While most of us in the group travel business direct our energy towards planning out-of-state and out-of-country tours, maybe it’s time to give the inbound market a look.

This is a subject of which I have historical knowledge, as I operated a receptive/DMC business in Chicago before I started this magazine. As time has passed, the inbound market has changed, of course, and grown tremendously. The sector previously was dominated by gateway cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles, but as foreign travelers thirst for an authentic American experience, the industry has spread into secondary markets and even rural areas.

Recently, I’ve become reacquainted with the international inbound marketplace, thanks to a custom travel guide we’re developing in partnership with the International Inbound Travel Association. This collection of leading tour operators focuses its efforts on bringing international travelers to the U.S. and showing them all our great country has to offer. While I’m not urging you to set up shop across the
street from these behemoths – some of which are well into the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue – you can play a key role in facilitating both domestic and international travelers near your home.

Here are a few considerations to determine if the inbound market is right for you.

  • Do you live in an area that’s a tourist destination? Having a sellable product is the number one must have ingredient for success in the market.
  • Do you have slow periods or a pronounced off-season? An inbound business can offset slow times. A great example is Kelly Cooke, who finds that a lot of her New Hampshire-based customers don’t travel over the summer because it’s so beautiful in the White Mountains. She started a receptive division of her tour business to share that beauty with out-of-state travelers.
  • Are there local attributes that are conducive to overseas business groups? Think manufacturing, agricultural and education. The nice thing about business groups is that they typically spend more and stay longer than leisure travelers.
  • Do you have a passion that plays in travel? Inbound is a great way to combine your love of gardening, fishing, golf, kayaking, art, history, etc., into a niche inbound business. While you’re doing what you love, you’ll be sharing your passion with visitors.
  • Do you or your staff speak any other languages? While this isn’t a must, if you’re going to play in the international arena, speaking the native tongue of your customers gives you a leg up.

And those big receptives/DMCs I mentioned earlier? Often they are looking to outsource services in secondary markets with unique tours, step-on-guides and so forth. They might just become your closest allies, as I found out many years ago.

The comfortable aspect of inbound tour operations is that you’ve done the hard part. You know how to organize tours, so you’re way ahead of the game.

If you’re looking to diversify or expand your existing business, consider the opportunities available as an inbound tour operator.