Operators 

Tour operators are of critical importance for the survival of travel agencies. Why? A whopping 67% of travelers are expected to book online in 2024, according to Euromonitor International. The majority of these bookings will come through plan-your-own-trip OTAs like Booking.com. 

The importance of tour operators

Personalized service provided by the industry’s top experts is the only way to compete with that. With “relaxing” and “unwinding” being top travel motivations in 2024, we expect more and more people to turn to tour operators for help in organizing and carrying out their vacations. 

In reality, tour operators are responsible for an array of organizational tasks

  • Doing field research (visiting resorts and hotels to asses accommodation quality);
  • Building partnerships with resorts, hotels, airlines, and other industry workers;
  • Planning tours based on target customer data, industry trends, and current offers; 
  • Marketing and selling travel tours to customers via offline and online travel agencies;
  • Collaborating with travel agencies to put together various types of seasonal packages; 
  • Creating group or personalized itineraries and arranging sightseeing and other activities;
  • Booking accommodation and organizing transportation for individuals or groups;
  • Managing bookings, necessary travel documents, issuing tickets, and invoicing.

Learning to differentiate between different types of tour operators can help travel professionals make informed business decisions. This is invaluable industry knowledge. Why? Because it tells you who to partner with and how to create more attractive and competitive travel packages.

What Are the Basis for Classification of Tour Operators?

How do we classify tour operators? They often have additional responsibilities based on the size and scale of their operations, their unique specialization and niches, target markets, and their geographical coverages. Based on this, we recognize more than 15 types of travel operators

Classification of Tour Operators

Inbound and Outbound Tour Operators

Our first basis for the classification of tour operators is whether they work with travelers leaving the country or visitors who are coming in from abroad. We have two main types: 

  • Inbound tour operators
  • Outbound tour operators 

Inbound tour operators are responsible for bringing in international tourists, while outbound tour operators specialize in designing holiday packages for travelers going abroad. 

Role and Tasks of Tour Operators

These operators are at the forefront of international travel, which is still recovering from the pandemic. According to UN Tourism, inbound tourism will again be in full swing by the end of 2024, especially in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, but also in Asia and the Pacific. 

Like inbound tourism, outbound travel was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But In 2023, outbound travel registered double-digit growth year-on-year, according to ITB data. The USA and Europe had the most departures in 2024, while Spain and Dubai had the most arrivals. 

Growth and Trends in Tour Operations

Size and Scale of Operations 

Based on the size and scale of operations, there are three types of operators: 

  • Small tour operators
  • Medium tour operators
  • Large tour operators 

Small tour operators usually create inbound and outbound tour packages for groups of up to 10 people, while anything more than that could be considered a large group. Small groups are more customized, with fixed itineraries and guided excursions, while large groups provide greater flexibility for individual travelers, as well as group discount prices. Medium groups fall in between. 

Specialization and Niche Focus

What is the best way to stand out from the crowd? By being original. In business, that implies focus and specialization. Niche tourism is an excellent example of this. It allows tour operators and travel workers to differentiate their brands and cater to a super-specific target demographic

Niche Specifications of Tour Operators

At least 4 main types of tour operators stand out based on their specialization:

  • Adventure tour operators
  • Luxury tour operators
  • Eco-tourism operators
  • Cultural and heritage tour operators

Niche tourism has been a buzzword ever since GlobalData published a report on this in 2022. The report concluded that interest in “specific” and “personalized” travel was growing rapidly among Millennials and Gen Z. “Trips focusing on adventure, gastronomy, LGBTQ+, wellness, and eco-friendly travel grew the most over the 4 years,” followed by eccentric eating and spiritual stays in 2023. 

It looks like niche travel is here to stay, so there will be more and more niche-oriented tour operators in the upcoming years. The smaller the market, the more chances for success. 

Target Market and Demographics

While travel is for everyone, not everyone likes to travel the same way. People from different age groups and social backgrounds have different ideas of a perfect trip, and tour operators know that. So, instead of themes and niches, they base their specialties on customers’ demographics. 

  • Youth and student-focused tour operators
  • Senior and retiree-oriented tour operators
  • Family-centric tour operators
  • Solo traveler-focused operators 

Every target audience has a unique set of interests and requirements corresponding to their age and budget. While students like party towns and rock climbing, seniors prefer the peace and quiet of luxury cruises. A tour operator’s job is to provide custom packages for each.  

