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Travel agencies and tour operators both are necessary for the travel industry. But sometimes the question arises re their actual definition.

How are they different?

If you’re often confused by the difference between a travel agency and a tour operator, we’re going to discuss these two roles, and outline the significant differences between them.

They’re often connected, but are not the same.

The Difference Between a Travel Agency and a Tour Operator

Travel Agency

Travel agent RF

A travel agency is a company who plans, arranges, books, and makes the necessary arrangements for travellers. They sell flights, accommodation and tours, and package them together for travels who don’t wish to book themselves.

Worth noting that there are now many independent travel agents, who take on this role without being connected to an agency, and this can be a great travel industry job for people who want to work remotely.

There are several types of travel agents. Some put together itineraries from scratch for their clients while others work for specific travel companies, and some are mere resellers of pre-packaged tours on behalf of Host Agencies.

However most will help you plan your trip, and make suggestions based on your interests, your budget, and your travel requirements, the benefit here being that they’re experts in booking travel, and know the best tricks for planning and booking a holiday.

Pro tip: An MLM scheme can usually be identified when there is a set-up cost involved in working for the company as an agent. You shouldn’t have to pay to work for someone.

Travel agents are professionals – in many countries agencies need a travel agency license, meaning they are qualified and licensed to book trips on behalf of other people.

The way they make money is through access to industry discounts from companies they work with, which allows them to add a markup / commission to make money without charging more to the traveler.

Tour Operators

Tour guide RF

A tour operator is someone who organizes, prepares and runs a holiday tour. If you book a tour which includes accommodation, transport, breakfast, tour guides, and sightseeing etc, this is organized by the operator.

Essentially, they sell a product that they themselves create. They work with suppliers to create a packaged tour which they put their own price tag on, and can be booked by travel agents for their clients, or by the traveler directly.

They do not sell anybody else’s packages (which travel agents do), they only organize and sell their own tours.

Just as there are many different types of agents, there also are many different types of tour operators, including  inbound tour operators, outbound tour operators, domestic tour operators, and ground tour operators.

Though even inbound and outbound tour operators, who bring tourists to a country and handle all the arrangements in that country, will hire local travel agents to book in things like airport transfers, and maybe even hire ground tour operators for the tour itself.

With advances in technology, many travelers now book their packages directly with the tour operators rather than going to a travel agent, where-as in the past travel agencies were often the only option for connecting with a tour.

Key Differences Between Travel Agencies and Tour Operators

Travel agent RF

➤ Travel agents sell the holiday package purchased from different tour operators. Tour operators take care of the clients according to the package description like airport pick up, meal facilities, sightseeing, offering other travel destinations, etc.

➤ Tour operators are often specialized in one, or very few countries. But travel agents can deal with most destinations.

➤ A travel agent earns less profit, usually a small mark up or commission based on the travel they’re booking. Tour operators have the potential to earn a huge profit, as they set their own price tag.

➤ Travel agents can’t work without the help of tour operators. But tour operators can work without a travel agency being that people are now more likely to contact tour operators directly for a holiday package.

➤ There are different kinds of training programs available to start a travel agency. In comparison, the tour operator requires proper business management skills.

➤ Travel agents can give advice about travel documents like passports, visas etc. Tour operators are great for advice about legalities on the ground (like if you’re an e juice user and want to know where you can smoke, or if you have tattoos and want to know if they’re taboo in certain countries).

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.



  1. Great information on Travel Agency and Tour Agent.

    • Glad the post was helpful for you Bella, thanks for reading :)

  2. Thanks so was helpful

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for reading :)

  3. Thank you Megan,

    We are a small family tour operator here in Tasmania.
    Specializing in small private experiences, with great guest focus, attention to interests and needs. Delivering balance of Tassie wild, depth in past and present with a side order of creative local produce.

    We small and passioante operators need to support each other.

    • Great to connect with you Ben! Weve recently moved from Tasmania to Cairns, but Tassie will always be home :)

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