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The Value of Tour Operators

By: Tim Russell Posted: September-24-2010 in
Tim Russell

Since the advent of online travel, observers have been making doomy predictions about the travel agent/tour operator sector, assuming that now consumers can make all their tour bookings online, they no longer need to go via agents such as ourselves.

There are several reasons why this hasn’t happened and probably won’t happen for a long time - one of them being that tour operators still get better rates from suppliers than direct customers ever could - but the chief reason was summed up neatly in an email we had from a recent customer.

It wasn’t a complaint as such - they had a great time on their Mekong Delta trip. But the one gripe they had was that “we found the tour a little overpriced - if we’d planned it ourselves, we could have done it more cheaply”.

Well, you’ve answered your own comment there - if we’d planned it ourselves. If you’d spent hours researching a quiet, non-touristy part of the Mekong Delta; finding a good transport supplier, a knowledgeable, English-speaking guide, and a comfortable family homestay; and finding some secure means of paying them all in advance to ensure that your tour was all booked.

But, in fact, you didn’t plan it yourself. Either because it was too time-consuming, because you didn’t have the right contacts, or because organising such a unique programme in a relatively isolated part of Asia from your home in the US is simply not possible. Whatever the reason, you paid an expert to do it for you, and that’s where the value of tour operators and travel agents lies.

It’s the same principle that applies to using any kind of specialist or expert. Professional web design, for example, doesn’t come cheap, and with so many free web design tools out there, many people are tempted to do it themselves. But once they realise how time-consuming and fiddly it is, and they see how amateurish their own efforts tend to look in the end, the value of a professional designer starts to become clear.

So if you’ve got the time, the patience, the knowledge and the contacts, by all means go ahead and plan your own tour. If you haven’t, it’s worth paying a bit extra for someone else to do it for you!

Tim Russell is owner and Managing Director of Come & Go Vietnam. Contact him on tim [at] comeandgovietnam [dot] com


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