How to Find the Best Local Tour Operators in Sri Lanka

Detailed guide on how to select the best local tour operators in Sri Lanka to plan your holiday. Educate yourself before make the decision.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The classic way of buying a tour package is simple. You go to a high-street travel agent and search for options from their brochure. Once you confirm the tour package, the travel agent contact the destination management company (based in the travelling country) and arrange the hotel reservation and ground handling facilities.

Average stay period to travel in Sri Lanka is 10 nights as per the statistics of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Unless you are a traveller who can fit in to a typical tour package with a pre-decided sets of hotels, it is recommended to consult a destination management company (DMC) via your own travel agency or by directly contacting them.

Please find the article on Tailormade holidays in Sri Lanka

INTRODUCTION - USING A LOCAL TOUR OPERATOR IN SRI LANKA

Please read This Article, if you are not familiar with the wordings of Destination Management Companies (DMC) and Tour Operators.

DMC’s are the expert of the ground while Tour Operating Company or the travel agent knows the client very well. Since the internet is bridging the world, whoever want to plan a trip can directly contact a DMC’s of the country of travelling by skipping the local tour operator. 

 

Ex: – If a person from United Kingdom prefer to visit Sri Lanka, normally he/she goes to local tour operator such as Trail Finder or Kuoni or any other travel company based in UK. Then the travel company will contact the Sri Lankan Destination Management Company (DMC) for the ground handling. DMC will execute the plan arranged by your company back in your country after discussing with clients. But instead of contacting Kuoni, the person from the UK can directly contact a local tour operator in Sri Lanka directly and ask to plan his/her holiday in Sri Lanka. This could be done by visiting their websites.

This method has many advantages and some disadvantages too.

PROS & CONS & USING A LOCAL TRAVEL COMPANY

Out of the proportion of using travel agents to plan their holidays, most people still choose travel company of their own country to plan their holidays due to number of reasons. 

ADVANTAGES OF USING A TRAVEL COMPANY OF YOUR OWN COUNTRY

  1. Trustworthiness
  2. Regulated by the local government or independent body
  3. Ability to meet face to face at a place to discuss
  4. Personalised service according to client’s previous holiday patterns
  5. Financial protection schemes ( such as ATOL in UK) which must have all the registered tour operators.

Quality Maintaining & Standards and Place to Make Complains

Most people choose tour operators of their own country despite the price as most important thing is the trust. Most developed countries which generate highest revenue in the travel industry has strict mechanism to protect their people from misconduct or scams. For an example all the tour operators in the UK should have registered with a payment protection scheme such as ATOL which gives the ultimate benefit to the customer when it comes to the complaints, refunds and other grievances.

Someone You Know Will Design The Best For You.​

If you have to share all your choices, travel patterns, type of accomodations, type of excursions you would love can be extremely difficult than a single person design your holiday plans based on your previous experiences. If you have a local tour operator, the agent who assist you knows well about you. Therefore, you do not need to worry about explaning everything again and againa. You might have some food poisoning but your tour operator already know this by a previous incident. 

ADVANTAGES OF USING A TRAVEL COMPANY OF SRI LANKA TO PLAN YOUR HOLIDAY

Price Advantage

The main advantage of using a local tour operator is price reduction. There are a number of reasons that there is a possibility of getting a lower rate than choosing a local tour operator. The first thing is simple, you will skip few parties of the loop. This will surely give a huge advantage as most of the mark up is go to the party who generate the business. The second reason is compared to the UK or Australia or most of the developed countries, overheads are lower in Sri Lanka than in other countries. For an example, in the UK , you need to pay at least GBP 8.00 per hour to hire a person. Also you need to follow restricted procedures to run the business such deposit for payment protection etc. But in Sri Lanka minimum salary for one week is a decent monthly salary to hire a qualified person. Comparing to UK, requirement to run a tour operating company is very small in Sri Lanka. Cost of living in monetary value is substantially lower too. So definitely you will get the price benefit. 

First Hand Assistance

Most European travellers love to have private tours than pre-set group tours. Therefore, you will get the chance of customising the tour to match it perfectly to you. For an example, you might be a huge fan of wild elephants but not tamed. Whenever you travel, you may love to taste some local authentic food. You can always ask from the person who plan your tour to customise them rather than you ask from someone and they send your request make accordingly. Also, Sri Lankan person is always very much familiar with the culture, road conditions, laws and practices, emergency situations etc. Therefore a local tour operator in Sri Lanka can certainly assist you more efficiently than a tour operator from your own country. 

