Tour Companies

Tour companies and tour operators exist all over the world. These are different from your typical “main street” travel agent, who often sells the products created and operated by vacation tour companies. You are able to book directly with virtually all of these operators, although there are a few that only sell to recognized travel agents. There can be advantages to booking directly, although there are also advantages to dealing with your local travel agent. Your local travel agent can provide expert advice (often from first-hand experience) and can often handle details of your overall vacation that big operators cannot do or will not handle. These kinds of details can include flights, bookings for pre or post-trip extensions, car rentals, and even visa services. Sometimes you will get a better deal by going directly to the operator since they do not have to pay commission to a travel agent. However most operators offer the public the same published fare available from a travel agent. Small local companies may well offer a discount for people who book direct.

How to Choose a Tour Company

How to Choose a Tour Company

How to Choose a Tour Company

There’s a lot of advice about how to choose tour companies. Some has value, but there are many factors to consider and not every situation fits every “rule.” Pieces of advice like: go with large well-known companies; make sure there is no middleman; and only pick vacation tour companies that belong to recognized associations all are valid. But they are not always valid in every situation. The number one recommendation for any tour company (or travel agent, for that matter) is word of mouth. If a trusted friend recommends a certain operator, that’s a good indication. There are reputable sites and publications that publish reviews of tour companies. These are also good indicators.

Certainly the large, well-known companies are almost always good choices. It is also a good idea to have as few middlemen as possible; and if a company belongs to recognized associations, that is also a good indication. However, there are some very small companies (usually in niche specialty markets like cycling, African safaris, home-stay vacations, cultural tours, trekking and mountain climbing, fishing charters, regional tours, etc.) that can be the best in their field and may not have the resources to join the most mainstream associations They may not even have the desire or need to grow beyond their small niche.

Tour Company Associations

Tour Company Associations

Tour Company Associations

There are many tour company associations, most of which were established to set certain standards that member tour companies must meet in order to join. Violations of those standards, too many unresolved complaints, and other negative actions can lead to a company being ousted. Most of these associations are known by their acronyms: USTOA (United States Tour Operator Association), ETOA (European Tour Operator Association), KTOA (Kenya Association of Tour Operators), ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), and so on. If you plan to deal with one of the larger vacation tour companies, they will undoubtedly be members of one or more of the major associations. The fees to join these associations can be quite steep, and it is not necessarily a derogatory indication if a very small company is not a member. Many countries have a national Better Business Bureau. Again, while not being a member is not necessarily a “bad” mark, it is a good idea to check for complaints, as complaints about non-members are often registered.

Eco Tourism – Ethical Travel – Sustainable Travel

Eco Tourism – Ethical Travel – Sustainable Travel

Eco Tourism – Ethical Travel – Sustainable Travel

This is a subject that has recently come under closer scrutiny. These philosophies of travel originated in the early 1980s, when adventure travel into fragile ecosystems and cultures started to become immensely popular. Since then, it is hard to find any vacation tour companies that do not claim to travel responsibly, care for the environment, and otherwise conduct their businesses with respect for the places they visit. While laudable, there is some debate about whether or not many companies actually practice what they say they do. If this is an important factor for you, then ask questions. If trekking in the Himalayas under threat from deforestation, does the company burn firewood or kerosene? Where does the ship you’re cruising on dump its waste? In culturally modest areas like Asia and Moslem countries, does the company require appropriate dress? In developing countries, does the company support local development and charities like orphanages, well-drilling, and schools? 

Traveling in areas where there are human rights questions (Myanmar, China, etc.) is a personal decision. Most countries that receive international human rights attention are developing countries where the vast majority of the people earn little more than subsistence wages. Visitors (who spend money) are often their major source of income. You must weigh the value of this against the fact that many of the fees paid by tour companies will go to the governments of these countries. 

Top image: Cosmos

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