It's not uncommon for tour operators to advertise programs that they do not fully operate under their own banner. This practice sometimes befuddles travelers who don't read brochures and tour literature carefully, belatedly discovering that a second company is handling their day-to-day itineraries.
The fact that certain packages may be conducted in cooperation with other companies is disclosed in brochures, but the prominence given to this information varies. One tour operator might make a general statement without specifying which tours have such a joint relationship, while another might indicate the involvement of a different company on each pertinent tour.
When there is just a general disclosure, travelers may not learn that their tour might be operated in conjunction with another outfit until they receive their final documents (itinerary, tickets, etc).
You might also get a listing of other passengers in your group. Such a list could indicate a group of 15, but unless you paid attention to all the details in your brochures, you might be surprised to discover as the tour begins that you are joining another group of 15 or 30 people.
35 to 45 Passengers
Most tour motor coaches carry 35 to 45 passengers. In some cases, tour operators may just sell individual places on a motor-coach package operated by another company.
One of the potential hazards of the discovery of a second company late in the game is that passengers may be close to departure time and thus subject to substantial cancellation penalties.
Why do tour operators use a second company? And how frequently does such consolidation take place?
This practice is not new. More packages may be operated in this fashion when traffic to a destination is low, as it was to Europe in 1986. "If a package is based on 30 passengers but the tour operator only gets 15 people booked, the choice becomes one of canceling the departure, increasing the price or joining another tour operator," says Albert Schmid, president of Marina Del Rey-based Far West Travel Corp.
Another possibility might be the use of local guides at sites on the itinerary instead of a tour manager staying with the group throughout.
Smaller tour operators, especially, may feed their passengers into the group of a larger operator to avoid canceling their own departures for lack of enough people. Thus upon deplaning in Europe you might join a group under the banner of another tour operator. "Using a larger tour operator enables us to take advantage of their greater buying power," says Jim Murphy, head of Los Angeles-based Brendan Tours.
Such pooling of passengers only takes place when the tour product is identical. "It has to be the same itinerary as in our brochure, down to every detail, including the type of hotels used in our packages and all the other elements of the individual itinerary," Murphy says.
For example, a Brendan Tours brochure indicates that travelers may be taking a package combined with Globus-Gateway Tours, also in Los Angeles, or the Automobile Assn. of Great Britain.
"On such a package we would use Globus-Gateway's motor coaches, which would say Brendan on one side and Globus-Gateway on the other," Murphy says. "The tour manager of such a package would be hired by Globus-Gateway and wear their identification, but be working for us."
Brendan advises passengers in its brochures that some programs may be operated in such a manner, but travelers only learn the exact details when they get their final documents. There is no difficulty if someone wants to cancel, says Murphy. "This has never come up. And if it did, the person would not have a problem."
Refunds and Complaints
The tour operators have their own financial arrangements governing revenue received from travelers who take such jointly operated tours. The company you bought the package from is the one responsible for any refunds and the handling of complaints.
The consolidation of tour groups sometimes means that the operator with the most passengers is the one that provides the tour manager.
Says Joe Kristof, vice president of sales for Globus-Gateway: "Other tour operators may come to us because we're well-established in Europe and can get better rates due to our volume."
Globus-Gateway also has a separate division, Cosmos Tours, which runs budget packages. "These two kinds of packages are kept apart," Kristof says. "Travelers get nothing less than what they bought. Cosmos passengers are not mixed in with those of Globus-Gateway."
Los Angeles-based Jetset Tours is another tour operator that teams with Globus-Gateway on some of its motor-coach packages in Europe. Vouchers that its clients get with their final documents refer to Globus-Gateway as the coach operator, a Jetset spokesman says.
To avoid surprises, travelers should read brochures carefully and ask questions such as who will conduct the tour, how many people will be traveling in the motor coach and if the tour will be joining other groups.
Even travel agents have to research this subject carefully, says Martha Scott, manager of Glendale Travel in Glendale. "We let clients know that while they may be booking with one tour operator, the land arrangements at the destination may be contracted to another company. This practice is common around the world, and the contract arrangements can change from year to year."