Finally if you have decided to work with a local tour operators in Sri Lanka to design your travel plan in Sri Lanka, there are number of key things that you better to be aware. 

More Options to Choose & Authentic Experience

Sales agent from your own country is trying to sell the product that they were given by a third party. Even if you ask for authentic or personalised package the sales agent has to depend on their foreign counterpart. According to my own experience communication between two travel companies always have a vacuums than communicating directly with the customer. If you are dealing with the person who is experienced on ground and its variety of products, there is more chance you have to develop the best product with them rather than depending on a third party. 

The best local tour operators in Sri Lanka always provide the training to their staff about the products and the ground situation of the country.

TYPES OF TOUR OPERATORS IN SRI LANKA

Tour operating companies still play a crucial role in Sri Lankan travel industry. Type of operations have similarities and differences depend on the market segment they handle. When you selecting a tour operator to design your tour, it is better you know about their style depending on type of market they handle.

There are a large number of Destination Management Companies in Sri Lanka. They directly work with large or small foreign tour operators such as TIU , Kuoni UK (Link) or Anex – Russia.

Since most of the travel companies have their operations to match for a B to B setup. (Business to Business) they are not much experienced in handling direct clients from abroad. However reputed travel agencies such as Aitken Spence, Walkers or Jetwing, Tangerine has mechanism of handling direct clients which they have retained after being in the industry for a long period of time. 

1. Chinese & Indian markets

Chinese & Indian tour operators are mainly focus on volume, large number of people to travel with them. This is no wonder as these 2 nationals produce 1st and 2nd in number of arrivals to Sri Lanka. These tours can be lower quality but low price too. Some hotels have different rate structure for Chinese & Indian Markets. Typically they have fixed routes and they will use city based large hotels. Chinese & Indian nationals would love to have their own food type during the travelling period. If you would like to have a typical Sri Lankan tour with budget conscious, these are the tour operators you should approach.

2. UK market

Country’s tourism industry is shaped from the UK tourists as it starts from the colonial period. As a favorite holiday destination of British people which located half a day air travel time Sri Lanka get comparatively luxury clientele from UK. Most of the luxury hotels specially cater for UK visitors and tour operators who handle UK market is more careful on the quality as they work with reputed UK based tour operators. If you contact a tour operator who has the experience of handling UK tours, will have the possibility of receiving the same service they maintain.

3. Other Markets

Other tour operators also maintain a similar pattern depend on their specialised segment. For an example countries like Netherland & France have mixed clientele. Netherland travellers would love to travel in off beaten routes and if you are a person who love to have long trip with authentic Sri Lankan experience, better to contact a Dutch Market specials tour operator to assist you.

OTA'S vs LOCAL TOUR OPERATORS IN SRI LANKA

As a person who is in the travel industry in Sri Lanka, I know for a fact that there is nothing called Online Travel Agency at the Sri Lankan context. What they do is get a pre-set tour packages from local DMC’s at a negotiated rate and publish them in their websites. 

Special activities such as “Cycling Tour” or “Day Tour”, OTA’s may offer a better solution as it connects directly the supplier with the customer. However, it might not be the best way to plan a tour package for a number of nights around Sri Lanka. 

Due to the buying power and the competition among suppliers, OTAs can offer cheap deals, however since profit margins are not changing the quality is the only thing to be compromised to reduce the rates. 

Since there is no physical existence of the OTA and strict rules against the suppliers are the only way to control the quality, the service can be very much technical but not a service with a personal touch. 

If you are planning a personalised to visit Sri Lanka in your own way, it seems online based individual tour operators can provide a better solution than pre-set packages of Online Travel Agencies.

TOUR OPERATORS WHO ARE SPECIALISED ON DIRECT CUSTOMER HANDLING IN SRI LANKA - (B to C)

With the rise of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka after the 30 years of civil war ended, new travel agencies started to grab the business opportunity in different segments. Some of them are highly online based and tried to approach the client directly from Sri Lanka. Olanka Travels, Blue Lanka Tours, Best of Lanka Tours are some of them who established their presence in B to C market segment. (Business to Customer) Since they have to keep a highly positive online presence they have to maintain relevant standards which are not maintained by some of the traditional tour operators in the country.

