Ourania Vitouladiti

Department of  Tourism Management, University of West Attica, Greece




Tourism industry data indicate an increase in the sales of travel packages. This increase, however, seems to derive from the current socioeconomic conditions rather than the efforts of travel entrepreneurs. Subsequently, tour operators and travel agents should not be complacent but instead utilize their assets and the research data that displays the evolving needs of their target markets and make their main product, the package tour, relevant to varying markets.

A destination’s attractions can serve as a selling point for tour operator packages and destinations. However, recent studies indicate that they are an underused element of marketing. It can serve to enrich tour operators’ packages, enhance the collaboration between tour operators and DMOs and make the mainstream attractive again.

Keywords: Tour operators, package tours, differentiation, specialization, attractions, tourism marketing




It is of great interest that despite the general economic crisis, tourism is on the rise, indicating that the travel industry is an economic sector with great potential (UNWTO, 2015). However, the constant economic, political and social changes, worldwide, create shifts in the market and the competitive nature of the travel business requires from all stakeholders involved adjusting.

Over time travelers have become more demanding and have evolved to a new kind of tourist that wants to move outside the concept of mass, undifferentiated packages offered by tour operators and asks for more personalized services (Pirnar et al, 2010). These “new tourists” are good users of internet, seek information at a multitude of websites, usually have environmental or cultural sensitivities, look for variety in their travel experience and can be inclined to spend more in packages that are tailored to their needs (Pirnar et al., 2010).

However, despite the emergence of the “new” tourist, it appears that the economic crisis in Europe has actually increased the sales of tour operators’ package tours, especially those for “all inclusive” services, mainly due to the fact that they offer a multitude of services at attractive prices and a secure business environment (ABTA, 2013, 2016).

Therefore, tour operators are given the opportunity to re-affirm their position as the main providers in the travel market. Due to the crisis and the uncertainty, they have the chance to reinvent their products and find a way to make their mainstream and standardized offering attractive and relevant to the current clientele.

As a result, tour operators have to re-examine the basic elements of their travel packages, like attractions, in order to find competitive advantages for the coming ages and play the card of specialization and experience that can help them deal with competition with one another and the new competitors such as OTA’s (Online travel agents) and e-commerce outlets.



The fields where travel agents and tour operators enjoy an increase on their market share are the sectors of business travel, group tours and cruises (ASTA, 2014), probably for the same reasons (, 2016).

However, statistics indicate that there is also a continuous increase of volume in online travel sales (Euromonitor, 2014, Lefranc, 2014). This market share, mostly sales of OTA’s, concern primarily air-ticket sales and tickets of various types and secondarily hotel bookings. The advantage of OTAs is that they offer something that individual service providers (airlines and hotels) cannot, a one-stop portal web site providing extensive useful information about travel products, usually at discounted rates (Morosan and Jeong, 2008). However, OTAs have limited expertise in the travel industry and handling of destinations and are unable to provide complex tour packages relying mostly on electronic commerce that cannot be a source of sustained competitive advantage, as it is easily to be imitated (Cheung and Lam, 2009).

It appears that, in our days, some of  the most prevalent reasons for choosing a package by a traditional travel agent or tour operator have to do with safety and protection schemes in case of an emergency. The existence of knowledgeable personnel, good value for money, product choices and lower rates follow as reasons to elect a tour operator or agent to travel (ABTA, 2013, 2016).

Apparently the basic elements of the travel package, the destination and its attractions, transportation, accommodation etc. (Middleton, 2001, Morrison, 2013) are not the only driving motives of choice any more. Meaning the uncertainty created by the economic crisis and safety concerns, seem to transfer the interest of travelers on the tour operators’ supplementary services (insurance schemes, support services).

However, travel agents and tour operators should not take for granted this increase of sales as it is a temporary advantage due to the current social and economic environment. To maintain this positive condition they should focus again on marketing their actual product, the travel package. Additionally, tour operators must recognize that travel packages have a life cycle of their own and require differentiation and enrichment of their components to maintain their share of the market and prolong their life span.

Comprehensive packages are still the advantage of tour operators for their good and competitive prices. Differentiation and specialization at competitive rates can enrich their product and access markets that are not tapped yet. Competition among tour operators does not take place in the basic elements of their travel packages, that are quite similar, but on the supplementary services they offer, like safety of choice and service during and after the sale. This suggests that there is room for differentiation and enhancement of the product itself, the tour package. 

However, in an already mature market where most established destinations and tour operators offer similar products, what can tour operators and travel agents use to enrich their travel packages and approach new and existing markets offering them the products they demand?