Geographical Coverage 

Based on the geographical area they cover, tour operators can be classified as:

  • Local and regional tour operators
  • National tour operators
  • International and global tour operators
Geographical Coverage of Tour Operations

These types of tour operators create both inbound and outbound tour packages focused on one city, region, or country or create international and global tours. 

In-depth analysis of each type of tour operator

Every type of tour operator caters to a specific target market and faces unique challenges. Let’s learn more about their distinctive characteristics and unique selling points and mention some of the most effective marketing and promotional strategies for each type.  

Inbound Tour Operators

Inbound tour operators act as hosts to foreign tourists. They are locally based and form relationships with other local travel and hospitality businesses and destination management organizations to tailor memorable itineraries and packages for visitors from other countries. For example, a German operator who is curating a tour for Americans in Germany is an inbound tour operator.  

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Local expertise and in-depth knowledge of destinations;
  • Interesting customization opinions for niche travelers; 
  • Cultural immersion tours with authentic experiences.

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • International travelers looking for unique tours with local guides;
  • Travelers from abroad interested in personalized and niche tours.

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Social media marketing on platforms like Instagram and TikTok; 
  • Short educational videos that reveal the beauty of their country; 
  • Influencer collaborations that can help reach international audiences; 
  • User-generated content with customer reviews and testimonies;
  • Participation in international travel fairs and industry events. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Getting international travelers interested in new locations;
  • Competing with local and national inbound tour operators.

Case studies 

Pathfinders is an inbound tour operator for Britain and Europe that provides free consultation and advice to prospective customers. They also offer bespoke itinerary planning and the option to personalize tours based on customers’ budgets. 

Outbound Tour Operators

Outbound tour operators help travelers from their countries book international trips to foreign locations. Let’s say you are an American planning a trip to France. You can hire an outbound tour operator from the States and have a professionally curated and carefully organized Paris vacation.

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • A good understanding of domestic travelers;
  • There are no language or cultural barriers; 
  • Easier to trust than foreign tour operators. 

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Domestic travelers planning a trip abroad;
  • Customers who prefer fully planned trips;
  • Families and seniors looking for convenience.

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Emphasis on a simplified travel experience;
  • Shorts, videos, and blogs about destinations; 
  • User-generated content and word-of-mouth; 
  • Offline ads (papers, billboards, brochures);
  • Personalized email marketing campaigns.  

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • International networking and partnerships;
  • Maintaining a competitive edge in a region; 
  • Marketing and covering multiple destinations;
  • Targeting and serving a wide target audience.

Case Studies

Thomas Cook is an award-winning tour operator from India that offers a wide range of outbound tour packages, including trending holiday destinations, honeymoon packages, spiritual journeys, and special tours for seniors. 

Case Study: Thomas Cook

Small Tour Operators

Comprising more than 80% of tour operators overall, these industry professionals are known for their personalized service and quality-over-quantity approach to travel business. Unlike large tour operators, they enjoy the freedom and flexibility that make them more resilient in crisis

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Personalized service and more intimate experience for travelers;
  • Authentic and immersive experiences enabled by local expertise;
  • Unique itineraries that cater to specific interests and preferences.

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Niche travelers in pursuit of authentic experiences 
  • Adventure-seekers, eco-conscious travelers, food and wine enthusiasts, history buffs, etc.

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Social media presence supported by influencer marketing; 
  • Incentivizing user-generated content and word-of-mouth; 
  • Increased visibility through online booking platforms; 
  • Partnerships with local businesses and cross-promotion;
  • Engaging and visually appealing blog and social media content. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Difficulties competing with large and more affordable tours; 
  • Scarce resources for investing in technology and marketing.

Case Studies

G Adventures is one of the world’s largest tour operators for small-group travel. In addition to global reach, last-minute travel deals, and loyalty discounts, this operator excites attention with custom itineraries based on various “travel styles,” such as “local living,” “National Geographic journeys,” or “The Geluxe Collection,” where you get to grow one tree for every travel day. 

Medium Tour Operators

Comfortably tucked between small and large tour operators, medium tour operators are in a unique position to offer the best of both worlds. They have the resources to provide budget-friendly travel options without compromising quality, authenticity, and personal service. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Specialization in niche markets or specific destinations;
  • A broader range of options to cater to different travelers;
  • Generally deemed reputable, reliable, and professional. 

