There are many ways someone can sell services in the travel industry. Sometimes it can get a little confusing to distinguish who is doing what. A very common mix up to make is between a travel agent and a tour operator, both of whom operate very differently. However, it’s not unusual for a travel agent to be queried on issues that are actually the tour operator’s job and vice versa.

In short, travel agents and tour operators are both travel service providers. This is where the similarities end. It’s important to know the difference in order to make communication with your service providers more efficient.

What is a Travel Agent?

Put simply, a travel agent is the person that sells travel services to a consumer (individual, group, corporation) on behalf of the supplier, namely the tour operator.

A travel agent doesn’t create the elements of travel services, nor do they create the pre-made packages that they sell. They are there to make the booking of travel services easier for consumers, and communicate financially and legally with both the tour operator and the traveller.

A travel agent might sell a package, individual services separately, or negotiate with different suppliers for a custom package they sell. The final protection will inevitably be covered by the tour operator.

An example of this would be as follows:

  • You speak to your local travel agent and you explain your budget and what type of holiday you are looking for.
  • Your travel agent then sources a range of different packages that will suit you and offer a collection of different options.

Each of these packages will have been sourced from a tour operator. So, when you book your holiday your ATOL protection will inevitably be protected with the tour operator.

A travel agent is a consumer’s best friend when booking a holiday. The travel agent knows which tour operators will be more suitable and which will offer you the best services.

A travel agent is your agent. They work for you to source the best holiday they can to suit you. Finding the right one is important, if you need some suggestions to get your started, you can visit out page on choosing the right travel agent for you.

What is a Tour Operator?

By definition, a tour operator is the person/company that works with suppliers and other service providers to put together holiday packages under the terms of the Package Travel Regulations that you can find on the government site.

A tour operator might arrange with hotel and air travel providers for specific flights and accommodation to be in a package that they can then sell to consumers through the travel agent or directly to the consumer.

A tour operator works with all travel elements, including:

  • Flights
  • Accommodation
  • Transport
  • Tourist services

What’s the Difference Between Them?

The difference is that the tour operator creates packages and sells them either to the consumer or the travel agent. Whereas, the travel agent only sells the packages on behalf of the tour operator and does not create packages.

For this reason, travel agents tend to have good relationships with many different tour operators for different destinations or specialities. They will supply a lot of their holidays from those trusted tour operators.

Equally, a tour operator will also work with specific travel agents they trust to sell their packages to consumers, or directly to the consumer. They are, however, more likely to go through a travel agent for a few reasons:

  • They’re selling international travel
  • Someone else is dealing with consumer money directly
  • They’re selling more niche packages

They could do this for a variety of reasons including convenience or focusing on specific elements of their business. It is also useful with international travel for currency exchange and selling travel to people. For example, in the UK through a UK travel agent if the tour operator organises local packages elsewhere.

Why is This Important?

It’s very important to know this difference when you’re trying to communicate effectively with your travel agent as the consumer.

Often travel agents will get the brunt for a mistake that is actually the tour operator’s responsibility, and vice versa. This can cause a lot of unnecessary conflict for the consumer and the providers. Your travel agent is there to support you and will inevitably find a suitable answer but do always remember that an agent is an intermediary between you and the principle tour operator.

This issue is much simpler with travel agents that are a Protected Trust Services Member as the PTS protection offers complete financial track and trace. Travel agents and tour operators that are PTS members can only use your monies to book your holiday unlike many others in the UK that use consumer money as working capital.

If something goes wrong with any of the elements of the package you can always speak to your travel agent. This is why we state it is so imperative you pick a travel agent that you know and trust. Holidays are a high ticket item, they are expensive, and they should be free of stress. A great travel agent, especially a PTS travel agent, offers excellent service, incredible knowledge, and supports you every step of the way.

If you are still uncertain when something happens with your holiday, or you need to know where your money is for whatever reason and you are working with a PTS Member please check out our protection of consumers page, or you can contact PTS directly by calling 0207 190 9988 or emailing us at

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

  • a-travel-agent-is-important

    May 2, 2024

    5 Brilliant Reasons You Should Start Booking with a Travel Agent

    Though the travel industry is deep in its latest evolution, travel agent businesses are still seeing a consistent rise [...]

  • weather-conditions

    September 14, 2023

    Extreme Weather Conditions: How Is Your Holiday Affected?

    Over the summer months, there has been a noticeable number of situations related to extreme weather conditions around the world. [...]

  • industry-powers

    August 16, 2023

    Industry Powers: Who Should I Contact First With Issues?

    The industry powers for consumer law in the travel industry are changing and the proposed bill will be giving consumers [...]