What is a tour operator’s greatest asset?

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A tour operator’s greatest asset

Its a really good question to ask and in the world of tour operators it is the most important one to ask!

The chase for more passengers, with less costs in marketing, advertising, training and overheads to maximise profits and make the company viable and competitve with some of the ‘big boys’, is always the goal. So what is the most underated and under utilised asset, but ironically the most valuable asset? It is your Tour Leaders of course!!

The Tour Leader is not only the ‘Face’ of the company, but it also the ticking ‘heart and soul’ of any tour operation.

They are the ones out there meeting the passengers and it is therefore their behaviour, attitude,passion, empathy, systems,skills from training, and love for their company that feeds the passenger’s experience and ultimately decides the impression of what your tour operation is all about.

If any thing is a miss, then it can damage ovenight the reputation you worked so hard to build and makes all the efforts to build up your quality hotels base, your supplier reputations, your amazingly thought out itineraries and your hard working operations, accounts and customer service teams redundant. No matter how much more money, time and effort your operations team puts in, its difficult to repair the damage of just one Tour Leader who isnt upto the company mark, let alone many.

The impact on your business

Unfortunatley they exsist! Some are just there for the good times, freedom, travel and money. Skewing reviews and learning how to hide behaviour so it doesnt come back to them, whilst others are often put in this position by not getting the training they needed, or not being able ot develop all the correct attributes needed in the rather short, but intense training periods. And lets be honest, when assessing large groups of people and  spreading your trainer’s attention thin, things will and do slip through the crack.

Also Ive seen the methods of ‘shadowing’ an experienced Tour Leader fall flat. Bad habits learnt along with not really understanding the hows and why of the daily running. I was once asked to do this myself with new trainees, to train aswell as run a full tour of 48 is one of the hardest things ever! So you cant expect someone who is a good tl without training skills to be able to give 100% either way, as physically and mentally its exhausting. Someone suffers and its either the passengers or your new tour leaders.

When you have a Tour Leader not giving their all for the passengers,  it is no longer a matter how amazing your hotel locations are, or how amazing the rooms are, or your luxury coaches and top quality drivers, or the fact you have the best most thought out itinerary with the most cultural experiences. If your Tour Leader doesnt put it together with the right skill, organisations, passion and care, it will still leave a foul taste in your passenger’s mouth.

The problem is we all know that bad news travels fast and we know that it travels twice as fast if not faster! People will talk and in some cultures what is said to family and friends is taken as gospel, so people avoid at all costs.

This costs you bookings and a huge loss in money. Especially when you have to cancel tours due to low numbers. The other issue of building your reputation again is also hard work and requires a lot of assessment and rethinking. Hard to do when your are in the middle of a peak season.


How do i know this is true?

How do i know this is true? Well moving into a position as a crew recruiter, trainer and manager in a company that had just realised they where in this exact position, it was obvious to see how the issues were being created and how they could have been avoided. Why was it that two tour leaders could take out the exact same tour and one get poor reviews personally and the tour ripped to pieces in reviews, whilst the other brought back sparking reviews and everyone gave the highest marks possible?

It all came down to the above mentioned points earlier! Attitude and love for the job and people,  the right amount of empathy, employing a systemised approach to the tour and having the right people skills and tour related skills.

The other most interesting factor was that when a Tour Leader would receive bad reviews everything else on tour was tainted and all the amazing hotels, meals, local guides and experiences where judged with a negative bias.

When the Tour Leader aced the tour, all the scores including accomodations, meals, experiences were all much much higher.

That really is food for thought right there and should not be ignored.

In my opinion even one bad tour can do huge amounts of damage to a tour operator’s reputation. Unfortunately discipline for subcontractors is impossible and infact illegal as they are not employees, but by not hiring them for another job leaves you without tours covered and in emergency mode in the operations department to find replacements. Fill in tour leaders are often employed in this case, but once again often can end in par results, as they lack the understanding of the tour and companies policies and procedures.

I believe its imperative that correcting these issues needs to be done at the  recruitment and training level and more then just tangible skills needs to be identifed early. Then you can target your training and develop a more tailored plan for each individuals that you see potential in, rather then blanket training hoping that all the recruits pick up what is needed. It does require more effort, but the results are worth it. When you can get tour leaders who want to work 350 plus days in two seasons with amazing reviews always, well thats just money in the bank and means all sort of good things for your tour operations and your team.


What are the huge benefits an asset like this can give you?

The benefits of investing in the correct training and recruitment of your Tour leader are amazing. A well trained and developed Tour leader will bring you:

  • Better reviews
  • A mentally healthier Tour Leader growing in confidence (this is s0 important in a TL for growth)
  • A long standing crew member – less costs for training and recruitment.
  • Less scheduling issues
  • Free postive marketing on tour – tl pushes more tours or promotes the amazing working of the company
  • Free referals due to Tour Leaders hard work and effort
  • Return passengers – if they have a great time it is proven that passengers will definitley come back to what they trust and know


You can spend THOUSANDS on Google adwords, SEO, marketing and advertising, but none of it can compare to the influence of that Tour Leader on the scene that brings future referals just through their abilities.

Basically everything you try to do by spending money each year and trying to reach people out there, your Tour Leaders are doing it all for you in person without all the costs. They are building the ‘face’ of your business and ensuring the hard labourous work of the operations, accounts, marketing teams and so on are not in vein.  They will ensure the continual success and growth of a company and when this happens all departments in the operation win.

Really, when you look at a TL’s daily wage in many cases, it really is the most cost effective and smartest ‘thinking tool’ for building a business and reputation.


SO in one thought:

A tour operation is only as good as its last tour, and therefore only as good as its last Tour Leader who delivers it


So in summary proper recruitment and the right training is crucial for inital success for a Tour Leader. Follow this with the right amount support and further development time into your crew, along with the appropriate amount of remunertion, with acknowledgement for work rendered is required to keep the hunger where it is needed.

Follow this with a healthy respect in the office where Tour Leaders are encouraged to want to learn more about those who put it all togther and give them the opportunity , and the office staff wanting to have an insight to the life of a Tour Leader and you have a wonderful ethos and recipe for success.

7 thoughts on “What is a tour operator’s greatest asset?

    1. Thanks Sara! Glad you agree. It sometimes seem like Tour Leaders are just there to get the tour out and its often missed that they wear the brunt of the good and the bad, whilst doing a lot of work to smooth things over when needed. Its all done in the background and done thousands of kilometres away from head offices so its often overlooked how much work needs to go into the role!

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