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Customers seeking a balance between personalized tours and affordable travel;
  • Travelers looking for off-the-beaten-path destinations and cultural immersion; 
  • Eco-conscious travelers who value sustainability and ethical travel practices. 

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Using social media and SEO to reach a wider audience;
  • Collaborating with micro-influencers and travel bloggers; 
  • Sending targeted email marketing blasts with travel tips;
  • Creating special promotions and curating package deals.

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Competition from larger operators with more resources;
  • Managing operational costs and maintaining profitability; 
  • Staying up-to-date with technology and industry trends. 

Case Studies

Backroads is a reputable group tour operator with exciting itineraries based on classic destinations and adrenaline-packed activities, as well as special tours for women, families, and multigenerational groups. Their best-selling tours include whale watching, wine countries, and trips for photographers. 

Large Tour Operators

The biggest appeal of large tour operators is their global reach. With a quantity-based business model that allows them to accumulate a lot of resources at relatively low operational costs, these operators can afford to invest in international partnerships, exotic destinations, and travel tech

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Cover multiple locations in countries across the globe;
  • Wide range of tour options for all tastes and budgets;
  • Partnerships with hotels, airlines, and other providers; 
  • Quality assurance that guarantees comfort and safety.

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • A large customer pool with various types of travelers; 
  • Budget-conscious travelers looking for affordable trips;
  • Families opting for convenient all-inclusive packages;

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Targeted ads on search engines and social media; 
  • Collaboration with social media macro-influencers;
  • Special promotions, discounts, and bundle offers;
  • Inspiring repeat purchases with loyalty programs;
  • Build customer loyalty with personalized emails;
  • Creating exciting content for blogs and social media. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Increased competition from small and boutique tour operators;
  • Less agile in adapting to ever-changing customer preferences; 
  • Exposed to factors like the global economy and natural disasters.

Case Studies

Trailfinders is an award-winning large tour operator that utilizes an online app to provide customers with real-time access to their itineraries. Fully inclusive airfares, expert travel health advice, special occasion gift cards, and travel insurance are just some of the travel perks that help Trailfinders stand out. 

Adventure Tour Operators

Who wouldn’t like to ride a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia or sand surf in the Sahara? Trips like these aren’t easy to organize as they usually require special preparation and safety training in addition to being tied to far-off locations. That’s where adventure tour operators come to help.  

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Specialize in adrenaline-packed trips and unforgettable experiences;
  • Experienced and knowledgeable guides with special skills and training;
  • Many adventure tour operators prioritize sustainable tourism practices.

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Outdoor enthusiasts interested in hiking, biking, kayaking, and similar activities;
  • Travelers who appreciate wildlife, untouched nature, and ecotourism experiences; 
  • Thrill-seekers who are looking for adrenaline-pumping and extreme adventures. 

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Targeted ads on online travel websites and social media;
  • Collaboration with influencers occupying the same niche;
  • Newsletters with news, promotions, and adventure tips;
  • Visually appealing content for blogs and social media;
  • User-generated content and word-of-mouth marketing. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Highly dependent on weather conditions and limited to specific seasons;
  • Ensuring safety to customers and employing risk management practices;
  • Adventure travel is a highly competitive niche with a growing demand.

Case Studies

WHOA Travel specializes in “adventures for women who aren’t afraid to break a sweat, nail, or stereotype.” Some of their popular tours include Kilimanjaro trekking and African safari, as well as backpacking through Patagonia and exploring Antarctica. 

Luxury Tour Operators

Luxury tour operators organize exclusive trips involving private transportation and excursions, five-star accommodations with premium service, and VIP access to luxury restaurants, clubs, events, and more. We’re talking haute couture fittings in Milan, beach-front villas in Seychelles, catering by celebrity chefs, $500,000 bottles of wine – you get the picture. It is how famous people travel.

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Fully customizable itineraries set in exclusive locations; 
  • Personalized service, private guides, and VIP treatment; 
  • Elite accommodation that supports a high-end lifestyle; 
  • Private transportation (luxury vehicles, private jets, etc).

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Wealthy individuals with upper-class customer preferences;
  • Luxury travelers who are looking for extravagant experiences.

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Ads in luxury lifestyle magazines and high-end travel publications;
  • Deals with upper-class brands from hospitality and other sectors;
  • Partnerships with high-profile influencers and top celebrities; 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Luxury travel is a tough market with a smaller customer pool;
  • Upper-class clientele expect impeccable reputation and service.

