Step-by-step guide to creating a tour operator business plan [template included]

tour operator business plan

Updated July 2023 – Ready to take the plunge and launch that tour company or adventure travel business you’ve been envisioning? Before you start welcoming guests, the best first step is always to build a detailed business plan. 

A tour operator business plan is more than just a formality; it is the compass that will navigate your business’s journey. A well-structured business plan for a tour operator provides the framework for transforming your vision into a thriving and sustainable business. It will help you clarify your goals, streamline your operations, and make informed decisions.

Let’s explore the immense value of a clear tour operator business plan as well as the most important elements to consider in this comprehensive document. 

Why create a business plan?

Crafting a business plan allows you to lay the groundwork for your tour operator business effectively. Whether you plan to help travelers make travel plans or to provide amazing tourism experiences, your business plan will serve a couple of key purposes:

  • You can hit the ground running with a plan in place, and goals to work towards in the long term.
  • You’ll have a quality business case to use if you’re applying for loans or grants.
  • You can point your start-up resources, such as cash flow and staff, where they’ll provide the most benefit. This is particularly important if you’re starting with a tight budget.
  • You’ll also have a ‘roadmap’ to help you navigate through the inevitable challenges, obstacles, and surprises in business!

Key elements of a tour operator business plan

In order to understand how to set up a tour operator business, you’ll first need to learn the key elements of a tour operator business plan.

How to set a tour operator business plan

1. Business overview

This section of your tour operator/ tour agency business plan provides a holistic snapshot of your company, offering readers a clear understanding of your business’s identity. Ideally, it should include the following:

  • Business Name: Your business name should resonate with your target audience, conveying the essence of your offerings and the unique experiences you promise to deliver. Ensure it is memorable, evocative, and future-proof.
  • Location: Detail the physical location of your tour operator business. Your location can influence your target market and the types of tours you can offer. Be specific about your base of operations and, if applicable, mention any satellite offices or future expansion plans.
  • History: Describe the story behind your tour company’s inception. Share the passion and inspiration that sparked your journey into the travel and tourism industry, and ensure that it aligns with your brand values. 
  • Ownership Structure: Clarify the legal structure of your tour operator business. Are you a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited liability company, or a corporation? Describe the ownership arrangement and highlight the key stakeholders involved in the venture. 
  • Assets and Debts: Provide an overview of your company’s assets and debts. This includes tangible assets such as vehicles, equipment, and office space, as well as intangible assets like intellectual property and brand equity. If applicable, disclose any outstanding debts or financial obligations that may impact your business’s financial health and ability to grow.

2. Market analysis

Start by defining your target market. Are you catering to adventure-seeking travelers, history enthusiasts, or nature lovers? Consider their demographics, interests, and spending behavior. Research industry trends and analyze competitors to gain insights into their strengths and weaknesses. This will help you identify opportunities and potential gaps in the market that your business can fill.

In addition, study the external factors that could impact your business, such as seasonal fluctuations, economic conditions, and any regulatory requirements specific to the tourism industry.

3. Tour offerings

Crafting compelling and diverse tour offerings is at the heart of your tour operator business. Consider the unique experiences and attractions your target market seeks. Develop a range of tour packages that cater to different preferences and budget levels.

sustainable tour operator

Your tours should not only showcase the best of the destination but also provide memorable and immersive experiences. Whether it’s organizing guided city tours, thrilling adventure expeditions, or cultural explorations, your offerings should reflect your passion for travel and your commitment to creating unforgettable memories for your customers.

Use your tour operator/ tour agency business plan to emphasize what sets your tours apart from the competition. Whether it’s exclusive access to hidden gems, knowledgeable guides, or sustainable practices, highlight the value that customers will gain from choosing your services.

4. Marketing strategy

Successful businesses have strong brands, so your business plan should set out branding guidelines. Consider the following key elements when coming up with a strategy that will guide how you should start marketing your tour business:

  • Branding Guidelines: Outline your branding guidelines, including your brand’s visual identity, mission statement, core values, and brand voice. Emphasize consistency across all touchpoints, from your website and social media platforms to your tour brochures and customer interactions. 
  • Advertising Channels: Identify the advertising channels that best align with your target audience and budget. Consider a mix of online and offline channels to reach potential customers effectively. Online channels may include pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, display ads, and sponsored content on travel websites. Offline channels could involve partnering with local travel agencies, and tourism boards, or participating in travel trade shows and events. 
  • Social Media Channels: Social media is a powerful tool for connecting with travelers and building a loyal community around your brand. Engage users with captivating visual content, compelling storytelling, and interactive posts that evoke a sense of wanderlust. Utilize platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to share breathtaking photos, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and testimonials from satisfied customers.
  • Customer Reviews and Testimonials: Encourage satisfied customers to share their stories and feedback on platforms like Google Reviews, TripAdvisor, and your website. Positive reviews build credibility and serve as powerful social proof, enticing potential travelers to choose your tours with confidence. Respond promptly and graciously to all reviews, demonstrating your commitment to customer satisfaction.

