What You Don't Know About Tour Operators Could Get You Fired

By Stephen Ekstrom | President & Founder of Fire Starter Brands LLC

Congratulations! Your boss just announced your organization's ambition to be conquer the tour & travel markets.  Your task is to bring in as many tourists and tour groups as possible... yesterday.

By nature, great sales people and ambitious marketers get a kick out of tackling new opportunities.  Are you set up for failure or are you on the path to success? 

Are your organization's goals in line with marketplace realities?

Here are six of the most common misconceptions that travel industry suppliers and destination marketing organizations have when they attempt to break into the tour & travel market.

If you build it, they will come.  Many new attractions wait until it's too late to reach out to operators.  In our 2014 Tour Operator Survey we found that nearly half of all operators plan their itineraries more than a year in advance and over 75% of operators need more than 6 months to plan a trip that may include a new vendor.  In addition, we've seen countless attractions, hotels, restaurants, etc. that generate great buzz and excitement upon opening, only to tell tour operators that they don't accept tour groups - a year or two later, the same businesses find themselves pleading for tour groups.

Any single outreach activity will deliver immediate results. Simply put - there's no magic bullet. We've found that successful organizations all have a similar strategy that includes a steady stream of information to the buyer over a period of time, exposure to the brand thru multiple inboxes, special appeals to action periodically and pro-active outreach activities to build relationships with key buyers.  

We joined the association so operators will start calling us.  This would be like saying, "I joined the gym and the weight will fall off."  It just doesn't happen that way - you have to go to the gym, use the equipment, take the classes & put in an effort.  Smart marketers use their membership in these organizations to connect with other members, take advantage of learning opportunities, network at trade shows and mine their database for valued prospects.

Tour operators make reservations just like consumers.  The tour operator needs assurances that your organization will take care of each of their guests.  They will often ask for a written or emailed confirmation of a new reservation, menu price point, etc. so that their representative who's traveling with the group has a clear expectation of the promises your company made to the operator.

Our operations manager is going to bring in a lot more group business. Sorry to break the news to you, but the operations manager had a full time job before being assigned this task.  Marketing to tour operators requires a slow & steady approach that is often difficult to cultivate, manage and maintain when constantly distracted by fires that need to be extinguished now. 

We'll try it for a year & see what happens.  I mentioned above that more than half of all tour operators plan their trips more than a year in advance.  If you're doing your job well, there will be tour operators you'll reach during the first week of your plan and others you may not reach until the 11th month, when they have only 30 days to deliver a group within the timeframe against which you'll measure the results of your efforts.


Fire Starter Brands can help your team put together and execute a strategic plan to attract more tour & travel business.  Contact us to schedule a free consultation.