Case Studies

Cox & Kings is a luxury tour operator that has been creating exclusive itineraries since 1758. Their offer includes escorted, “genuinely small” group tours and tailor-made holidays to the world’s top locations. 

Eco-Tourism Heritage Operators

Eco-tourism operators help travelers reconnect with nature and explore local communities and native cultures. Depending on the tour size, clients, and destination, they can arrange anything from wildlife camping and mountain hiking to exclusive access to isolated islands and tribes. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Commitment to sustainable and eco-friendly practices with zero impact; 
  • Focus on the conservation and preservation of natural habitats and wildlife; 
  • Off-the-beaten-path itineraries set in rural and natural environments.

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Environmentally conscious travelers seeking authentic travel experiences; 
  • Travelers who enjoy nature, cherish wildlife, and value conservation efforts;
  • Individuals interested in learning about and supporting local communities. 

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Targeted ads on social media and search engines; 
  • Partnerships with environmental organizations; 
  • Spreading awareness through eco-friendly branding.  

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Balancing sustainability and profitability;
  • Access to remote and enclosed destinations. 

Case Studies

Exodus Adventure Travels is an eco-friendly tour operator that fosters meaningful collaborations with organizations like Rewilding Europe and supports pandemic-affected destinations. One of their sustainable travel initiatives promises to rewild 100 square meters of the Italian Apennines for each passenger.  

Cultural and Heritage Tour Operators 

Cobblestoned medieval cities, Greek monasteries, sacred temples of Japan—nothing is off-limits for cultural heritage tour operators. These professionals spend years building relationships with designated preservationists and learning codes of conduct in religious and historic sites. They help travelers discover hidden cultural gems and experience ancient civilizations authentically

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Memorable itineraries that honor the destination’s history and traditions; 
  • Local guides with deep knowledge of their culture, religion, and beliefs;
  • Sustainable travel practices that care about preserving heritage sites;  
  • Exclusive access to remote religious, cultural, and historic locations. 

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Travelers interested in history, art, architecture, and local traditions;
  • Individuals who travel for research and other educational purposes; 
  • Affluent travelers drawn to locations not accessible to the general public.

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Targeted advertising on social media, search engines, and travel platforms; 
  • Partnerships with influencers, educators, and organizations from this niche; 
  • Engaging and informative content designed to pique travelers’ interest; 
  • User-generated content and case studies showcasing cultural preservation. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Ensuring that tours are respectful to local communities and heritage sites; 
  • Maintaining the true spirit of a location’s cultural and religious milieu; 
  • Beating an increasing competition in a relatively tight marketplace; 
  • Obtaining necessary permits and access to protected sites and locations. 

Case Studies

Tour My India is one of the best heritage tour operators in the world and a leading provider of cultural and educational excursions to India’s top sites, including the Taj Mahal. 

Youth and Student-Focused Tour Operators

Companies like Contiki, G Adventures, and EF Education First specialize in youth-oriented travel that prioritizes fun, education, and safety. These operators offer packages for 12-50 people aged 18 to 35 focused on spreading horizons and meeting new cultures in a budget-friendly way. These are often outbound tour packages that center around exotic destinations and party hubs.   

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Budget-friendly stay and affordable transportation; 
  • Opportunities for education and personal growth; 
  • Group activities that foster a sense of community; 
  • Itineraries for a diapason of tastes and preferences; 
  • Safety is a priority for young and under-aged travelers;
  • Specialized services like language classes, volunteer opportunities, cultural workshops, etc. 

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Young people who travel to make friends and learn new things;
  • Educational institutions interested in group tours for students.  

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Marketing on youth-oriented channels like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube;
  • Mentions from social media personalities popular with younger crowds; 
  • Partnering up with campuses for student brand ambassador programs; 
  • Special prices for valedictorians and star students and class discounts; 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Fluctuations in demand based on academic schedules (holidays, exams, etc.);
  • Harsh competition and difficulty building a trustworthy and reputable brand;
  • Balancing quality options with a low-income target market can be difficult; 
  • Ensuring safety and security for young and permits for under-aged travelers. 

Case Studies

EF Education First is a tour operator that combines “language training with cultural experience, academic achievement, and educational travel.” It even curates programs for teenage travelers and pairs students with host families across the world. 

