How to Start a Tour Operator Business

by Kira Harris

Like starting any business, there isn’t just one way to start a tour company. Opening a tour operator business will take passion, commitment, and the ability to create rapport quickly. One advantage to starting a tour operator company is low start up costs leading to the ability to scale tours as your customer base grows. Operating your own tour company can be a rewarding and profitable experience.
How to start a tour company

Determine Your Tour Niche

First, ask yourself what you are passionate about. Outdoor adventures, history, and heritage, or urban art? The types of tours you can cultivate are endless. You may want to do a little research into what’s popular in your area and see what is already available. If what you’re interested in is being offered, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it too. Find a way to be different, and, of course, better!

Local and national tourism organizations do a lot of research on tourism trends and often make this information public. Depending on the market you want to go after, you may even find speaking with concierges in town and guests at hotel bars are a great source for learning what visitors are coming to your town and wanting to do and see.

Here are some brainstormed tour niche ideas. Of course, this list is endless!

Segway Tour

  • Eco tours / Nature tours
  • Bird watching
  • Stargazing
  • Urban art
  • Art gallery tours
  • Heritage tours
  • Indigenous tours
  • River boat tours
  • Flora fauna tours
  • Specialty shopping guides
  • Taste and drink tours
  • Historical and landmark tours
  • Ghost tours
  • Singles tours
  • Family tours
  • Cultural and language tours
  • Event / Festival tours
  • Agricultural tours
  • 420 tours
  • Health tours
  • Live music tours
  • Sport tours

Design Your Tour

Once you’ve determined your tour niche, create a compelling story. This will help determine the start, middle, and end of the tour. Even for outdoor activities, having a narrative to tell along the way really adds to your tour and gives your customers more to talk about when they return home. Instead of saying “white water rafting was a lot of fun,” they’ll be able to share, “we had such a great time white water rafting and we learned about the different geological eras in the rocks and caverns we passed through, as well as some of the history of the first settlers along the river basin.”

Strive to increase your knowledge of the area throughout your journey. Regularly attend talks by local historians and museum or/ university presentations. The more you know in your tour area, the more stories emerge and can be shared with your customers. Tourists love odd facts, insights, and quirks about the places they are traveling to.

Business Licensing and Insurance

Before you go too far, contact your local tourism organization and government to learn about what kind of licensing and insurance you may need to operate. Some countries and states require completion of a training course to become a tour operator. There are also tour operator membership organizations that provide services and credibility to their members.

Walking tour guide

Marketing Your Tour

These days it isn’t enough to print off a few brochures. Travelers are looking for information online before they get to your destination. Having a website is important to display your tour details, photos, reviews, contact info, and availability, but that isn’t the only place people are looking for more information.

Social Media

Having a business account on the major social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest is crucial. These sites are optimized for starting conversations and being shared with new and old audiences.

Travel Sites

Travel site giants such as Tripadvisor receive millions of organic searches every day on tours, accommodation, and destinations. People don’t just search through Google and find information about Tripadvisor, they are going directly to Tripadvisor and searching. This site, as well as Expedia and Travelocity, allow customers to check availability and book tours directly from the site. Being on multiple channels will allow different kinds of users to find you as they search in the marketplace they are most comfortable in.

Tourism Organizations

Your local tourism organization is there to support all tourism activities in the area. They have a big marketing budget and audience. By becoming a member of your local tourism organization, you can reach visitors before and after they arrive. You will be listed on the website and have brochure space in their info centers. There are opportunities to purchase more advertising space through their travel guides, giving your marketing a much greater distribution. Contact your local tourism organization to learn all the benefits they offer.


Create some blog content about your destination and what makes you passionate about sharing it with travelers. Include interesting and strange stories and facts about the tour’s focus. For example, there may be a “bigfoot” tale that the locals talk about in your area. Visitors love these extra tidbits as it makes them feel more connected to the destination.


The strategies behind Search Engine Optimization (SEO) change constantly. But the basic idea behind SEO’ing your site’s content and tour descriptions has not. The purpose behind search engine’s algorithms is to sort the trillions of pieces of information available online and to bring you actually what you are looking for. That being said, using simple language and including some relevant keywords can go a long way in helping your customers find you.


Starting a tour company may be your dream business. To be successful takes planning, researching, networking, and commitment. Remember you can start small, have fun, and grow as you and your business are ready.