Choosing the Right Religious Tour Operator
Nothing is more important when starting your faith travel journey than selecting the right tour provider. The right tour operator will make your group’s dream a reality, ensuring that plans flow smoothly and provide peace of mind, a support network and industry expertise you do not have.
Having your travelers ready to sign up for the next trip before they unpack their suitcases is the goal of your tour partner and your organization. But with so much competition in the market, choosing the right tour operator partner is no easy choice.
You Should Know:
In choosing a tour operator, create a checklist that includes the following criteria:
- Do they understand the importance of this type of travel – are they responsive to your group’s needs
- Are they knowledgeable about your church, denomination and priorities
- Can they arrange special services, allowing for daily devotions in itinerary if requested
- Do they have references from similar types of groups they have worked with
- Are they willing to be creative in itinerary planning
- Are they timely in replying to email and phone calls
- Do they participate in any consumer protection programs like that offered by the United States Tour Operators Association
Depending on the type of trip you are offering, a tour operator that specializes in your destination, denomination or unique program is the key to a successful trip. Some tour companies have great strength in the Catholic market and others may have strong ties to the Methodist, Lutheran or Baptist community. Some operators specialize in missionary-purpose travel, while others are more adept at travel ministry trips.
Setting a budget in advance is most important, as operator quotes will vary based on trip inclusions – admissions, meals, hotel quality etc., so it will be necessary to compare competitive quotes apples-to-apples. You should have an idea of what your travelers can afford, and the price of your trip needs to be reflective of this.
Give tour operators a wish list of what you want to see and do, and let them know you are seeking alternate quotes. All tour operator pricing needs to clearly indicate what is and what is not included. Get it in writing!
For a complete list of recommended Religious Travel Providers, please visit our Religious Travel Directory
Once you select your chosen tour operator, communication with your tour operator partner should cover all areas of budget and pricing in advance of setting a final selling price of your program. If you do not plan for special gifts, events and donations in the beginning, they will not happen, or if they do they will come out of your pocket (not desirable). When budgeting, look for ways to enhance the tour by adding a music or drama performance. Imagine seeing an actor portray St. Paul in at Mars Hill in Athens or an actress play Mary, Mother of Jesus, at the Garden Tomb. Arranging private concerts will give your travelers something to talk about for months after they return.
When pricing out trips, tour operators will always include a complimentary or reduced rate trip for a member of the congregation. This is often negotiable and can vary greatly in your final tour price. For example, compare tour operator A, who is offering one complimentary (comp) reservation per 10 paying passengers, versus tour operator B, who offers one per group. If you are able to sell 40 slots on a trip, you would qualify for four complimentary reservations with operator A, but only one with operator B. You can use these comp trips as a fundraiser, to reduce the cost of the trip for other passengers, for your church leader(s) or to reward a deserving member of the congregation. Decide who should benefit from a complimentary or reduced-rate trip if you qualify—it might be the leader and spouse, missionary family, widows or choir directors.
Also determine who will be the person in charge of organizing the group. Will the senior pastor be your contact person or will the church office staff handle the phone calls and email questions? Should you enlist a volunteer from the church to be the point person and have them report back to you?
As the price is finalized, you will need to decide if all tips or gratuities are included. Or will travelers pay guides, drivers, dining room staff, housekeeping and bellmen as they go? On cruises, shore excursions are never included in the base price, so determine if you want to organize these in advance or let people to make their plans on the ship. In some destinations where faith-site visits are important, you probably want to arrange private shore excursions through the cruise line or an independent tour operator.
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