Senior and Retiree-Oriented Tour Operators

Many tour operators are recognizing the immense spending power of older travelers. Seniors have both time and money to travel in style, but they often have special needs. Some of these operators, like Grand Circle Travel, take seniors to low-cost countries during the off-season. Others, like Luxury Gold, offer special arrangements, after-hours visits to tourist hot spots, and senior-only cruises. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Convenient and comfortable travel and accommodation; 
  • The focus is on leisure, relaxation, and cultural experiences; 
  • Personalized service, small group sizes, and attentive staff;
  • Opportunities for seniors to socialize and share experiences.

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Travelers aged 50 and above looking for comfort and relaxation;
  • Elderly individuals who want to travel for cultural enrichment;
  • Seniors looking for opportunities to socialize with their peers. 

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Advertising channels for older demographics, e.g. newspapers;
  • Partnerships with senior centers and retirement communities; 
  • Travel brochures with informative content and promotional events;
  • Loyalty and referral programs that incentivize word-of-mouth. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Meeting diverse needs and health-related requirements  of older travelers;
  • Senior-focused tour operators are often faced with relentless competition; 
  • Maintaining a positive reputation is crucial for attracting older generations.  

Case Studies

Luxury Gold is an exclusive senior and retiree-oriented tour operator that puts emphasis on comfort and convenience. Some of their tour highlights include after-hours access, 24/7 travel concierges, and a 100-year-old industry experience. 

Family-Centric Tour Operators

Modern-day parents keep redefining family travel by teaching young kids to explore the great outdoors and sleep under the open sky. So, in addition to the comfort and convenience of family-friendly travel tours like Greek islands, Disney Cruises, Turks & Caicos beaches, and Turkish resorts, family-centric tour operators now also offer offbeat destinations like Cambodia and Iceland. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Family-friendly accommodations with practical amenities;
  • Child-friendly activities, entertainment, and childcare services;
  • Bespoke Itineraries that cater to both parents and children; 
  • Competitive prices, family discounts, and low-cost travel options.

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Families with children of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers;
  • Safe destinations with activities for both adults and children;
  • Affordable travel options, tour packages, and family discounts. 

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Targeted ads on social media, travel websites, and search engines;
  • Informative content that highlights attractions for an entire family;
  • Promotions and family discounts (lower rates for young children);
  • Engaging with influencers and bloggers that share the same audience.

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Creating personalized itineraries for diverse age groups;
  • Ensuring the safety and security in distant/exotic locations;
  • Differentiating from competition in the family-centric field.

Case Studies

Global Family Travels is a family-centric tour operator with a unique mission to “learn, service, and immerse.” They work with local communities and tours to create educational experiences and international expeditions for multigenerational family groups. 

Solo Traveler-Focused Operators

The number of Google searches for “solo travels” doubled in 2023 compared to 2018, largely thanks to TikTok and other social media. This is expected to be the largest growth segment in the global leisure travel market by 2030, which explains the rise of tour operators that cater exclusively to solo travelers. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Itineraries for different interests and travel styles;
  • Small group tours with opportunities for socializing;
  • Affordable accommodation with amenities for one; 
  • Friendly guidance and assistance to solo travelers. 

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Solo travelers from all age groups and backgrounds; 
  • Travelers looking for economic service and fair prices;
  • People who want to connect with other solo travelers.

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Targeted social media advertising and website SEO;
  • Attractive content on blogs, social media, and email;
  • User-generated content, referrals, and word-of-mouth.

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Building trust and credibility in a highly competitive environment; 
  • Ensuring the safety and security of solo travelers, especially women; 
  • Finding a balance between value and affordability.

Case Studies

Flash Pack is a tour operator that creates boutique group adventures for solo travelers aged 30-49. They sell small group tours with a maximum of 16 people, where 98% travel solo and 80% make friends. To increase the social aspect of their tours, they prioritize “hard to do by yourself” experiences. 

Local and Regional Tour Operators

A local or regional tour operator designs inbound tour packages for anyone interested in exploring the destination where the operator is based, be they foreigners or natives. They foster local partnerships with hospitality businesses and destination operation management agencies. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • In-depth knowledge of the destination (local tips, hidden gems. etc);
  • Opportunities for travelers to participate in local cultural traditions; 
  • Focus on sustainability and preservation of natural environments;
  • Local guides and tour partners with keys to exclusive locations. 