With all the 3S destinations promoting the same alluring traits, good weather, nice beaches etc. and with travelers taking as a given a certain quality of accommodation the only thing that can actually serve as a distinguishing element on a package is the uniqueness of a destination and its cultural and natural resources. In a way we have to go back to basics to boost the travelers’ interest, since, as Cooper et al. (2005) suggest, the destination is the main reason for travel.



Tour operators and travel agents have traditionally enjoyed an organic position in the tourism market as the basic intermediaries between the service providers and tourists (Cooper et al., 2005, Lee, Guillet and Law, 2013). Despite the major technological advancements and the increase of online sales in the travel market (Euromonitor, 2014) the vast majority of travel is still done via tour operators and travel agents (ABTA, 2014). 

The value of a tour operator or travel agent lies on their ability to provide a variety of options and prices that single providers usually cannot offer since they are restricted by their product (Lee, Guillet and Law, 2013). Whether their service is offered via a physical or a virtual market is irrelevant, since it is still a market and operates with marketing rules (Kotler et al., 2003).

As a result tour operators and travel agents play an important role in the purchase decision due to their position in the travel market that allows them to have direct contact with travelers (Dolnicar and Huybers, 2010).

Travelers consider that tour operators and travel agents are more knowledgeable about destinations and offer better information even if they may decide not to purchase their services (Dolnicar and Laesser, 2007, Cooper et al., 2005, ABTA, 2016). A good presentation in the virtual world simply seems to increase the chances of an actual visit at the physical place presented (Pallud and Straub, 2014).

However, tourism professionals compete for credibility and knowledge with other forms of information like the various social media and forums that are increasingly important for the formation of an opinion about a destination and a travel purchase since their users consider them unbiased and sources of authentic information (Lange-Faria and Elliot, 2012). As a result they should focus on the main elements of their tour packages and the offering of unbiased information.



The basic product of tour operators is the package tour that is the combining in a single product with an inclusive price of a multitude of services, the minimum of which are transportation and accommodation (Middleton, 2001). The basic characteristic of package tours that allowed them to dominate the travel industry is the significantly reduced rates achieved for the traveler and the tour operator, compared with similar individual tours, due to economies of scale from mass purchase of services without the ability for changes or deviations (Middleton, 2001).

However, the most important and unique element of the tourism package, the component that makes it all possible, the destination, is often overlooked or its attractions and characteristics are not known enough or exploited as much as they could be for the benefit of all tourism market stakeholders.

The existence of attractions is a prerequisite for the tourism development and its allure for tourists (Middleton, 2001, Cooper et al., 2005). As cultural attractions are considered archaeological sites, museums, monuments etc. that represent the cultural heritage of a destination (Polyzos et al., 2007). Despite the fact that attractions are unique and integral to a destination, representing the element of “place” and setting the ground for the competition between destinations (Middleton, 2001) many of them have not been sufficiently developed and/or promoted (Polyzos et al., 2007).

Tourists’ evaluation of a destination is linked with the complementary elements of a complete tourism product that includes services, information, natural and cultural resources, security etc. (Cracolici et al., 2009). In the same way the image the tourist forms for a tour operators’ package or a destination is holistic and relies on all providers at the destination (Sigala, 2008).



Researchers (Apostolakis and Jaffry, 2009) noticed that tourists can be broken down to different groups with varying motives and interests for travel with the older demographic groups displaying significantly greater interest for the attractions of a destination compared to younger travelers. Additionally, Richards and Fernandes (2007) claim that, cultural tourists tend to have a higher educational and professional level and make arrangements to include several visits to cultural attractions during their travels. 

What is more interesting though for travel agents and tour operators is that the majority of visitors to places of cultural interest plan their visit via a group tour and tend to seek an economic, inclusive package to ensure the visit of as many sights as possible in a limited time and on a budget (Fernandes et al, 2012, Rizzello and Trono, 2013). This element makes them the ideal potential customers for travel agents and tour operators.

However, as McKercher (2002) observes, the majority of tourists will visit a cultural site during a trip but that does not mean that this visit is the main motive of their travel. Even tourists that claim they are motivated by cultural interests are not homogeneous in their interests (McKercher, 2002), since the majority of tourists have a variety of motives for their travel (McKercher, 2002, Conway and Leighton, 2012, Pirnar et al, 2010).

