Playing By The Rules Can Take Your Travel Business Places

Guide October 3, 2018

You don’t have to be a registered tour operator BUT…

Remember, the last time around we told you about the importance of registering your business? If you have already registered, there must be a million things on your mind now. Like building a website, business expansion and hiring resources. Are you really missing an important point in all this?

You Have To Learn The Rules Of The game

Then You Have To Play Better Than Anyone Else


Sometimes, you don’t have to think out of the box. Just consider all aspects inside it and get your basics right. Like registering yourself as a tour operator. Let’s takes a simple example.

Imagine that you have the perfect driving skills on road. Your friends call you
Michael Schumacher. Now just imagine you are driving every day without a valid driving license. Not a very smart thing to do right? Similarly, even if you have the business acumen and skills but are not registered, it might go against you in the long run.

Sure, it is not compulsory to register with any nodal body as a tour operator in India. However, by becoming a member you are forced to follow the  rules and regulations set for travel companies. By doing so, it can actually turn out to be handy for your business growth in the long-term. We will see more on the how and why later.


A World Without Rules And Regulations


Rules and regulations for tour operators are important because without it you could have the following scenarios.



Just like any other business, there are rules and regulations for tour operators, which have been put in place by the Government of India as well as recognised global bodies.

Like the fundamentals of building your tour operator website, let’s first understand the fundamentals of the tourism sector in India.

The Incredible Indian Tourism Sector


Let’s talk about the crucial role the tourism sector plays towards the economy of India.
Here are some numbers to back it up 

  • Foreign exchange earnings from tourism grew 20.8 per cent to $27.7 billion in 2017
  • Foreign tourist arrivals grew by 15.6% in 2017
  • India ranked 7th among 184 countries in terms of travel & tourism’s total contribution to GDP in 2017
  • Travel and tourism is the third largest foreign exchange earner for India

No wonder, the Tourism Ministry of India has set-up a National Tourism Policy framework, which sets the vision, agenda, goals and objectives of the tourism sector in India. The Ministry of Tourism is the apex body for formulating national tourism policies and programmes. It also sets the broad regulations for tour operators in India.



Do You Need To Be Registered With The Government As A Tour Operator?


The good news is that you don’t have to be registered but that’s also the bad news. That’s because the foreign tourists are always looking for credentials of an inbound operator while booking a tour. If you are not registered, you simply do not exist for foreign tourists nor the Indian government. Registering as a tour operator will mean exposure for your travel company and at the same time adhering to regulations for tour operators. 


Here are the three main categories for tour operators in India:


Inbound Tour Operator



Inbound tour operators are primarily responsible for handling inbound foreign tourists. That means providing them with various services on their arrival such as:

  •    Accommodation
  •    Hotel Transfers
  •    Transport
  •    City Tours
  •    Currency Exchange
  •    Insurance Services

These activities are either outsourced through other ground operators or in collaboration with them.
These operators are absolutely crucial for tourism in India because they are creating the first impression for a tourist, the minute they step out of the airport. That’s why the Government of India has created special guidelines for Inbound Tour Operators.

Outbound Tour Operator




These are tour operators who are specialists in planning and promoting foreign tours to domestic as well as international tourists. They create an itinerary that includes the number of people, countries and other facilities that are required for travelling abroad.

They are mostly responsible for arranging your travel documents and getting your visa and passport stamped. They also choose the ideal mode of transport and collaborate with other inbound tour operators. This includes accommodation, sightseeing, conveyance, and other travel-related services.

Domestic Tour Operators


Ladakh, Traveler, Travel, Nature, Leh, Landscape, Mysore Palace, Architecture, Illuminated, Night


Before we get to domestic tour operators, here is an important piece of data for you:

In 2017, the number of domestic tourists in India visiting different states and union territories of the country was 1613.6 million

Domestic tour operators function within the home country and cater to the diverse needs of domestic travellers. They design tour packages through their own outlets and other retail travel agents. They help in the promotion and growth of domestic tourism. This also means being a registered domestic tour operator following certain regulations for tour operators to maintain quality standards in travel activities.

