Let’s say you’re doing well so far in offering an outgoing travel program.

This could be for your own group of friends you’ve put together, or it could be for pre-existing organizations, schools, churches or other entities for whom you’ve prepared outgoing trips.

Perhaps what you’ve been doing so far has been one-day excursions to nearby points of interest, short weekend trips or maybe a cruise or two.

But whatever the product is and whoever your clientele may be to date, you’ve limited yourself to sending local U.S. clients outbound—away from home. You’ve never set up tours for foreign residents coming to the U.S. and traveling in your local area as part of an extended itinerary throughout the country—what is referred to in the travel/tourism industry as inbound tour operator or receptive travel company.

Grand Canyon

Perhaps it’s time for you to review your thinking and attempt to balance your present or outgoing group business with some inbound business coming from other countries to see the U.S. Our country is a tremendously popular focus for foreigners, and many visitors from abroad come here year after year visiting different areas on each visit. According to the U.S. Commercial Services, “international visitors spent on average $703 million a day on travel and tourism in the U.S. this past November alone.” That’s no small change and a market you might wish to target if you now have outgoing tourism under your belt.

What is an Inbound Tour Operator?

You might start by assessing what is already being offered in or near your town. Are there some particular sites—historic, culinary, theatrical, academic, sports-related—that would make for interesting itineraries you could design? What about farms, handicrafts, music, arts and crafts, and special events?

Find out if there is a nearby visitors center or convention bureau where you could offer your specialty tours to be their inbound tour operator. Many towns have learned the financial value that inbound tourism can bring to their bottom line.

Ultimately, you may decide you want to design and operate the complete tour for an incoming international group. Or you may prefer to simply handle a one- or two-day package of your area that a larger, more experienced tour operator may purchase from you and incorporate into their overall itinerary.

You might like to put together several different suggested itineraries that you could book for your area and write out a day-by-day plan. Get group rates for the appropriate hotel properties you’d like to use. Check out daily rates for local charter buses or vans. Get menus and meal prices from restaurants you’d like to use. Write down the prices of every item you plan to use in each of your itineraries: bellmen, waiters, entrance fees, meals, etc. Get NET rates and then add your markup (profit). Cost in at least one free trip for the incoming organization’s leader. And if you plan to put on a professional guide speaking the language of the group, you’ll need to cost his/her trip and salary into the package as well.

Promoting Your Tours and Packages

How will you promote your company and its offerings? Is there a nearby convention and visitors bureau that can carry your offerings in their promotional literature? You may also want to start investigating joining the International Inbound Travel Association (IITA) and attendance at international inbound tourism conventions abroad, but that can get pricey.

A Few Caveats About Becoming an Inbound Tour Operator

  • Start early enough. Most major tour operators are working on their product offerings and promotion a year in advance.
  • Be sure you’ve covered the legalities, insurance, contracts with suppliers, cash flow to cover upfront publicity/promotion costs, advance hotel deposits, etc.
  • Remember you may be dealing with non-English-speaking groups, so you may need to budget for translators or professional tour leaders who speak the language.
  • Lastly, double check with a travel attorney as to what state requirements, if any, may be pertinent in terms of insurance coverage, handling of monies and the like. Many states require that clients’ payments be held in escrow.

Go for it. Being an inbound tour operator may open up a whole new world for you!