In reality cultural visits in museums and sites can be a rather insignificant motive for travel, especially in domestic travel (Marrocu and Paci, 2013) and short distance travel (McKercher, 2002). The actual visit to an attraction is a more complicated issue than the desire to visit it, since it can be affected by practical factors like distance, accessibility and available time (Middleton, 2001) or actual interest since most visitors prefer to enjoy a visit as an experience (Kotler, 2008, Conway and Leighton, 2012). This means that cultural tourism like most alternative forms of tourism are not as economically lucrative as they are promoted to be (McKercher, 2002).

However, what is interesting is that the existence and promotion of a destinations’ cultural heritage and events connected to it, tends to have a positive effect on all potential travelers (Fernandes et al, 2012, Litvin, 2007, Cerutti and Piva, 2015). Apparently, the promotion of the attractions contributes at a positive image for a destination and interest to travel even if the potential travelers do not intend to actually visit the attractions or participate in the events. Various cultural or religious events, inherent to a destination, can increase its visibility and attractiveness all year round (Cerutti and Piva, 2015). It is the visibility and recognizability achieved via the promotion of cultural events and attractions that is beneficial to all stakeholders involved.

The existence alone of attractions proves important since they affect the initial travelling decision, therefore it is important to promote and sustain them as fundamental elements of the tourism product offered regardless of the actual visit to them (Litvin, 2007). After all, attractions are what distinguishes one destination from another and create the element of “place” (Middleton, 2001). Therefore, reapplying a destinations’ symbolic attractions and making them relevant again is a way to reinvent mainstream travel packages and approach the suitable markets.

Association with a destination’s symbols and prestigious establishments that hold a positive image to the minds of prospective clients can only add credibility and prestige to commercial products.

A fundamental differentiation can rely on the benefits that the destination can provide, that can be valuable and meaningful to the potential traveler. However, these benefits, like fun, interesting visits, experience etc. must be truthful and credible. This means that what the destination and in extend the travel package that includes it, claims it will offer is what it actually offers (Christou, 2002).



Adjusting travel packages, enriching the product and achieving differentiation in a mature market requires skilled marketing professionals and collaborations with various stakeholders. The time when tour operators and travel agents were mere intermediaries providing simple services has passed (Dolnicar and Laesser, 2007).

At a time when price appears to be the most significant choice criterion for choosing a destination, probably due to the economic crisis, an attempt to distinguish a destination from its competition and give it an aura of uniqueness remains imperative. Such a practice though can prove equally lucrative for tour operators as for the destination stakeholders.

Collaborating with DMOs to enrich the product that tour operators offer could prove a winning combination for both parties, since even if tourists do not visit the attractions, their promotion helps create the image of the destination and gives motives for travel. Destinations (based on their elements and attractions) as well as tour operators aim to create a positive experience to travelers in order to achieve satisfaction and repeat visits and purchases. Acting on this direction is a sound business strategy that allows tour operators to develop long standing relationships with the destination and its stakeholders and build on their reputation for expertise.

In terms of marketing, strong statements have been made on the benefits coming from the ability of a destination to adapt to market requirements and demands (Dwyer et al., 2012) and of the need to promote the destinations’ unique resources like the physical and cultural attractions to enrich the offered product.

 Many travelers continue to consider tour operators and travel agents the most knowledgeable regarding a destination (Dolnicar and Laesser, 2007, Cooper et al., 2005). It is in the tour operators’ interest to maintain and enhance this opinion by creating expanded packages or add on elements that indicate their supreme knowledge of a destination and the wants of several target-markets. It is quite possible that their specialized and superior packages will assist the promotion and increase visibility of their more traditional packages at the same destination, by default.

Policy makers and marketers need to reinforce networks and employ contemporary marketing constructs in order to be able to understand measure and operationalize the consumers’/ visitors’ point of view for a destination and its cultural identity (Kavoura, 2014).




ABTA, Travel Trends Report 2014. ABTA 2013

ABTA, Travel Trends Report 2016. ABTA 2015

Apostolakis A., Jaffry S., Examining expenditure patterns of British tourists to Greece, Int. J. Tourism Policy, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2009

ASTA, Agency Profile, A snapshot of ASTA members as of February 2014.  March 2014, ASTA

ASTA, Agency Sales & Revenue Trends, Comparison of Full Year 2013 with Full Year 2012. March 2014, ASTA

Cerutti, S. and Piva, E. (2015) Religious Tourism and Event Management: An Opportunity for Local Tourism Development, International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage: Vol. 3: Iss.1, Article 8.

Cheung, R. and Lam, P. (2009) Travel Agency Survive in e-Business World? Communications of the IBIMA, Volume 10, 2009 ISSN: 1943-7765

Christou Evangelos, (2002), «Examining the impact of Tourist Destination

Image and Reputation on Visitor Loyalty Likelihood».Tourism Today, No 2, pp. 42-61.

