Who doesn’t want to travel for free right? If I had a penny for every person who said, “you have my dream job, too bad I suck at writing” I would be drinking this merlot from a 24k gold wine glass. Well guess what. You don’t have to be a travel blogger to get mad travel hookups. The travel industry is large and thriving, and there are plenty of freebies to go around. One of the second best (and sometimes I think even better than) ways to score free dream trips is by becoming a tour operator. If you are brave and focused enough, have unique trips ideas, and the right people on your team, it’s entirely possible. However, success in the travel industry doesn’t happen overnight, and becoming a trusted tour operator will require you to put in the sweat equity in things like networking and marketing, as well as deal with legal and financial challenges. In this article, I will share valuable tips you should take into account before you start your own tour operator business – from how to find your niche and get necessary licenses to how to create a travel website free of charge.
How to Become a Tour Operator and Travel For Free
Follow Your Passion
The travel industry is risky, uncertain, and full of challenges, so be ready for tough times in the very beginning. Your passion will help you get through them. It’s impossible to bear the pressure without loving what you do to the depth of your soul. Not just liking. You and people you are going to take on board must be self-motivated.
Define Your Niche
Your niche must be something unique that makes you stand out against your competition, but at the same time, something real based on the sites you have near you, or places you have experience traveling to. Whether you decide to specialize in luxury or budget tours, nature or urban, adventure or food tours, you need to study all ins and outs of the niche and all available propositions in order to become the first one (and the best one) on the market. Document everything as you research; it will help you create a good business plan. At this stage, you can test your niche and get the first experience by touring your guests to the local sites.
Register Your Tour Operator Business
Registering a touring business requires lots of paperwork (probably legwork as well) and… money. At this stage, you must be ready to come up with a brand idea, a logo, and an official website. Research what kind of licensing your business requires; you can check it online or at your local municipality. Beware of other costs associated with running a tour operator business such as insurance and health and safety audits. At this stage, review your business plan to ensure that the startup expenses don’t cover the expected profit. Make changes if needed to present it to potential investors or partners.
Network With Local Suppliers/Destinations
To be able to offer your clients a complete holiday experience, you need to involve a cohort of local suppliers, such as hotels, guides, restaurants, etc. It’s high time to meet them and form local connections. Social media can help you spot some great destinations. To be the best in your niche, you need only the best suppliers. Your knowledge of the niche (we hope you did the home assignment mentioned in the second point) will help you to ask the right questions and find destinations of uncompromised quality. Once all required links of the “chain” are found and set, you can start designing your own guided tours to these places.
You can also meet bloggers at conferences like TBEX. Bloggers will share your brand story and should be a vital part of your networking and marketing strategy. You can also meet them in Facebook groups.
Explore New Horizons
As you grow, you may need to widen your range of suppliers, and the best way to do it is to attend travel conferences like, for example, The World Travel Market where you meet top suppliers who will bring you to their locations for FAM (familiarization) trips.
Market Your Tour Operator Brand
To promote your brand, you can start with the word of mouth offering your services to relatives, friends, and friends of friends. The next step will be launching an official website in order to boost your online presence. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive portal. You can emerge with a free of charge travel website and grow from there involving social media ads (especially if your target audience primarily consists of millennials) and the power of a travel blog. The latter will help you to build a reputation of a thought leader in the industry.
Participating (and winning) in various travel-related awards programs will not only boost your industry recognition but also bring your relationship with customers to a new level. Group Travel Awards and World Travel Awards are the pinnacles to aim at.
The travel business is rough though fascinating and extremely rewarding. Be faithful to your passion, be willing to work and learn, and someday you’ll bring your customers to the place that will reward you for your efforts.