Sometimes you see a great website, catchy email or social media post or maybe you happen upon a brochure of what looks like a fabulous group trip. Perhaps even you hear about a tour operator with an interesting itinerary and a great price.
After a cursory look you decide to give them a try. Whether you book a few of your travelers on to an existing group tour or are looking to have the tour operator custom-design a trip for your private clientele, before you say “I do”, make sure you check out the operator.
Here’s Your 12 Step Plan for Evaluating Tour Operators:
1. How long have they been in business and what is their reputation in the tourism industry? Check with colleagues, ask for names of some of their past satisfied customers and check out their online reviews from recent customers.
2. Is the itinerary you’re going to sell booked and confirmed? Or is it just a proposal they won’t actually book until you’ve sold it—a no-no.
3. Does the tour company have all necessary licenses/approvals and insurance depending on the state/country in which it is registered?
4. Is the company financially sound? You don’t want to find at hotel check-in that they won’t let your group check in because the company owes back unpaid bills. This has actually happened to tour leaders. One leader I spoke to some years ago actually had to put up her personal credit card upon check-in or the hotel would not let her group register.
5. How about the coach driver? Not just a “good driver” in the sense of safety, which is a must, but also someone who is friendly, kind and helpful to your leader and to the trip participants. See our column on motorcoach safety.
6. Do you have an exclusive departure on this trip, or are other independent travelers joining the tour or separate organizations selling into this same departure?
7. Do you have a firm contract and does it indicate specific dates by which you must make first deposit and final payment (or last date to cancel without losing money)?
8. How is trip publicity going to be handled? Is the company providing marketing assistance and promotional sign-up forms where you simply fill in the dates and name of your organization? Are you paying for marketing/mailing/distribution? If you are, then these costs need to be incorporated into the final trip price.
9. Is the company providing a working tour leader AND one free trip for the leader from your organization? Or is your member receiving the “free trip” expected to be the working leader? And will there be local stepon guides as well?
10. Do you have a firm understanding as to what is included in the tour price and what is not. Specifically how many meals are included and are they set-menu or customer’s choice? Continental breakfast in France is coffee, croissant, butter and jam – period.
11. Is the company perhaps a member of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)? This professional association for world-wide tour operators that conduct business in North America is not mandatory, but an added sign of their professionalism.
12. All in all, do you feel totally comfortable working with this company? Don’t be blind-sided by a company that gives you smooth talk and vague replies or is not willing to give you specific answers in writing.
While no company is 100% fool-proof, those companies that can satisfactorily answer these 12 points can usually satisfy your most demanding performance and provide a trip for your clients that you can be proud of.