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Tour Operator Duties and Responsibilities

While a tour operator's specific responsibilities can vary day to day depending on the group, location, and itinerary, they tend to have several core duties:

Develop Tour Packages One of the main duties of a tour operator is developing tour packages and itineraries for a variety of individual clients and groups. Some tour operators work within a specific location, while others provide support to tourists traveling to many locations. In developing tour packages, tour operators select attractions, accommodations, and transportation options that tourists can then choose for visits of varying lengths and budgets.

Modify Tour Packages Tour operators tailor tour packages and options for specific groups and individuals. They may seek out reduced rates for a large group, for example, and arrange for larger or smaller chartered vehicles depending on the group's size. In this aspect of the role, the tour operator may also consider various factors like mobility and specific interests of group members or individuals to provide a higher level of interest, access, and customization.

Make Travel Arrangements In many cases, tour operators make travel arrangements for tour groups or individuals. They may assist with choosing flights, booking train and bus transit, and ensuring that tour groups can successfully travel between attractions. Tour operators also secure lodging, working closely with hotel personnel to arrange blocks of rooms and secure discounted rates. They may also develop dining itineraries.

Provide Tourist Assistance Throughout the tour, a tour operator provides direct assistance and answers client questions. For a group traveling abroad, for example, a tour operator may provide assistance with customs, foreign currency exchange, and language translations. Tour operators also provide itineraries and updates, distributing hard copies to tour group members and providing updates if plans or schedules change during the tour.

Coordinate Tour Leaders Many tour operators work with a team of tour leaders, coordinating their locations and schedules to ensure that tours are properly staffed and that leaders have the information they need regarding group members, schedules, and destinations. Tour operators often need to consider a specific group's needs, then make staffing decisions based on their tour leaders' skills, abilities, and availability.

Manage Tour Budgets Tour operators also ensure profitability by closely managing tour group budgets. For tour operators who work with travel agents, this can mean identifying attractions and accommodations that fit within the tour package's price point and securing lower room, meal, and ticket rates to balance the tour budget with money paid by clients. Tour operators may also provide agents, individual tourists, and groups with quotes related to tour costs.


Tour Operator Skills and Qualifications

Tour operators need to balance knowledge about destinations and attractions with logistics and customer service skills. Most tour operators have at least a high school diploma and the following skills:
  • Logistics skills - tour operators need to successfully plan every aspect of a tour, from charter buses to attraction tickets, so they must be highly organized when it comes to logistics planning
  • Customer service - in this role, tour operators interface directly with clients to resolve issues and answer questions, so effective customer service skills are a necessity
  • Budget management - because tour operators are responsible for balancing tour amenities with profitability, they should have excellent budgeting and financial management skills
  • Negotiation - tour operators frequently negotiate with hotel management, charter bus companies, and airlines to receive the best rates for their tour group members, so negotiation skills are vital
  • Team coordination - tour operators work with tour leaders, travel agents, and group representatives to organize and direct all aspects of a tour, so they need to effectively coordinate teams and schedules
  • Communication skills - written and verbal communication skills are important in this role as well, since tour operators work with clients, venues, and travel professionals throughout the tour

Tour Operator Education and Training

While there is no formal education requirement for tour operators, most have at least a high school diploma or GED. Increasingly, tour companies and travel organizations prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. Tour operators may find it easier to secure employment if they have a degree in a field such as tourism and travel services management or hospitality management. Some organizations also offer tour operator certification programs.

Tour Operator Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific salary estimates for tour operators, although its estimates for travel agents may provide a good baseline. According to the BLS, travel agents earn a median annual salary of $36,460. The highest-earning travel agents earn more than $61,890 per year, while the lowest-paid workers in this field earn less than $20,670. The BLS estimates that employment in this field will decline 12 percent by 2026 as more travelers use the internet to make arrangements for tours and conduct their own price comparisons.

Helpful Resources

We searched the web and found several resources if you're interested in learning about a career as a tour operator:

International Tour Management Institute - ITMI provides certification and resources for tour operators and other travel professionals, and also hosts an annual symposium

Tour Operators and Operations: Development, Management & Responsibility - authors Jacqueline Holland and? David Leslie explore the changing tourism and travel industries and examine how tour operators can continue to thrive

Rezdy - Rezdy provides software solutions for tour managers and travel agents, along with an active blog that explores the latest topics within the industry and provides information on best practices

Sell More Tours - Matthew Newton teaches readers how to market tours using a variety of methods, from improving your website to managing social media to build your reputation

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