Before getting an answer to that question, we first need to understand the fundamental difference between a Travel Agent and a Tour Operator?
A travel agent could be a person or an agency which sells and administers packages. They have connections with a number of tour operators. First, they analyse the client’s requirement in general. Then they select a tour operator best suited to fulfil the client’s needs. Of course, they retain a certain percentage as commission. Travel Agents usually handle a range of destinations. They get in touch with different local operators. They provide the information and payments that a tour operator needs. Travel agents use advanced marketing techniques to lure clients, trying to gain maximum profit from the deal.
A tour operator is one who plans and executes the tour at actual ground level. They will be in touch with hotels, chauffeurs, guides, activity providers and even with restaurants to give the best experiences to the clients. Most of the tour operators give a basic tour layout to the client at the beginning of the trip. But they are not rigid about the package. They are ready to customise the itinerary depending on the traveler’s needs. A tour operator may or may not be using direct marketings to get the clients. But most of them act as undercover agents for the travel agents.
Now that we know the basic difference between a travel agent and a local tour operator, let us look for the answer to the question we raised at the beginning. Why should you select a local tour operator instead of a travel agent?
A foreign tourist can plan his travel to India mainly in 4 ways,
- Hiring a Home Country based travel agent
- Hiring an India based pan India travel agent like Yatra or Make My Trip
- Look for local Tour Operators in different parts of India
Hiring a Home Country based Travel Agent or an India based Pan India Travel Agent
Hiring a home country based travel agent has its pros and cons. The advantage is that you can quickly file a lawsuit in case of fraud as they are operating in the home country. The problem with them is that you are relying on someone who has never had a first-hand experience of India. Or in some cases, the owner of the firm may have visited India a long time ago. Another big disadvantage is that you will be paying a very high price for what you get. The value for money factor will be the lowest!
Some travelers choose an India-based travel agent instead of going for a home country based travel agent. They look for big-name companies like Make My Trip or Yatra. Most are inclined towards seeking out a brand name and ignoring the local tour operators in the process. The reason behind this is because we feel that big name tourism companies have better outreach, more coverage and better establishment. But remember that when you select a big name tourism company, you are paying for the brand value, not for the actual travel experience.
Brand value and big establishment do not always guarantee a great holiday experience. While travelling, you need to explore the roots of a place – its history, culture, people and folklore. A passionate traveler does not just look for natural vistas and luxury living. He looks to get the best experience of the land. Big name tourism companies often fail to give you an in-depth experience of a destination.
Now let’s talk about self-planning. Planning a trip on your own is great. But on the flip side, such planning backfires, especially if you do not have prior first-hand experience of visiting the place. You may do some research about the destination on the internet. It definitely takes a lot of time to get to know the destination, the accommodations and activities it offers and other such information. But how do you know if all this information is reliable? And there’s always a danger of missing out on some crucial information. So please note that own preparation is best when you don’t have a fixed plan.
Let me show you some common problems which could arise when you plan a trip on your own
- An activity may be temporarily closed due to weather conditions or some environmental conditions.
- You cannot easily know about current road conditions and the exact travel time. Google Maps does some guesswork, but then, it is only guesswork.
- Obtaining special permits, entry passes, inner line permits etc is not easy. Travelers lose one whole day of their vacation trying to get such permits on their own.
- The details on the internet are always incomplete just like this piece of information you are reading now!
This is the point where local tour operators step in!
Local Tour Operator
Advantages of Tour Operator
- Just like any big name tourism companies, a local tour operator also has connections built on familiarity and local trust. They can get you any kind of accommodation, whether it is a luxury hotel, a beautiful farm stay or a budget homestay.
- Practical knowledge goes a long way over the big tourism companies’ fancy booklets, prospectus and webzines. A tour operator can recommend you places that most out-of-state travel agencies do not even know of. So you will find hidden gems where tourists do not huddle 24×7. And you will go to places which have been unexplored although they display unbelievable natural beauty.
- In India, hurdles and setbacks like bandhs and other incursions are very common. The local tourism operatives and guides can help get out of any such tricky situations. It is because they are locals, with decades of experience of living in that area. But Pan-Indian tourism companies become helpless in case such situations arise during a holiday.
- Tour operators can tailor-make an itinerary to give you just the experience you want. Whether it is an evening of yoga, a romantic getaway by the backwaters, a lazy afternoon at a plantation stay, they can arrange anything and everything. On the other hand, tailor making your itinerary with a travel agent is going to feel like hell! They will always want you to select from their list of packages. This is because it will be difficult for them to check with a local operator each time about availability and time required for the activity you asked for.
- A local agent knows your chauffeur and guides in person. They know their personality traits and their ability to handle different languages. A Pan India or international travel agent may not be aware of the needs of a traveler. Nor do they know the details of the destination, driver, car condition, cars music list, driver friendliness or anything! They will just sell deals to you with practically no control over the experiences you are going to get!
- Another problem is that Pan India travel agents operate via a local tour operator or cab agency which has no reputation. They choose the cheapest quote to maximise the profit margin. Tour operators only give you the best they have!
A Key Point to Consider
On a different note, big online travel agencies like Yatra or Make My Trips are multi-billion dollar companies. But small travel agents (with a good reputation) work to sustain the livelihood of people associated with it. When you opt for a prominent travel agent giant, you’re probably helping the owner buy a mansion, an expensive watch or some large property in a foreign country. But when you choose a local agent for your holiday, the money goes to the local people associated with it- an executive, a chauffeur, a homestay, a local canoe guide and so on. You’re helping the family earn a living. You’re helping them collect money for their child’s education or get food on their table. Or maybe you’re helping them pay off a mortgage. Remember that when you pick a local tour operator, you’re helping someone in real need.
Disadvantages of Tour Operator
Of course, there is one significant downside to picking a local tour operator over a branded tourism company or travel agent. It is the trust factor! Since local operators have fewer credentials, most travelers think twice before going for such tour operators. You should always, as a rule of thumb, make your judgments objectively based on your discretion and fact-finding. To prove that the reasons we cited as to why you should pick a local tour operator over the big, branded, and famous Pan-national travel agencies are right, you can ask them to show the customer reviews on an independent common travel platform like TripAdvisor.
So what are you waiting for? If you are planning to visit India and you have Kerala in your itinerary list check out the Kerala Tour Packages from Experience Kerala!
Do check out TripAdvisor reviews of Experience Kerala!