Here is the complete checklist for you to be recognised as a domestic tour operator.

Is Being A Tour Operator Enough? What Next?

No, it’s not. To expand your business you’ll need more tools and resources. That’s where prominent tour operator associations play a major role.


Here’s Why Tour Operator Associations Are Important


Picture this. There are 1.2 billion people in India. Millions of travellers and thousands of tour operators out there. It’s nearly impossible for the government to keep a tab on all tourism activities.

That’s why there are specialised tour operator associations, which have been setup to monitor travel activities. These are mostly non-profit associations which look into various aspects of tourism in India. It is actually a win-win situation for the government as well as a tour operators.


For The Government

They can ensure if all the guidelines for tour operators are being looked into by these travel associations.

For The Tour Operator

Rest assured as a tour operator, you’ll get access to ample of travel resources and exposure as a an operator. More on that later. There are several tour operator associations in India. In the following section, we have listed some of the leading ones based on the kind of travel operations. 

Here Are The Associations To Partner Your Growth  




The International Air Transport Association or IATA is the leading trade association for all global airlines. We’re talking about 290 major airlines or 82% of total air traffic. The association has major say when it comes to several aviation causes and issues.


Here are some of the key benefits of associating with IATA


International recognition and lobbying

Be part of the global tourism league as a travel agent and tour operator. As an IATA agent, you can connect to global tour operators and tourists to sell your unique travel products or offerings.  

Upgrade to global innovations

Every minute there is something new happening in the aviation and travel industry. Being an IATA agent, you can stay up-to-date with the latest key industry trends, innovations and insights.  

Reducing tax burdens

As a tour operator taxation can be pretty complex and cumbersome. IATA regularly lobbies with the government to simplify taxation and reduce the burden for tour operators or travel agents.  


How to go about joining it?


Here’s how to become an agent of IATA.


how to become an agent of IATA.


Here’s also a quick snapshot of IATA travel agent guidelines.


What about the membership fee?


IATA membership fee


Advantage IATA


As a member or agent of IATA, you’ll enjoy certain privileges like:

Travel networking

Get invited to several global events and conferences organized by IATA and network with leading global travel agents and tour operators.

Mentor and training

As travel agents, IATA will mentor and train you along with the tips and tricks of the trade. All in order for you to expand and grow faster.


The Association of Domestic Tour Operators is an organization, which aims to strengthen domestic tourism and improve customer experiences by bringing together all leading domestic tour operators. 


Here Are Some Of The Key Benefits For Tour Operators  



Get accreditation with the ADTOI Logo, certificate and ID card, which improves accountability and transparency as a tour operator

Platform to showcase

Have a unique travel package or product? You can showcase it to other travel agents, tour operators and outbound operators of other countries.

A great lobby

One of the key advantages of being a member of ADTOI is that you can raise issues and grievances with other tour operators or policies of certain states and governments.   


How to be part of it?


All you’ve got to do is to fill up this form. Here’s a link


become a member of ADTOI


There are privileges too


Data to drive your business

Get access to key data, insights and referrals from other tour operators and travel agencies through ADTOI’s website.  

Travel and learn

Be a part of exclusive educational tours to various destinations around India

An eventful journey

Rub shoulders with the captains of the industry and other leading travel agents and tour operators in India to network and collaborate for your business  



The Indian Association of Tour Operators is the National Apex Body of the tourism Industry. Its role is critical when it comes to liaising with international travel bodies and associations. It also plays a major part in dealing with the government on crucial issues in the tourism sector.




Here are some of the key benefits


Brand building

Build your brand in the global market thanks to the wide and robust network of the association.
Get foreign affiliations with other tourism bodies and boards.

Let’s talk  

Have differences or disputes with fellow members or government bodies? The association helps to mediate and find a common ground to voice your concerns.

Play it safe

This association protects you from unfair trade practices and activities of foreign tour operators. Also, learn rules and regulations of tour operators in India as well as abroad


How to join the association?  


You can download a form on the website.


