A tour operator buys accommodation, transport and leisure activities to combine as a package holiday. In general these packages will then be sold to the public by travel agents; however, some operators will also deal with this part of the process as well. Tour operators sometimes specialise in a particular area or target age group: for example, there are backpacking, sightseeing and cruise specialists as well as holiday organisers for tourists aged 18 to 30.
Some tour operators put together packages to other countries, while inbound operators cater for tourists coming to the UK. Management roles with tour operators involve researching and planning new packages, negotiating rates for services, dealing with reservations and keeping an eye on the whole process to ensure that the number of holidays offered is in line with demand. There are also opportunities available in HR, PR and marketing.
This article was last updated before the start of the pandemic in 2020. As a result of Covid-19 and the restrictions to travelling it has brought about, it's likely that finding work or experience in this area of work will be difficult for the time being. Rest assured, however, that future employers won't look unfavourably on your application as a result of this – as our article on filling a coronavirus-shaped gap on your CV makes clear. For guidance on finding work under the current circumstances, take a look at our advice on job hunting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Don’t expect working for a tour operator to be one big holiday. While holiday reps work with tourists throughout the world, those in management-level positions tend to be office-based. However, in some roles you may need to travel to holiday destinations to check out the standards (eg the quality of accommodation in a particular hotel).
Getting in and getting on
Travel experience and an interest in travelling are important for anyone hoping to work as a tour operator. Excellent interpersonal skills are essential and knowledge of foreign languages is extremely useful. Qualifications in leisure, travel or tourism are also beneficial. For office-based roles, qualifications in business or management will also be useful.