Inbound Tour Operators (ITOs) are one of the most important distribution channels available to small tour or activity businesses.

Here’s what you need to know about how you can work with them.

What is the role of an ITO?

Before we get too carried away, let’s recap who these guys are and how they work.

ITOs – also known as ‘ground operators’ or ‘destination management companies‘ – are the local experts in a certain destination’s tourism products. They pick out ‘export-ready’ products that they promote overseas through other distributors.

Anyone from a travel agent to a meeting planner will come to an ITO with certain specifications. The ITO then plans the itinerary, selects the tourism products to include, and coordinates all reservations for accommodation, tours, transport and meals.


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How can I get an ITO to consider my tours?

Because they have access to overseas markets, ITOs can be an extremely reliable source of bookings for niche tour operators. The hard part is making the cut so you get listed as an export-ready tourism product.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you have an established product ie. one that has been operating successfully for at least 1 year?
  • Is your product in demand in the market that the ITO targets?
  • Are you offering good value for money?
  • Is your product consistently delivered with a high level of quality and customer service?
  • Does your product provide a unique experience?
  • Do you have regular availability (daily tours or on at least 3 days per week, departing with a minimum of 2 people)

If you can answer ‘yes’ to the above questions, then you’re in good shape to present your business to an ITO for consideration.

What do ITOs expect from you?

Be prepared with the following:

  • An inbound commission rate sheet with concise terms and conditions. Know how the tourism distribution system works, especially when it comes to the commissions ITOs require.
  • A plan for how you will respond to bookings, including when and how they will get paid (they expect a response to a booking enquiry within 24 hours – but this should not be a problem if your booking system allows them to log in and make a real-time booking).
  • Marketing collateral such as brochures and images. If they operate in a non-English market, then it would be smart to provide collateral in that language.

You should also detail your policy on how to handle customer complaints. Even though it’s not something that comes up often, it will show you have thought everything through and are well-prepared.


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How can you form relationships with ITOs?

If you don’t know where to find them, then start going to networking events. They can be industry events or trade workshops.

Once you have their details, then give them a sales call every few months. Keep them clued in on any changes you’ve made to your products. You may want to offer a ‘famil‘ or ‘familiarisation visit’, where they can test out the product for themselves.

Keeping the relationship strong is another task to factor in. You must be professional and reliable. Always respond quickly when they request information from you and keep true to the deadlines that you promise – especially when it comes to paying them!

To learn more about working with agents, why not download our latest Industry Survey eBooks. Did you know that 89.09% of respondents from our latest United States and Canada Industry Survey results said that they are working with less than 50 agents?

Tour Operator Trends USCA 2018

Want to learn more?

Get your hands on the Global Industry Survey results: Download here

Or get your own copy of the Australia and New Zealand Industry Survey results: Download here