Tour Operators and Travel Agents
An explanation of the roles and functions of tour operators and travel agents.
Sometimes there is confusion over the difference in functions of tour operators and travel agents.
Tour operators are the organisers and providers of package holidays. They make contracts with hoteliers, airlines and ground transport companies then print brochures advertising the holidays that they have assembled.
Travel agents give advice and sell and administer the bookings for a number of tour operators. It is estimated that there are some 7,000 travel agency shops ranging size from the multiples, with several hundred outlets each, to the individual shop. Some travel agents also undertake tour operating - be it on a small scale, eg a local agent packaging a group holiday for a local club, or on a larger scale - most famously by the legendary Thomas Cook, who was the first tour operator, and Sir Henry Lunn (Lunn Poly) who is widely credited with "inventing" skiing as a leisure activity. Agents can also sell the 'components' (flights, ferry bookings, car hire etc) for those who travel independently.
Although most package holidays are sold through travel agents a significant and growing percentage are sold direct to the consumer through advertising - Teletex, TV Travel Shops and the internet.
ABTA - The Travel Association - represents both travel agents and tour operators. The Federation of Tour Operators represents only tour operators- its members have c.70% of the market. All current FTO members are also members of ABTA, and the two organisations work closely together - with the FTO particularly active with overseas governments and suppliers.