positive reviews

  • Content Marketing: Create valuable and informative content that educates travelers about your destination, highlights unique aspects of your tours, and offers travel tips and insights. Utilize blog posts, videos, podcasts, and downloadable guides to establish your tour operator business as a trusted authority in the travel industry.
  • Partnerships and Collaborations: Consider strategic partnerships with complementary businesses in the travel and hospitality industry. Collaborate with local hotels, restaurants, and activity providers to create enticing package deals that appeal to travelers seeking a holistic experience. This is especially important if you are considering creating an international travel agency business plan, as collaborations can help broaden your reach.

5. Operations and management

The operations and management section of your tour operator business plan delves into the practical aspects that keep your business running smoothly and efficiently. This nitty-gritty exploration ensures that every aspect of your tour company is well-organized, legally compliant, and focused on delivering exceptional experiences to your customers. 

Here are the key components to include in this section:

  • Business and Legal Structure: Clearly outline your chosen business and legal structure. Whether you are operating as a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited liability company (LLC), or a corporation, this information provides a framework for your business’s governance and responsibilities.
  • Risk Management and Workplace Health & Safety Plans: As a tour operator, the safety and well-being of your guests are paramount. Detail your risk management procedures and workplace health & safety plans to mitigate potential hazards and ensure a secure experience for travelers. Assess the risks associated with different tours and activities, develop contingency plans, and implement safety protocols that align with industry best practices.
  • Terms and Conditions: Craft comprehensive and transparent terms and conditions for your tour offerings. Clearly communicate cancellation policies, refund procedures, and any limitations or requirements for participants. 
  • Staff Scheduling and Training: Outline your staff scheduling procedures to ensure smooth operations and optimal customer service. Consider investing in staff training programs that equip your team with the knowledge and skills to offer insightful commentary, excellent customer care, and handle unforeseen situations professionally. Furthermore, you can optimize the utilization of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) tool to help you gauge the potential productivity of your staff and business.
  • Reservation System: In the digital age, a robust and secure reservation system like Rezdy is vital for streamlining your booking process for both you and your customers. Invest in a reliable booking software that allows real-time availability updates, secure payment processing, and automated customer confirmations.

purpose of online booking system

  • Distribution Channels and Partnerships: Consider the distribution channels that will help grow your bookings and expand your market reach. Will you collaborate with online travel agencies (OTAs) or travel agents to promote your tours? Explore partnerships with local businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, to create enticing package deals. 
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM): A well-organized CRM system enables you to build lasting relationships with your customers. Implement CRM software to keep track of customer interactions, preferences, and feedback. Personalize your marketing efforts and start building customer loyalty through targeted promotions and personalized offers.

6. Financial plan

The financial plan is a key component of your tour operator business plan. It outlines your revenue streams, costs, and projected financial performance over time. A well-structured financial plan demonstrates the viability of your business and helps you secure funding if needed.

Start by estimating your startup costs, including equipment, licenses, marketing, and initial staff training. Calculate the expected cash flow, factoring in the seasonality of the tourism industry. Identify the pricing strategy for your tours, ensuring that it covers your expenses while remaining competitive in the market.

Create financial projections for at least the first three to five years, considering both conservative and optimistic scenarios. This will enable you to anticipate potential challenges and make informed decisions that will help you with growing your tour business.

Remember to regularly review and update your financial plan as your business progresses. Monitoring actual financial performance against projections will help you make timely adjustments and stay on track towards achieving your business goals.

Ready to start building your business plan as a tour operator?

Download the free all-in-one checklist for easy reference.

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Getting your tour business off the ground

Now that you have an effective business plan in place, it’s important to ensure your business has the right software.

Online booking software for tour operators like Rezdy is designed to equip your business for success. It includes multiple features integrated into the system, which allows you to reduce your overall admin duties. Some of these tools include real-time availability to avoid double bookings, automatic customer updates and reminders, and secure payment processes.

Furthermore, Rezdy also offers a channel manager platform that connects your business to thousands of resellers instantly. Joining Rezdy Marketplace is as simple as listing your products and setting your commission rates. From there, you can let resellers on the platform promote and sell your services to their customers.

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