What is a Ground Operator?

Ground Operators are local companies that provide the actual travel services in a destination. Typically, they own vehicles, employ guides, and negotiate special rates with hotels, combining these and other elements to create a full-service experience. This is particularly helpful for travelers heading to far-flung destinations, where it can be difficult to book each of these elements separately and reliably. Ground Operators are sometimes referred to as Tour Operators or Destination Management Companies (DMC).

What is the difference between a Ground Operator, Tour Operator, Travel Agent and Travel Specialist?

See above question for Ground Operator description.

U.S.-based Tour Operators sell trips directly to the U.S. public, but they sub-contract the actual services to a local Ground Operator – and so they mark up the Ground Operator’s cost of the trip to cover their own overhead.

A Travel Agent typically works with many different Tour Operators and/or with local Ground Operators, each serving a different destination or type of travel (hiking or photography, for example). The Travel Agent chooses the right operator to serve each client’s needs, and marks up the cost of the trip to cover their overhead.

A Travel Specialist is a travel agent who focuses on a particular destination or type of travel, but who typically still books through a local Ground Operator and adds a markup.

How does TourDirect.org certify a Ground Operator?

Our management team personally vets every potential partner by traveling with them in their own country. We don’t just spend an hour or two interviewing an agency owner, but rather several days field-testing the Ground Operator’s staff. We find out how smoothly their trips run, how knowledgeable their guides are, and much more. Only then do we invite the Ground Operator to complete our extensive application, which our Advisory Board reviews along with the inspection trip report.

Click here to see “list of the criteria.”


Why should I book through TourDirect.org ?

Here are 10 advantages of booking through us:

  1. Reliable and vetted Ground Operators – the crème de la crème of the travel business
  2. Direct communications with experts in your destination
  3. Cost savings – you pay only what the Ground Operator charges
  4. One-stop shopping: tours, flights, visa, insurance, travel literature, clothing and more
  5. Complete transparency – Ground Operator contact information is detailed on our website
  6. Safety & security of credit card payment (American Express, Visa & MasterCard
  7. U.S. management team: established industry professionals with years of experience
  8. U.S. Office for convenience of communication, and in case of an emergency
  9. U.S. Legal and Insurance Coverage
  10. Medical ($25,000) and Evacuation ($500,000) insurance per traveler

Who do I contact – TourDirect or the Ground Operator?

Either one. You can call our North America toll-free number to get in touch with our California office, or you can communicate directly with the overseas operator. Just keep in mind that there is typically a significant time difference, especially to Asia, so email will be the best option.

Is there a cost difference between working with the US office or directly with the over seas ground operator?

No. There will be no difference in the cost of your trip whether you communicate with the U.S. office or directly with the overseas operator.  The choice is yours. Rest assured that you will be well served either way.

How does TourDirect make a profit?

Each time a traveler books a trip through us, the Ground Operator sends us a referral fee. This is what sets us apart from other companies: Our profit comes from the Ground Operator, not from you. We also require that the Ground Operators not charge you any more for booking through TourDirect than they would if you walked through their front door and booked the same trip.

Are your trips the cheapest?

Possibly not! Our ground operators are known for their high quality of service — not for their cheap prices.

Even so, if you truly compare the comprehensive services, the class of hotels (and room category), the safety of the drivers and vehicles, the experience and knowledge of the guides, the quality of restaurants used, and the special access to sites and events to those of other U.S. Tour Operators, you will find that our prices are very competitive.

When compared with travel agents booking the same quality of trip, ours are typically 15-25% less expensive, because you are getting prices directly from the source.

What type of accommodations do you use?

Accommodations are a major factor in the cost of a trip, but vary considerably based on the location you’re traveling to and type of tour that you have chosen. Each of our itineraries list the hotel types used.

If you are planning a customized tour, then the accommodations will be based specifically on your travel style.

Are flights included in the prices shown on the site?

No. International flights (from your home city to the staging city of your tour) are not included in the Tour Cost; this allows you the freedom to use Frequent Flyer points, to choose your preferred airline and class of service.  You can book your flights using our “Flight Page.”

The cost of all flights that take place during a tour are listed separately; those tickets are issued by the Ground Operator, and the cost is due at the time of booking.

How do I contact you?

You can fill out the online “Request Info/Call back” form and we will call you.  Alternatively, you can either call us on our toll-free line (currently North America only) or send an email:

California Office Business Hours:

Monday – Friday: 9:00 – 18:00 PST (+8 UST)

Land Line:  +1-415-895-5283

Toll-Free Line (U.S. only): 1-800-694-6342

Email:  info@TourDirect.org

What is the process of planning a custom tour?

If you don’t see exactly what you want on our site, call our U.S. office to get started planning a custom trip. All of our Ground Operators specialize in crafting unique itineraries based specifically on your interests, needs, and travel dates.

How do I plan a multi-country itinerary?

All the Ground Operators in our alliance work well with each other and you will see smooth transition between countries. We recommend you assign the ground operator of the first country on your tour as your primary operator.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to call our U.S. office and we’ll guide you through the process of connecting two itineraries from our website, or creating a custom multi-country tour of your own.

What are the pros and cons of Group Tours and Private Tours?

Group tours are generally less expensive, since the cost of some elements (transportation, guides, etc.) is shared among all the travelers. Often, group tours have specialized Trip Leaders (an art historian or photographer, for example). You’ll also meet like-minded people who share your interests.

On a private trip, you travel at your own pace and on your preferred dates. The itinerary can be specifically designed to cater to your interests and needs, using hand-picked accommodations. Vehicle and guides are yours alone.

What is each trips level of activity or difficulty?

Our trips have varying levels of difficulty based on activities, elevation, climate, and other factors. Detailed information is listed right under the introduction of each trip, as are the medical and health requirements of that trip.

What is your payment schedule?

Unless stated otherwise, a deposit of $600 or 20% of the Land Cost (whichever is higher), plus the cost of in-country flights, is due immediately upon booking. The balance amount is due 60 days prior to departure.

Click here to see our detailed Payment Policy.

Can I make partial payments toward my trip?

Yes, as long as you pay the full Land and Internal flight costs at least 60 days prior to departure.

Click here to see our detailed Payment Policy.

How do I pay for the trip I booked?

We recommend paying for your trip by credit card; his gives you additional security offered by the card company, and you can often earn rewards for your expenditures.  We accept American Express (preferred), VISA, and MasterCard.  You can also pay by direct wire transfer or personal check.

Note:  All prices listed on our website are in U.S. dollars and all payments must be in USD.

Click here to see our detailed Payment Policy.

What if I need to change my trip?

No problem!  We are here to help you modify your itinerary to suit your interests and needs.  We even accept changes of dates or destination.

Please keep in mind that if you change your travel dates and your new dates happen to fall over a holiday or high season, the Land Cost of your trip may increase.  (It’s also possible that the price could be reduced if you switch your dates from the high season to low season.)  Other factors that affect the Tour Cost would be any non-refundable fees that were paid up front, e.g: a river cruise that is a part of an itinerary, or discounted airline tickets. When there are non-refundable fees, we clearly state that on the booking page.

Click here to see our detailed Terms & Conditions.