What Are a Tour Operator's Roles? (Plus Skills and Education)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 30, 2021

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 advise customers about travel options and organize tours for individuals or groups of travelers. These professionals can have many job responsibilities, such as preparing tour itineraries and coordinating with vendors. If you enjoy traveling and working with people, you may want to learn more about a career as a tour operator, including their typical job duties. In this article, we explain a tour operator's roles, outline the necessary skills and education for these jobs, describe their typical work environment and provide their average salary and job outlook.

What is a tour operator?

A tour operator is a hospitality professional who organizes tours and provides support to customers during trips to help them have positive experiences. These professionals advise customers on different tour packages based on their budget and interests. They handle all logistical aspects of a tour, such as booking tickets and reserving accommodations. Unlike tour guides, tour operators rarely accompany tourists on their trips, but they are available to answer their questions or provide information about their itineraries. Tour operators often work for travel agencies or tour companies.

Related: 7 of the Highest-Paying Hospitality Jobs

What are a tour operator's roles?

Tour operators may specialize in developing tour itineraries for specific destinations, while others provide support to customers traveling to many destinations. While a tour operator's roles can vary based on their position and employer, these professionals are commonly responsible for:

  • Developing tour packages: These professionals develop tour packages for individual customers or groups of travelers. They work with customers to understand their interests and recommend a variety of attractions, accommodations and transportation options to help customers choose their tour packages.

  • Negotiating rates: Tour operators commonly negotiate rates with other vendors, such as hotels and transportation companies. For example, they may ask a hotel to reduce rates for a block of rooms for a large group of travelers.

  • Arranging travel: These professionals help arrange travel plans for customers so they can get to their destinations. For example, they may book train tickets to help customers travel between cities or reserve a rental car so customers can get to various attractions.

  • Providing customer support: A tour operator provides customer support to help their clients prepare for trips. For example, they may answer customers' questions about a destination, provide information about currency exchange rates or notify them of any changes to an itinerary.

  • Preparing tour budgets: Tour operators work with customers to help them prepare a budget for their tour. They develop different itineraries with varying price points and advise clients on accommodations and attractions within their preferred budget.

  • Researching travel options: These professionals research various travel options to provide recommendations to their customers about where to visit, stay and eat on their tours. They read articles and search online for information about travel trends and new destinations to stay current in their field.

Education requirements for tour operators

The minimum education requirement for tour operators is a high school diploma or equivalent, such as the GED. Some employers, particularly tour companies or travel organizations, may prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor's degree. Some common degrees for tour operators include tourism and travel services management or hospitality management. Many colleges and universities offer these undergraduate programs, and it typically takes four years for students to earn their degree. Some examples of classes you may take while earning a bachelor's degree include:

  • Hospitality finance

  • Revenue management

  • Service technology

  • Event planning

  • Human resources management

  • Hospitality sales and marketing

  • Foundations of tourism

  • International hotel management

  • Tourism information technology

  • Hospitality management strategies

  • Sustainable tourism planning

Related: Ultimate Guide to Hospitality Management

Skills for tour operators

Here are some skills that can help tour operators be successful in their jobs:

Organization

Tour operators can benefit from having excellent organizational skills to help them develop tour itineraries. They use planning skills to arrange many parts of a tour, such as transportation between various attractions. These professionals use attention to detail to make sure they're creating tours to meet customers' needs and expectations. At times, they may plan several tours simultaneously for different customers, so they can use time management and multitasking skills to help them focus on their tasks and complete their work on time.

Customer service

Customer service skills help tour operators interact with clients and provide them with positive travel experiences. When communicating with customers, tour operators use active listening skills to understand their requirements for a trip, such as the length of stay and budget. They're responsive when customers have questions about their tour itinerary. Tour operators are adaptable when customers want to make changes to their itinerary, such as extending their stay. They also have a knowledge of various destinations and attractions to help them make travel recommendations to customers.

Read more: Customer Service Skills: Definitions and 17 Examples

Communication

It's helpful for tour operators to have communication skills so they can convey information to customers about their trips. They use verbal communication skills to talk with customers about their expectations for a trip. They portray friendliness and confidence in their communications so customers feel comfortable working with them and trust their recommendations. These professionals also use communication skills to coordinate with vendors, such as tour bus companies. Tour operators may use written communication skills when emailing customers with information about their itineraries.

Financial management

Tour operators use financial management skills to help them prepare cost estimates and tour budgets for their customers. They work with customers to understand their budgets and develop travel options to meet their financial requirements. They use problem-solving skills to help them find solutions for customers with budget restrictions. These professionals advise customers about areas of their trip where they can save money and help them understand how to maximize their finances while ensuring they receive their desired amenities.

Work environment for tour operators

Tour operators commonly work for private tour companies or travel agencies. They typically work in full-time positions, though they may work overtime during peak travel seasons. Tour operators spend much of their time working in an office, where they make phone calls to arrange accommodation, transportation or ticketing options with vendors, such as hotels and airlines. They use a computer to research different travel destinations, prepare customer itineraries and manage bookings. Tour operators may have the opportunity to travel to different destinations to evaluate the quality of accommodations or attractions so they can make appropriate recommendations to customers.

Related: 20 Jobs for People Who Like To Travel (And Make Money Doing It)

Salary and job outlook for tour operators

While salary information is unavailable specifically for tour operators, these professionals share many of the same responsibilities as travel agents. The national average salary for travel agents is $59,017 per year. Like travel agents, tour operators may earn additional compensation in tips from customers who are satisfied with their tours and impressed with the services they received. In addition, tour operators who work full time for travel agencies or tour companies are typically eligible for various benefits, such as health care insurance and retirement savings plans, which can contribute to their overall compensation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for travel agents is likely to grow 5% between 2020 and 2030. Though this rate is slower than other occupations in the general workforce, the BLS expects about 7,500 job openings for travel agents each year. These jobs are likely to become available as other professionals in the industry transfer to different positions or retire. The BLS expects the demand for travel agents to increase as people continue to want personalized travel experiences and recommendations.

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