Privileges of IATO


Go places

Experience in-depth understanding of the overseas market by foreign educational tours with various airlines and Government of India

Get the rewards and awards

It awards for excellence in tourism-related activities so that you can set an example for other tour operators and new benchmarks

Scholarships to advance further

Want to learn or pursue further studies related to travel and tourism? IATO facilitates by providing you with educational resources and colleges.  


ATOAI or the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India is an association, which was formed to encourage and discover the vast potential for adventure tourism in India. It is trying to build brand India in the field of adventure sports and tourism. If you’re an adventure tour operator or into adventure tourism then this organisation can be extremely handy.


Here are the key benefits


Talk about adventure tourism

India ranks pretty low when it comes to adventure tourism. If you have concerns or issues to raise, ATOAI is the platform to do it.  

An adventurous community

With other avid adventure tour operators, be part of a community that has lots to offer in terms of learning and networking

Upgrade your skills

Get access to news, case studies, industry insights and success stories. Plus, get first-hand info and education on important issues in adventure tourism like first-aid and CPR

Want to know the eligibility criteria and the benefits? Here’s more on the membership plans.


Below is the cost involved for membership


ATOAI - Membership cost


The pluses of being a member


Make a global mark  

Get a chance to participate in overseas roadshows

Annual galas

Take part in annual convention and seminars to meet the old and new in the business of adventure tourism and get to learn from their journey

Pack your bags for an adventure

Get sent to various adventure tours to understand, brainstorm and collaborate with other verticals of adventure tourism.

The Current State Of Affairs

You already know that India is a country with many states and union territories. Hence, it is not feasible for the central government to look into the intricacies of tourism policies and practices in every state. Hence, there are state tourism boards to look into these matters and help promote each state for its unique offering. These include, providing the right infrastructure, boosting the marketing efforts and strengthening tourism bodies and facilities in the state.


Department of tourism Goa



Here’s a complete list of all state tourism websites.

What About Niche Tourism?


Niche tourism requires in-depth expertise or experience in certain forms of tourism like wildlife safaris, cycling tours or rafting excursions. In recent years, plenty of bodies have been formed to  play an active role as well as grow this form of tourism. We’ve listed a few examples:


Wildlife Safaris


Wildlife Safari_Lion


Wildlife tourism has several repercussions on the environment and ecology. That’s why the government has toughened laws in the Wildlife Act of 1973 in recent years. The Forest Department of various states have become more vigilant and have their own set of rules and regulations for tour operators depending on the flora and fauna of the state. Make sure you refer to the forest department of your state to check the rules or guidelines for tour operators.

Scuba Diving


scuba diving


Scuba diving is growing rapidly in India. If you have dreams to start your very own scuba diving business, then you’ll need permissions from the state tourism department. For example, in a state like Goa, you’ll need accreditation from the National Institute of Watersports. The diving instructors should be certified by PADI or SSI, the two main global bodies for scuba diving. Andaman and Nicobar Islands are famous for watersports and tourism. That’s why there are specific guidelines for scuba diving tour operators in Andaman. There lies a huge problem too as different states have varied policies, which are manipulated and twisted by various illegal players who want a piece of the pie. 

Architectural Tours


Architectural Tours


Lately, tourists in India have complained about the substandard quality of tourist guides. They either provide the wrong information or leave an unpleasant experience for tourists who have spent their hard-earned money, time and effort.

To solve this problem, the Ministry of Tourism has given a clear directive to ASI (Archeological Survey of India) licensed guides. As per the new guidelines and Supreme Court ruling, ASI approved guides will have to undergo training and tests to be a qualified tourist guide. This will be applicable to 360 monuments all around India. Tourist guides without a valid ASI license will not be allowed to operate in these monuments.

And to set-up your business online, there’s Vacation Labs


Vacation Labs - Travel website builder with booking engine


Ensuring you read, revise and practice these rules and regulations can reduce your focus on your business goals. That’s where we come in. Vacation Labs has helped more than 200 tour operators and travel companies go online from scratch. We’ve helped them at every stage of setting up their business online. Have any queries regarding starting your own online travel company or anything else, contact us today and we’ll guide you from start to finish.

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