5 Types of Tour Operators (With Duties and Niches)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 22 October 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Tour operators help travellers plan, book and enjoy their holidays. You may make a good tour operator if you're an outgoing person who's passionate about travel and customer service. Understanding the different types of tour operators can help you decide which type of tour operator you may like to become. In this article, we list different types of tour operators and explain their duties and niches.
5 types of tour operators
The different types of tour operators vary according to the way they do business and their customers. Most tour operators create and market tours that package the elements required for a successful holiday, such as accommodation and transport. They may also include elements to enhance the tour experience, such as entertainment and transfers. Tour operators may be sole traders operating independently or professionals employed by a tourism company. Here are some examples of tour operators:
1. Inbound tour operator
An inbound tour operator creates and markets tours showcasing their home country for overseas tourists. Their local base helps them identify sites worth showcasing and form close partnerships with other local tourism businesses, such as accommodation and transport providers. Understanding overseas markets help them create and promote their tours to international travellers.
2. Outbound tour operator
An outbound tour operator creates and markets international tours for people within their own country. Outbound tour operators usually focus on destinations, countries or regions they know well. They partner with businesses based in host countries to give their customers a high-quality, value-for-money tour experience.
3. Domestic tour operator
A domestic tour operator creates tours of the country they're based in for travellers who live in the same country. These tour operators encourage people to see more of their homelands, such as cities and sites within their location or other states and territories. Their connections with local businesses and understanding of their location and its people help them succeed. They're more likely to offer short weekend getaways than other tour operators, as their client base may live close to the tour location or a short plane ride away.
4. Ground operator
A ground operator provides travel services in a holiday destination on behalf of an inbound or outbound tour operator. They help tour operators who live far from the holiday destination organise their tours and assist tourists during the tour experience. These tour operators often specialise in tours in remote locations, where local knowledge and contacts are a great benefit. For example, they may negotiate special prices with local travel services, identify the best local tour guides and organise transfers to remote locations.
5. Receptive tour operator
A receptive tour operator provides tourism products to other tour operators or travel agents, rather than members of the public directly. They may provide individual or bundled travel products. Tour operators and travel agents partner with receptive tour operators as they have expert knowledge of their markets.
Tour operator niches
Tour operators often specialise in a specific type of travel. Their expert knowledge of their niche encourages people interested in that type of travel to book with them. Any of the listed tour operators may operate general tours or focus on a specific niche. Here are some niches for tour operators:
Ecotourism focuses on showcasing the natural world with minimal impact on the planet. Tour operators focused on ecotourism may create tours visiting rainforests, coral reefs and wildlife preserves. They also incorporate environmental initiatives, such as carbon offsets for transport and the use of accommodation with strong sustainability credentials, into their tours. This helps them appeal to tourists interested in conservation and concerned about the impact of mainstream travel options.
Tour operators focused on cruising help people interested in holidays on the water. They may create packages for travellers wanting to spend their whole holidays on sea or river cruises. They may also create packages that combine a cruise with a land-based tour. Cruise tour operators often organise transfers to ports and accommodations close to the terminal for their customers. They can focus on domestic ports, international ports or both.
Adventure tourism focuses on travel to locations offering adventure activities, such as bungee jumping, skydiving, scuba diving and rock climbing. They may also plan tours to remote or exotic locations where travellers can experience a different culture from their own. Tour operators in this niche market to people seeking new and exciting holiday experiences.
Gourmet tourism focuses on travel to locations known for their food and beverages. Tour operators in this niche may partner with leading food producers, restaurants, wineries, breweries and distilleries to create memorable experiences for travellers such as private tastings, premises tours and exclusive meals with matched beverages. They may also partner with leading chefs who may accompany the tour, share their insights and lead cooking classes or demonstrations.
Indigenous tourism focuses on travel to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island communities. Tour operators in this niche aim to offer tourists an authentic experience of life in a remote community. They partner with Indigenous elders and community authorities who may lead tours to key historic sites, showcase bush tucker and share stories of the traditional Indigenous way of life.
Agritourism focuses on showcasing agriculture businesses and helping travellers understand what farm life is like. Travellers on an agriculture tour may visit or stay on a working farm, cattle station, vineyard or orchard. They may perform simple duties, such as picking fruit and milking cows by hand and observing farm processes such as milking, sheep shearing, cheese making and cattle mustering. Tour operators in this niche play a vital role in bringing tourists to farming communities. Their guests may stay at local bed and breakfasts and visit local pubs to support the economy.
Wellness tourism offers travel experiences that aim to maintain or enhance the well-being of travellers. Tour operators in this niche partner with businesses and people focused on wellness, including resorts, personal trainers and chefs known for healthy eating. Their tours may offer experiences such as massages, exercise classes and nutritious meals. They may also offer experiences unique to the locations they operate in, such as Indigenous healing sessions, meals with native ingredients and visits to hiking trails, mineral springs and mud baths.
Voluntourism focuses on travel to locations where tourists can assist local communities in some way. Tour operators specialising in voluntourism identify volunteering opportunities, such as building houses for poor communities or helping in orphanages. They then create tours around these opportunities, by organising transfers, accommodation and visas. They market their tours to people seeking personal growth and the satisfaction of making a difference. Voluntourism may overlap with ecotourism, as many people interested in this niche want travel options that align with their desire to minimise harm to the planet and its people.
Business tourism is travel designed to complement a business trip. Business tour operators create tours to help professionals see sights in locations they visit for business travel. For example, they may create a tour of a location hosting a major conference that delegates can take before or after the business event. They may also create tours for businesses with travel reward programs for outstanding employees. As business tourism caters to business people, tours in this niche often focus on high-end experiences, such as stays at luxury accommodations, wine tours and dinners at hatted restaurants.
Youth tourism caters for young people, usually under 30. Tour operators in this niche create affordable tours for young people keen to see the world, have unique experiences and meet like-minded people. They usually focus on exciting and authentic travel experiences. They may favour modest accommodation and transport to reduce the tour package price. Youth tourism can overlap with adventure tourism, ecotourism and voluntourism.
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