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Tour Operator vs Travel Agent: What’s the Difference?

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Are you planning for your next trip? Today is the best time to think about exploring and visiting places worldwide.

Sure, you might have the drive and a rough idea of what you’d like to see and do, but planning that all can be a hassle, and after the pandemic, the hassle is the last thing you want to deal with.

One question you might consider is: Should you talk with a tour operator or a travel agent to help plan your trip? Here’s a clearer picture of what you’ll get from both in our tour operator vs travel agent comparison.

What is a Tour Operator?

Woman Tour Operator

A tour operator is responsible for creating a variety of tour packages for target clients. Their job is to maintain the packages, foster connections worldwide, and ensure that all the sites included in the package are operational.

They also make sure that guests are welcomed to the destinations with a number of special local tours included in the packages that they offer.

How do tour operators work?

Their job is managing tour packages, including the preparations for every destination.

What tasks do operators commonly handle?

Alongside offering travel and tours, a good operator also ensures that they go above and beyond by offering various activities that appeal to their target travelers.

Will they be able to help you plan a trip that is exclusive to just your group? Yup, they can definitely accommodate special requests. That’s the beauty of hiring a tour operator. They can personalize the whole trip to fit your liking.

Is working with a tour operator worth it?

The answer will depend on how much travel you want to do. If you’ve chosen to work with a tour operator, be prepared for a wide range of options that they could offer. On the flip side, you have to prepare for the limitations in their practice.

Tour operators usually work around what they think their clients would want to do or where clients would want to go, and their suggestions will be based on their opinions and experiences.

Their perspective of various travel destinations could limit their ideas of what can be done in that particular location if just based on their info and experiences. It could also limit what the traveler can choose to do while they are there.

Will you be able to save on costs when you talk with a travel operator? Working closely with them surely comes with a number of benefits, and that includes savings.

Looking at the bigger picture, a travel operator can offer you a whole itinerary minus the extra costs of working with a travel agent.

What do Travel Agents do?

Woman Travel Agent

What does it mean to hire a travel agent? Working with a travel agent means preparing a pre-made package travel itinerary to fit your needs. Travel agents work with various types of travel operators, which means they have access to different tour packages.

They can offer all these packages; from there, you can choose which suits your travel plans. Travel agents can also help you with the accommodations you wish to make. When traveling with family or friends, the agent can help you decide on the accommodations and other excursions you wish to make.

Travel agents have some leeway in accommodating your special requests, but they come with a price as they add to the package. Can they get you discounted rates for plane fares?

Luckily, yes. You have to work closely with them as they negotiate the rates with the travel operators on your behalf.

Tour Operator vs Travel Agent: How are they different?

Tour Operator vs Travel Agent

Some people might be wondering whether they should acquire the services of a tour operator or if getting help from a travel agent is better. You want to ensure you hire the right one for the job.

Tour operator vs. travel agent: What’s the catch? Who do you trust with your travel goals? Who is better than providing you with what you need?

How much do travel agents make? That figure varies, but their earnings typically come from the commissions from selling packages.

Whether you hire a tour operator or a travel agent, be prepared to be given their unique perspective on destinations and how to get there.

They have their touch when it comes to travel details and planning. To the untrained eye, it may seem like a thin line that separates one from the other, but they are different horses for different courses.

Tour operators are the people you trust when you want a personalized plan for your itinerary. They put together a travel tour based on tourist spots you want to visit and the comfort of your stay in every location. Their goal is to create a personalized experience that you will never forget.

Here is a comparison of what a travel agent does and what a tour operator does:

AspectTour OperatorTravel Agent
RoleCreates and operates tour packages and itinerariesSells tour packages, flights, hotels on behalf of suppliers
ServicesDesigns tours, contracts services, manages logisticsBooks travel components, provides advice and recommendations
ProductsPackaged tours, custom group toursFlights, hotels, cruises, car rentals, tours
FocusSpecific destinations or travel stylesGeneral travel planning and booking
Relationship with CustomerDirect relationship, tour leaderIntermediary between customer and supplier
Revenue ModelPackages sold at retail ratesCommission from suppliers on sales
ExamplesG Adventures, Intrepid Travel, TrafalgarExpedia, American Express Travel, AAA Travel

What does a travel agent do? How do travel agents work?

Attractive female travel agent looking at her clients, communicating with them in office and showing tours
BAZA Production / Shutterstock

Travel agents are the ones that sell a pre-made travel itinerary to target consumers. For example, if you plan to travel with the entire family, including young children, the travel agent will offer you tour packages that suit your type of family.

