How do you actually plan an itinerary and book reservations for your trips? There are a number of ways you can do it, with advantages and disadvantages to each. Lets look at the different methods to see the pros and cons of each possibility.
Probably the simplest method is simply saying ‘yes’ to a tour operator who may come calling on you with a mouth-watering itinerary, a date that is a good one for your group, and a price you think you can sell. Assuming you have done your homework on checking out the operator for recommendations and reliability, this is probably the simplest method. This method means that someone else is doing all the operational work – booking hotel accommodations, reserving the motor coach, setting aside the air reservations, reserving step-on guides, selecting the meal plan, and picking social events or other enhancements. They are also doing the finalization: sending in rooming lists, submitting flight manifests, briefing the tour manager, etc. This leaves you free to spend the bulk of your time on marketing and selling rather than on the details of operations. If you are somewhat of a novice in tour operations, or if the trip is to a destination with which you are unfamiliar and which you don’t feel confident in booking directly, this is certainly the most reliable method. It also gives you the advantages of being able to depend on the tour operators expertise and getting bulk pricing through his clout with the hotels and other suppliers. Another advantage is that in many cases you may not have to put up large advance deposits to hold group space.
There is also the legal advantage of not being considered the principal, but rather the agent of the principal (the tour operator). And in the event of something going wrong, by booking through a U.S. based tour operator, if your organization were sued by an unhappy trip participant, you should have one more company to share the defense within the U.S. court system.
Of course, there are disadvantages in this method. First of all, it is not “Your Tour,” it is really the tour operators tour which he has sold to you and your group. Major decisions on itinerary operations, pricing, selection of suppliers, and so forth are at his discretion, not yours. Also, if you have elected to buy into a regular published tour, you will be selling it at exactly the same price as the published price precluding your increasing or decreasing the price. And the number of complimentary trips is also at the operators discretion.
The second method of booking a trip is to act as the tour operator and book everything yourself directly: hotels, flights, sightseeing, motor coach, step-ons, meals, social events, and so forth. This can be extremely time consuming and labor intensive and requires knowledge of suppliers. You will be operating and selling the trip, so you will need more personnel or more time of your present personnel. However, many group handlers like this method, particularly for one-day or short domestic trips.
You will want to check that your organization has adequate liability insurance and/or insist that your trip participants sign waivers of responsibility, as you are assuming more legal responsibility as the principal. Other disadvantages of this method include not having anyone to turn to for their expertise and perhaps having to put up extremely early airline and hotel deposits (thus requiring adequate cash flow on the part of your office). However, many people involved in putting together group trips prefer to “Go It Alone” in this way, because it gives them more freedom in itinerary design, more control over the planning process and also because they assume they may be able to get things cheaper by eliminating the tour operator middle-man. However, you may not be able to get the same low rates from suppliers as tour operators who are handling more in volume.
The third method may be the best method, marrying the advantages of working through a recognized tour operator while asking the operator to modify the itinerary and customize it to your needs – something some operators may be prepared to do, and others not. A variation on this theme would be a totally custom-designed trip, not similar to any of their standard itineraries. This kind of arrangement is particularly appropriate if you want a special- interest itinerary or a trip wrapped around a convention or special event. Also tour operators may be able to get you tickets to special events such as Mardi Gras, Carnaval in Rio, the Floriade and similar festivities that you, as a small unknown, may not be able to obtain yourself.
Any of the foregoing methods are appropriate, depending on your particular needs and circumstances. Do what is best for your organization.