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • People in pursuit of journeys that will reconnect them with nature;
  • Travelers who cherish interactions with local folks and cultures;
  • Gastronomades and other travelers in pursuit of local cuisines.  

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Online and offline ads aimed at regional travelers; 
  • Blog posts, short videos, and travel photography; 
  • Reaching out to influencers for recommendations; 
  • Collecting and sharing customer stories and content;
  • Participating in travel fairs, trade shows, and events.

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Competition from larger tour companies in the same area;
  • Limited resources for targeted marketing and promotions;
  • Many areas are dependent on seasonality and weather; 
  • The urgency to constantly innovate and attract new travelers.

Case Studies

Viet Vision Travel is one of the best local tour operators with “stress-free vacation” itineraries that include “scenic highlights and cultural features that reveal the best of Vietnam’s local destinations.” It helps travelers customize tours based on their interests in art, cuisine, shopping, history, adventure, and more. 

National Tour Operators

National tour operators like AAA Travel and Insight Vacations put together inbound tour packers and organize nationwide trips for their country’s residents and travelers from abroad. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Popular destinations and locations of national significance;
  • Reputable professionals with enduring industry presence;
  • Partnerships with experienced and knowledgeable guides;
  • Convenient booking options and attentive customer service;
  • Options to customize journeys based on personal interests.  

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Group travelers (friends, families, organizations, etc.);
  • Adventure seekers and eco-conscious travelers; 
  • Culture buffs and researchers interested in learning experiences. 

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Strong online presence on social media and travel platforms; 
  • SEO website optimization for better search engine visibility;
  • Engaging content for blogs, YouTube, social media, podcasts;
  • Staying in touch with past customers with email marketing;
  • Reaching new audiences through influencer collaborations; 
  • Special promotions, group discounts, and loyalty programs; 
  • Customer reviews, testimonials, and user-generated content. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Competing with national and international competitors;
  • Keeping up with the ever-changing customer preferences;  
  • Implementation of new technologies on a tight budget. 

Case Studies

Real New Zealand Tours is a national tour operator that relies on the 30-year industry experience of a local married couple (“We’re locals, we’re Kiwis”) and their passion for their country’s “awe-inspiring tapestry of landscapes” and indigenous Maori heritage. 

International and Global Tour Operators 

As suggested by the name, international and global tour operators serve as liaisons between travelers and industry-related service providers in foreign countries. They handle inbound and outbound tours and focus on certain niches, depending on their target market and demand. 

Characteristics and Unique Selling Points

  • Global operators foster partnerships throughout the world;
  • Multilingual excursions, tour guides, and customer service;
  • Personalization by travel style, theme, occasions, and more; 
  • Customer trust based on industry experience and knowledge;
  • Sustainable travel practices and eco-friendly travel options. 

Target Market and Customer Preferences

  • Adventure travelers interested in remote and exotic locations;
  • Luxury travelers looking for personalized and all-inclusive service;
  • Cultural travelers drawn to historical, culinary, and heritage tours;
  • Family travelers who prioritize relaxation, safety, and convenience. 

Marketing and Promotional Strategies

  • Strong social media presence with compelling content;
  • Recommendations by Influencers wit a global following;
  • Keeping customers informed on new tours via email;
  • Targeted advertising on search engines and travel sites;
  • Early and last-minute discounts, group bookings, etc;
  • Inspiring customers to share their travel experiences. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

  • Creating unique experiences to stand out from the competition; 
  • Global economic and exchange rate fluctuations; 
  • Prioritizing sustainability and mitigating carbon footprint; 
  • Staying ahead of emerging trends and customer expectations.

Case Studies

Intrepid Travel is an international and global tour operator that specializes in small groups. They take pride in providing real-life travel experiences that “can’t be Googled,” multigenerational adventure trips, responsible travel practices, and guidance provided exclusively by locals. 

Challenges and Opportunities for Tour Operators

Trends and innovations in the tour operator industry

Here’s what trends and innovations expect tour operators in 2024.

Digitalization and the Impact of Technology on Tour Operators

The future of travel is just around the corner. The emerging technologies that already have a colossal impact on the travel industry, as well as tour operators, are augmented and virtual reality, generative AI and AI-based travel planning apps, and big data analysis. 