Their goal is to convince you that a particular travel plan is what you need.

Are travel agents worth it?

Couple Talking to a Travel Agent
VadimGuzhva / Adobe Stock

It is important to note that travel agents directly sell a travel package to a chosen clientele.

While they don’t typically limit the choices to just one, they will ensure that the clients can narrow their search for the most appropriate packages with the agent’s help. Working closely with tourist attractions, hotels, and airlines allows travel agents to represent various travel operators and host a variety of pre-made packages.

Their goal is to offer various types of travel tours, offering a different experience every time. The limitations of their job are what suits their clients.

At this point, the only question left to ask is this: What is the cost difference? Can a travel agent save you money on flights? Hiring a tour operator means paying for the entire tour’s base cost without additional fees. You get to pay for what you want and nothing else.

On the other hand, working with a travel agent means gaining access to many comprehensive packages, including travel, activities, excursions, food, and accommodation.

There might be extra stuff you wouldn’t have thought of doing before. Your package might include everything you want from a vacation, which would cost more if you booked everything individually with a tour operator.

How Are Tour Operators and Travel Agents Similar?

Group of friends is listening to a guide talking about a famous Pisa monument
William Perugini /

What makes travel operators and travel agents similar to each other? What tasks do tour operators commonly handle? The line differentiating one from the other may be considered a gray area.

When you look closely into what they do and see how tour operators work, it might be easy to think that they practically do the same thing, only with a different approach.

And yet, it is in the very nature of what they do that brings travel operators and travel agents together. When building packages, many travel agents will work alongside tour operators.

Looking into the different perspectives they offer, both the tour operator and the travel agent focus on selling the experience. Whenever tour operators put together a list of travel destinations they think clients would want to visit, they always have the idea of the “ultimate experience” in their minds.

They always consider what the clients want to do or where they want to go. The same is true whenever travel agents offer tour packages to clients. They always bank on the “ultimate experience” and make that their selling point. They want to ensure that every time they offer a travel package to a particular set of clients, it’s the right package for the right client.

What’s better about hiring a tour operator?

Pupils and teacher on school field trip to museum with guide
Monkey Business / Adobe Stock

Will you choose to travel with a travel operator? Choosing to hire a tour operator will allow you truly personalize your own vacation. All that is left for you to do is to choose which of their options suits your taste.

There are a number of advantages that come with hiring a tour operator. First, you gain access to a number of tour packages that they will have been building and fostering that are less typical than the sort of cookie-cutter packages you’d get from a travel agent.

Since tour operators spend so much time putting together these travel packages, you can be sure they’ve put real heart and soul into their offerings.

Second, hiring a tour operator means buying yourself the personalized experience of a lifetime. They aim to create bespoke packages to give you an experience you will never forget.

Lastly, hiring a travel operator means gaining access to the base rates they can offer for tours, activities, accommodation, food, etc. You can even ask for discounted rates if you wish. After all, the savings from hiring a travel operator will mean additional pocket money for you.

What’s better about hiring a travel agent?

attractive travel agent in headset working near laptop

Every travel agent works with a wider variety of travel and tour operators, which means they can offer you a wider range of travel packages. Each travel package they offer will be comprehensive, with many amenities and activities included.

The advantages of working with a travel agent are numerous. For one, it means gaining access to various travel options.

Whether you are looking for an adventure to the great outdoors or want to explore the beaches of a tropical island, your desired destination is what a travel agent offers. The best part is that they can offer more than one travel package.

Second, if you choose to hire a travel agent, the effort you must put into planning and booking plummets.

They take care of most of the heavy lifting, including figuring out essentially where you stay and what you do based on your rough specifications.

Lastly, hiring a travel agent will be worth it because of all the savings you can potentially get from it. If you look at a comprehensive travel package and then try to build it yourself, you’ll find that the travel agent has access to inter-industry deals that you, I, and even some tour operators have access to.

Who should hire a travel operator?

Tourists on a segway tour
Kzenon / Adobe Stock

You should consider a travel operator if you are looking for a personalized experience and want a hand in building it.

Who should hire a travel agent?

Traveller getting holiday brochure in travel agency
auremar / Adobe Stock

Anyone looking for an adventure or break who doesn’t want the hassle of figuring it out or paying more than one bill/fee for their vacation. They’re the one-stop shop.

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