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Tour Operators put together the various elements of a typical holiday and sell them as
They sell their packages either direct to the public and/or through
agents. The cost of a holiday can vary greatly
between tour operators
If they sell through travel agents, they pay a commission (usually a
percentage of the holiday price) to the agent.
Most people are familiar with the large tour operators such as Airtours,
Thomson and JMC. Such tour operators offer a vast range of holidays and
a vast range of destinations, and their buying power ensures reasonable
prices. However, never forget that there are thousands of other tour operators out there.
Many are small operators, specialising in specific markets or specific
destinations. and their prices can be very competitive.
Tour Operators come in for a lot of criticism from consumer groups and
watchdogs. Whilst, there are, of course, very good operators and very
poor operators, we believe that in general, customer service in the
travel industry leaves a lot to be desired (at all levels, including
operator to agent, agent to the consumer and operator to consumer).
Some tour operators will only sell their package holidays direct to the
consumer, bypassing the travel agent. Other will sell through travel
agents and also direct to the consumer and others sell only through
"Is it not cheaper to buy direct then?", you may ask. The
answer is "well, perhaps sometime, if ... and but...". Let us
First we need to clear up a misconception which has evolved from a
deplorable series of TV advertisements by Direct Holidays in 2001.
These advertisements were designed to discredit travel agents. One in particular, indicated that travel agents ADDED commission to tour operators'
prices and therefore charged the client MORE than the quoted prices.
This is totally inaccurate and resulted in complaints to the ITC
(Independent Television Commission),
which were upheld. The ITC also required the broadcaster to cease
further transmission of the advertisement in its current form.
The truth is, clients booking through travel
agents do NOT pay more than the operator's quoted prices. In many cases,
they actually pay less than the operator's quoted price because travel
agents often give some of their commission back to the client as a
discount. Further details and the ITC's ruling is available here.
Right, that's that out of the way - back to the question and the
Generally, there is little advantage buying direct from a tour operator
who also sells through travel agents. The tour operators do not want to
alienate the travel agents and consequently, you can usually get similar
prices from both travel agents and 'direct'.
Tour operators who only sell direct to the public can offer good value.
They don't pay commission to travel agents which should allow them to
sell holidays a little cheaper than if they did. However, bear in mind
Our advice: - only buy from a 'direct sell' operator if you are absolutely sure
exactly which holiday you want and that no other operator does it
- the tour operator has the extra cost of supporting the client
that would traditionally be borne by the travel agent (resort and
accommodation information, visa and health requirements, changes to
- there could well be identical (or very similar holidays) available
cheaper with other tour operators, but of course, the direct sell
operator will not be offering competitors products to
the client, unlike a good independent travel agent would. Equally there
could be more suitable holidays available with other tour operators.
Travel Agents are agents for tour operators. Generally, they sell
package holidays (and other products/services) on behalf of the tour
operator and are paid a commission or fee by the tour operator for doing
addition to package holidays, most travel agents will offer other
products and services such as:
- Travel Insurance
- Car Hire
- Ferry Crossing
- Train Tickets
- Advice and information
Many of the large UK chains of High Street travel agents actually belong
to companies that also own the UK's major tour operators. We class these
The Thomson Travel Group includes:
Travel Agents: Lunn Poly, The Travel House, Sibbald Travel, Callers
Tour Operators: Thomson Holidays (which includes Skytours), Tropical
Places, Crystal, Jetsave, the Magic group.
Airtours plc includes:
Travel Agents: Going Places, Travel World
Tour Operators: Airtours, Panorama, Tradewinds, Manos, Cresta, Leger,
Thomas Cook Holdings includes:
Travel Agent: Thomas Cook
Tour Operators: JMC, 18-30, Neilson, Style
First Choice plc includes:
Travel Agents: Travel Choice, Bakers Dolphin, Holiday Hypermarket
Tour Operators: First Choice, Unijet, Falcon, Sunmed, Hayes &
Jarvis, Sovereign, Meon Villas
To the best of our knowledge, the above information is accurate as
at 17/11/01 (E&OE), although a restructuring involving the
Thomson Group has recently been announced).
Independent travel agents are those that are independent of their
suppliers, and usually, therefore, have greater freedom to supply a wider
range of products from a wider range of tour operators In our
view, non-independent travel agents will always have great difficulty in
offering a totally unbiased service to their clients.
Range of Products/Services
The range of products/services offered varies from travel agent to
travel agent. In particular, the number of tour operators supported by
agents varies considerably.
Most 'High Street' travel agents will actively promote and sell only certain tour
operators' holidays. Their 'racking policies' dictate which brochures
they will display in their shops and this is generally determined by
commercial agreements with tour operators. Basically, the more
commission the operator pays, the better chance of their brochures being
racked. Further, if a travel agent is non-independent, this can
greatly influence which tour operators are promoted.
These policies limit the number of tour operators that are actively
promoted by sales staff. Holidays from many operators are not sold at all.
At Holiday Bargains, we are often asked by our clients, " Well why
did Lunn Poly not offer me that one?" (for "Lunn Poly",
you can also read "Going Places" or "Thomas Cook"
and other 'High Street' travel agents). The difference is that we do not
operate a 'racking policy' and we will not restrict our range of
suppliers based on the commission that they pay. more
Coincidently, at the time of writing this document (17/11/01), one of
our Holiday Bargains consultants has had an enquiry from an employee of
a major 'High Street' travel agent, who was, apparently, unable to find
the holiday she required at the same price as we could get. (We found
the holiday with a smaller operator which isn't part of the same group
as the travel agent).
a Travel Agent
(Yes, its obvious what's coming, but we passionately believe it..) Our
advice is to always book through an independent travel agent.
This will not guarantee excellent service and prices, nor will booking
with a non-independent agent guarantee poor service and prices. However,
we believe that you will be more likely to get:
more advice about booking and prices
- truly independent advice and guidance
- an agent with the freedom to use a wide range of tour operators
and other suppliers.