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Evolution of a Tour

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A basic schedule for a ship or some major event or attraction may serve as the "embryo" of a tour package, with the rest of the itinerary organized around it. (A trip to Machu Picchu, for example, involves not only plugging in extra days in various cities in order to acclimate tour goers before they go up to such a high altitude but also taking into account limited departures of small airplanes that tend to be canceled due to weather).

Next, the schedule may go to the tour development manager, who fills in the spaces, accounting for virtually every moment of time. Negotiators then block space and negotiate for rates from suppliers (airlines, hotels, ground transportation and sightseeing companies, restaurants) based on an expectation of how many passengers the program will carry.

Then, the material goes to the production department, which creates a brochure. This is the actual product that goes out to retailers for sale to the public, as well as to marketing for further promotion.

Once the tour is available for sale, it comes under the aegis of the operations and reservations departments. Reservationists take orders from travel agents and from the general public. The operations department gathers necessary documents and mails them to passengers, keeps track of tours as they are sold out or over booked, and sends out passenger lists (manifests) to hotels. Tour escorts are assigned.

The visa department gathers the documents needed by foreign governments in order for the passengers to be admitted.

Tour operators may also have sales and marketing specialists who are responsible for promoting the program to travel agents and the public and public relations, personnel, and accounting professionals.


Salaries are tremendously divergent (even among comparable companies) and do not always reflect the level of responsibility. Salaries generally depend on the size of the company (number of passengers carried), geographical location, number of people managed, and prior experience. International operations and in house operations of airlines generally pay better than domestic travel companies (even those motor coach companies that expanded into international operations).

Starting salary for a reservationist with one year of experience is about $18,000 to $20,000; after five years with a company, a reservationist can make from $22,000 to $25,000. Other examples of positions and salaries are as follows:
  • Hotel Negotiator, $20,000 to $40,000
  • Air Negotiator, $30,000 to $45,000
  • Air Desk Director, $30,000
  • Flight Operations Department Manager, Southeast, $30,000
  • Manager of Marketing Development, International Operator,
  • $35,000
  • Operations Manager, $30,000 to $52,000
  • Regional Sales Manager, $45,000
  • Salaries for top management positions are quite satisfactory. Examples include:
  • Vice President, Operations, $55,000
  • Vice President, Sales and Marketing, $78,000 to 80,000
  • President, $80,000 to $100,000
For the near term at least, there will be greater opportunities in operations (including MIS, reservations, customer service, and quality control) than in sales and marketing. "There are many jobs in tour operations," commented LarsEric Lindblad, a pioneer in the field. "But what has been lacking is trained people the idea of going to a university to learn tour operations is new."

Domestic Tour Operations

Just as there are international tours for every taste and lifestyle, there is an extraordinary range of options for domestic trips everything from a journey by covered wagon (Colorado Wagon Train, Crawford, CO) to a mystery tour by bus where the destination is a surprise (Bixler Tours, Hiram, OH). Though similar to international tour companies, domestic companies have different origins and have evolved differently. They tend to have an atmosphere that is more conservative even provincial one that is more oriented to serving a local community rather than a national market.

Deregulation of the motor coach industry has opened the way to innovation and made it possible for operators to creatively fashion programs that appeal to contemporary lifestyles and needs.

Prior to deregulation, rules restricted the use of other forms of transportation (such as airlines) in conjunction with motor coach. For example, if you had a cross country trip by bus, you were required to bring the people back the same way. There were incredible restrictions of operating authorities, which meant that a bus could only go through a state for which it had obtained costly licenses. To become licensed, an applicant had to prove a need for a service. That is, incumbents, like the two giants Greyhound and Trailways (now merged into Greyhound), did not have to prove that a new service would somehow be detrimental. Moreover, a motor coach company could obtain rights to a service and then not exercise them, blocking a newcomer. Also, the motor coach tour operator (called a broker) could not be the motor coach operator, with the exception of Greyhound and Trailways, which had "grandfather rights." That is, both services had operated prior to the Interstate Commerce Commission Act of 1939.

All of this changed with deregulation; entry into motor coach operations, charters, and tours was vastly eased. The result was that literally hundreds of new companies opened almost overnight and the numbers of passengers traveling on motor coach tours and charters increased dramatically. The National Tour Association (NTA, the largest domestic travel organization with 4,000 members including 600 tour operators, 2,800 suppliers, and 650 destination marketing organizations) estimates that the industry carried 56.3 million passengers and grossed $5.6 billion.

Tours range in duration from one day to several weeks, and prices range from $35 for a day trip to nearly $10,000. The most popular trips are five to seven days, and cost $400 to $500.

In many respects, domestic tour operations affords greater creativity; so many more markets are available for domestic tour products than for international products, and the industry has really only just begun to tap them. Indeed, domestic tour operations has in a sense been reborn, and newcomers to the field have a chance to be in on the ground floor.

Tour participants still tend to be senior citizens, but the average age of all tour goers is beginning to come down as new tour products are introduced to appeal to a younger, more active market. Indeed, the emerging specialties include programs oriented around ecotourism and cultural tourism (art, music, museums, cultural events), family travel (particularly "grand travel" joining grandparents and grandkids on a tour), and such innovations as "hub and spoke" itineraries. While a typical domestic package might be a six day fall foliage trip through New England, new products include a three day rafting outing geared to singles (introduced by Bixler Tours, the Hiram, Ohio, company that developed the mystery tour).
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