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Tour & Activity Industry Terms

What is a Tour Operator?

Tour Operator is a general term used to describe a number of different tour related businesses.  The most common forms are inbound, outbound, packaged, and in-destination.

Inbound tour operators may or may not be licensed travel agencies and provide inbound travel related services to consumers.  They will often work with local experience operators to create pre-designed itineraries that can be purchased as group tours by consumers or custom itineraries for private groups.  If the operator is a licensed travel agency, they may offer airline ticketing services to their clients in addition to land arrangements.  Inbound tour operators may also act as a DMC in some cases.

Outbound tour operators also may or may not be licensed travel agencies and provide outbound travel to specific destinations.  Generally speaking, these operators will specialized in particular destinations.  They will work with businesses in those specific destinations to provide services for their local clients travel to the destination.  These services may include accommodations, transfers, and activities.  As with the inbound tour operators, if the operator is a licensed travel agency, they may provide airline ticketing services in addition to their other services.

Packaged tour operators vary in size and scope and may provide air and hotel packages or what are often referred to as land packages, which involve accommodations, transfers, and activities only.  Specialist packaged tour operators often provide adventure related packages that include more complex itineraries involving transportation, alternative accommodation, food, and activities.  Operators that provide air and hotel packages are required to be licensed travel agencies while those that do not offer transportation may not be required to be licensed, although this may vary based on jurisdiction.

In-destination tour operators, aka Experience Operators, are businesses that offer in-destination activities directly to consumers or through other channels including tour operators (inbound and outbound).  These businesses generally specialize in provide a single type of activity, for example a zip line, and are locally based.

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