Initially, augmented reality was used to provide immersive experiences to locked-down travelers during COVID-19. Now, it facilitates and enriches the booking process. Travel businesses like Marriot and Visit Wales are using AR to showcase their offers to potential buyers. 

Generative AI is both a friend and foe to tour operators. On the one hand, AI travel planning apps present the fiercest competitor to the tour operator industry as a whole; on the other hand, this technology can help industry professionals create more unique travel experiences. 

With or without AI, tour operators must continue to collect and analyze data in order to anticipate customer expectations and provide personalized itineraries. This includes social media, bookings, and online reviews. Data gives you critical insights into customer preferences.

Sustainable and Responsible Tourism Practices Adopted by Tour Operators

To offset the continuous rise of technology, sustainable and responsible travel will continue to dominate the industry in the foreseeable future. Last year, 76% of travelers wanted to travel more sustainably. Tour operators will have to specialize in regenerative travel or incorporate eco-conscious and preservational practices into existing tours. 

Collaborative Partnerships and Alliances among Tour Operators

Tour operators can no longer afford to stand alone. They are faced with rapid digitization that reinforces DIY travel and threatens their existence, primarily in OTAs and AI. In order to survive, they need strategic partnerships with other professionals from the industry and beyond.

One of tour operators’ greatest strengths is the ability to form and foster value-added connections with industry service providers. Industry professionals can slow down OTAs and AI by joining forces and providing premium experiences and special discounts to customers.

Emerging Markets and Untapped Opportunities for Tour Operators

After COVID, traveler preferences have been largely focused on sustainability, cultural immersion, and wellness tourism. These are still untapped markets for many tour operators. Trends like frontier tourism, eco-diving, and silent travel show a hunger for authenticity and nature. 

In 2024, travel decisions are heavily influenced by pop culture. Last year was huge for concert-goers, with artists like Harry Styles and Taylor Swift reviving the gig-tripping trend. A fine example of this is Eleven, an adventure-focused operator that lets musicians curate special itineraries. 

Other notable trends include Astro tourism (in anticipation of this year’s solar eclipse in North America), sports tourism (especially in relation to the 2024 Olympic Games, set in Paris), and a growing interest in glam travel summer vacations that extends past high-earning demographics. 

Conclusion

The question remains: can tour operators compete with the increasingly digitized travel options offered to modern travelers? If not, OTAs and AI apps will prevail, and travel will never be the same. The good news is that industry professionals still have a couple of tricks up their sleeves.

The many different types of tour operators – classified by the size and scale of their tours, specializations and niches, target markets and demographics they cater to, as well as geographical coverage – are proof that travelers aren’t done with curated tours and personalized service just yet. 

Whether you run a travel agency or a seasonal car rental business, what happens with tour operators should deeply concern you. Understanding the widely diverse services provided by these professionals is beneficial to everyone in the business. With your help, they might save travel. 

FAQ

🆚What is the difference between a tour operator and a travel agency?

Tour operators and travel agencies work closely together and often have overlapping responsibilities in planning and organizing tours for clients. However, they perform two different functions. While tour operators design and carry out travel packages, they usually don’t sell them without an intermediary – the travel agency. So in other words, travel agencies sell services created by tour operators.

🦠How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected different types of tour operators?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many sectors to a screeching halt, but no other industry was affected as heavily as travel. While many travel agencies were forced out of business due to cancellations and travel restrictions, tour operators found alternative ways to survive. For example, many tour operators have embraced virtual tours, enabling people to travel without leaving their homes. Others have pivoted towards local tourism and focused on stringent infection prevention, which allowed them to keep clients and organize tours for small groups. 

🔑What are the key skills required to start and run a successful tour operator business?

Tour operators depend on their organization and communication skills to help them plan and arrange holiday packages. As a tour operator, you must have a deep understanding and current knowledge of the travel industry and trends, as well as traveler needs and preferences. You must also be able to network, build partnerships, and negotiate with other businesses from the industry. People skills are of critical importance because tour operators are expected to provide exemplary customer service. In terms of hard skills, tour operators need financial management and marketing skills to succeed in the business.

🧳How can tour operators effectively market their services to their target audience?

Some of the most effective marketing strategies for tour operators include targeted ads on social media platforms and travel websites, engaging and visually appealing content (videos, images, and informative articles), collaboration with influencers on social media, special discounts and promotions, and customer recommendations (reviews and user-generated content).

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