1. Online Presence

If you need to connect with the customer from abroad who is contacting online, you should need a high standard online presence. This normally includes a quality website & regularly updating social media channels, genuine reviews which taken recently. Some of the reputed Sri Lankan DMCs do not have a proper online presence but local based tour operators who target it s clients online have a better online presence.

2. Best Service To Maintain a Positive Online Reviews

Online businesses should have a good customer reviews to grow their business to other online customers. Therefore it is essential to provide the best service and exceed the customer’s expectations to get a better online review. This mechanism always give an advantage to the customer to guarantee the service they were promised.

3. Responsiveness

If you send an email to a traditional DMC in Sri Lanka you may not get any response or it might take a few days. But if the business target online clients, the response rate is extremely high, it may be few hours or even a few minutes.

4. Good Customer Service and Skills

While traditional DMCs are dealing with their foriegn tour operator partners, most of their staff are trained to communicate with their regular business partners but not the direct clients. It is not the same when dealing with direct clients as the tour operator has to treat each and every customer carefully. Especially when someone needs to travel in a small country located in a corner of the world where they have not been before, it is a brave decision to contact a tour operator in that country rather than contacting well known local tour operator. The person who handle the client should understand this and need to provide relevant information accurately and carefully. The payments also need to be collected and the trust should be built in order continue with the total process. Online presence of the company always help them at this stage.

5. Destination Expertise and Practical Knowledge

As I have mentioned earlier, tour operators based the country you are planning to travel has the best knowledge about the country you are intending to travel. Therefore the information you get have a greater possibility of being accurate than the company located in your own country.

6. Prompt / Real Time Communication

If you need to contact an agent, most of the time they are online if you contact them via their website. Once you start to design your tour, you can get their whatsapp or viber contact details and communicate with them directly.

7. Highly Personalised Service

Period of selling set tour packages are getting expired. When it comes to the travel plans in Sri Lanka, if the tour is more than 8 days (average travel time is 10 days) you will get a personalised travel plan. If you are planning the tour with Sri Lankan tour operators, you can select your own hotels and places to visit. You may have special preference to experience local food or staying in a campsite in the jungle. Unlike you are planning a trip with a person who do not know about the destination, Sri Lanka tour opeartors know the country, know the culture and know the weather even during the time of climate change.

WHO IS THE BEST TRAVEL COMPANY IN SRI LANKA

Even though I have not used any of their services personally, as a person who is in the industry for a while have an idea about their operations. By considering all the aspects, I would rank No 01 as Blue Lanka Tours. The reason to select them as the number 01 is that their strategy to become a Sri Lankan Tour Operator who approach clients directly. They have the best online presence including one of the best social media channels in Sri Lankan travel industry. They have the best TripAdvisor reviews as a Sri Lankan Tour Operator. 

Apart from Blue Lanka Tours, Olanka Travels has a good online presence too. When it comes to the SEO and online marketing strategy Olanka is leading as they are maintaining SEO ranking for few major keywords which has a higher reach among Sri Lankan Tour Operators. 

Red Dot Tours has a huge advantage when it comes to the online presence as they have an office located in London. Since their reputation is high and marketing and PR (public relations) strategies are in international standards, I personally think (no stats) they create the largest volume of direct clients among Sri Lanka based Destination Management Companies. 

Apart from the above mentioned individual companies, Walkers Tours & Sri Lanka Tailor Made (Luxury arm of Jetwing Travels) has a good online reputation.

Companies like Tangerine Tours & NKAR Travels are placed in the next level which has a good reputation in B to B operations and some online reputation too. 

Lakpura Travels who owns the Lanka.com which is the best domain someone can own in Sri Lanka has an innovative approach online. They created large amount of contents related various areas of the Sri Lankan travel industry.

Finally, Sri Lankan local tour operator Feel SL Holidays the company I owned is a newcomer to the industry and with a vast range of experience of working in the travel industry of Sri Lanka (specially the direct clients) I can surely assist you by providing a quotation for your enquiry which is personalised in every aspect including the budget.

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