Conway, T. & Leighton, D. (2012). Staging the past, enacting the present: Experiential marketing in the performing arts and heritage sectors. Arts Marketing: An International Journal, 2 (1), 35-51.

Cooper, C., Fletcher, J., Fyall, A., Gilbert, D and Wanhill, S. (2005).Tourism principles and practice.Harlow: Pearson Education Limited

Cracolici, M.F., Cuffaro, M. and Nijkamp, P., 2009. "Tourism sustainability and economic efficiency - a statistical analysis of italian provinces," Serie Research Memoranda 0023, VU University Amsterdam, Faculty of Economics, Business Administration and Econometrics

Dolnicar, S. and Huybers, T. (2010). Different Tourists - Different Perceptions of Different Cities Consequences for Destination Image Measurement and Strategic Destination Marketing In J. A..Mazanec and K. Wöber (Eds.),Analysing International City Tourism, Vienna / New York: Springer, 2010, 127-146.

Dolnicar, S., Laesser, C. (2007). Travel Agency Marketing Strategy: Insights from Switzerland, Journal of Travel Research, 46(133), pp.133-146.

Dwyer, L., Knzevic-Cvelbar, Edwards, D., Mihalic, T. (2012) Fashioning a destination tourism future: The case of Slovenia.Tourism Management 33, 305 – 316

Euromonitor International, (2014)

Fernandes, C., Pimenta, E., Gonçalves, F. and Rachão, S. (2012) A new research approach for religious tourism: the case study of the Portuguese route to Santiago, Int. J. Tourism Policy, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp.83–94.

Kavoura, A. (2014) A Conceptual Communication Model for Nation Branding in the Greek Framework. Implications for Strategic Advertising Policy. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 148 ( 2014 ) 32 – 39

Kotler, P., Bowen, J.T. & Makens, J.C. (2003).Marketing for hospitality and tourism. (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall

Kotler, G. N., Kotler Ph. and Kotler I.W. (2008).Museum marketing and strategy: designing missions, building audiences, generating revenue and resources. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lange-Faria, W and Elliot, S (2012).Understanding the role of social media in destination marketing. TOURISMOS: an international multidisciplinary journal of tourism, Volume 7, Number 1, Spring-Summer 2012, pp. 193-211

Lee, H., Guillet, B. D. and Law, R.  (2013). An Examination of the Relationship between Online Travel Agents and Hotels: A Case Study of Choice Hotels International and Cornell Hospitality Quarterly 54(1) 95–107

Lefranc, O (2014) The growth of the online travel market (consumer market and consumer complaints). DGCCRF

Litvin, S. W., (2007) Marketing Visitor Attractions: A Segmentation Study. Int. J. Tourism Research. 9, 9–19

Marrocu E., Paci, R., (2013) Different tourists to different destinations: Evidence from spatial interaction models, Tourism Management, 39, 2013, 71-83

McKercher (2002). Towards a Classification of Cultural Tourists, International Journal of Tourism Research, 4, 29 – 38

Middleton V. (2001) Marketing in Travel & Tourism, 3rd Edition. Elsevier Publications

Morosan, C., Jeong, M., 2008.User’s perceptions of two types of hotel reservation Web sites. International Journal of Hospitality Management 27, 284-292.

Morrison, A. (2013) Marketing and Managing Tourism Destinations.Routledge

Pallud, J., Straub, D.W., Effective website design for experience-influenced environments: The case of high culture museums. Information & Management, Vol. 51, No. 3, 2014, pp. 359–373.

Pirnar I., Icoz O. and Icoz O., (2010) The new tourist: impacts on the hospitality marketing strategies, EuroCHRIE Amsterdam 2010: Passion for Hospitality Excellence, 25-28 October 2010, Movenpick Hotel, Amsterdam.

Polyzos S., Arampatzis G.,Tsiantikoudis S., (2007) The attractiveness of archaeological sites in Greece: a spatial analysis, Int. J. Tourim Policy, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2007

Richards, G. and Fernandes, C. (2007) Religious tourism in northern Portugal, in Cultural Tourism: Global and Local Perspectives, Richards, G. (Ed.): New York, Hayworth Press, pp.215–238

Rizzello, K. and Trono, A. (2013) The Pilgrimage to The San Nicola Shrine in Bari and its Impact, International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 4.

Sigala, M. (2008) A supply chain management approach for investigating the role of tour operators on sustainable tourism: the case of TUI. Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol.16, pp. 1589–1599.

World Tourism Organization (2015), UNWTO Annual Report 2014, UNWTO, Madrid.