How Different Sized Coach Holiday Companies Operate

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In a recent online discussion I was reminded that coach holidays are not all the same, and how very true that is.

My experience of coach holidays, and taking them all over the world for +25 years has been of working with larger coach holiday companies. I have not worked for smaller coach holidays companies such a family businesses.

In this article I want to share some insight into how larger coach holiday companies plan and operate coach holidays compared to smaller companies and what that might mean for your tour experience – all with the aim of helping find the right coach holiday for you.

Designing New Coach Holidays

Tour Planning

Larger Coach Holiday Companies

Larger coach holiday companies have product departments. These departments come up with designing new products i.e. coach holidays. They have teams of people who put together new holiday itineraries based on developing trends, upcoming destinations, what has been selling well, tours to attract new customers and new tours for existing customers.

They have lots of data to help them make decisions because somewhere else in the organisation will be a data team, who will be providing them with information from travel trend surveys and of course their own customer data.

The product teams will also be working with the contracts team to design a coach holiday that makes a profit.

Not so long ago some of the larger coach holiday companies took more of an overall approach to coach holiday profit, looking at the profitability of the overall department rather than each tour. Acquisition of some of these coach holiday companies by an investment company changed this and each tour was then analysed to look at the viability and profitability of each individual tour.

As the tour develops there might be a need to find some new hotels to work with, perhaps because the holiday is visiting a new destination or because there is a need to find a better price for the hotel. This process can apply to all the suppliers for a coach holiday. This may mean using local agents to find these.

(Lots of holiday companies use local agents to handle arrangements in particular countries. These can include hotels, transports, guides and excursion programs.)

Sometimes the people in the product department visit the area and look round for ideas to put into a tour. They might do these as part of a familiarisation trip to a new destination run by tourist organisations for example, or they might just visit and scout round on their own.

It is not always the case that the coach holiday company does a complete run through of the new coach holiday tour in advance to test all aspects of the itinerary.

Once the tour itinerary is designed and costed out and meets with approval then it is over the Tour Manager department to put together the information for a Tour Manager to take the tour.

Sometimes coach holiday companies will do a soft launch, with perhaps a reduced price for the first trip to give them a chance to iron out any minor issues. Sometimes they will just kick off a series of tours and assign and experienced Tour Manager to the first tour knowing they will be able to iron out any issues and provide detailed feedback which will be incorporated into future tours.

There can be a number of issues with this approach to creating new holidays which then cause issues when the holiday is running.

Examples of issues on first departure coach holiday tours I have taken include;

  • New hotels being used and being unfamiliar with what was required by the holiday company in terms of food and drink.
  • No tour guides being booked for any city tours despite this all being included in the itinerary leading to lots of phone calls to book guides en route.
  • Train journeys being included in the coach holiday which didn’t fit in with the touring itinerary, requiring tickets to be changed to avoid wasted coach journeys.

Smaller Coach Holiday Companies

A smaller coach holiday company means a smaller company. Rather than larger departments working together to create a new coach holiday, it means a small team or even just one or two people creating a new coach holiday experience.

Often smaller coach holidays know their customers extremely well. A family member of mine travels regularly with her local coach holiday company. They know their customers by first name, they know what they like and enjoy and the Tour Manager is the same so she knows her passengers extremely well too.

This gives smaller coach holiday companies much more insight into what their customers like and enjoy when it comes to a coach holiday experience.

It also makes a huge difference to the organising of the coach holiday. A smaller firm is likely to know it’s suppliers very well, and be on first name terms with the owners of the hotels they are visiting for example.

Take one of the local firms in the Highlands, Maynes Holidays. They know everyone! They can design tours using their experience of tours, their knowledge of their customers and their industry connections.

This can make a big difference to their tour experience and if there are any issues there is that personal connection to get it resolved.

Having that relationship with suppliers can also mean great value for a coach holiday too.

Operating Coach Holidays

Tour Manager

Larger Coach Holiday Companies – Tour Managers

As I said in the beginning of this article I have spent most of my career working for larger coach holiday companies and what a fantastic experience it has been.

Larger coach holiday companies have Tour Manager departments, with teams of people who are responsible for recruiting, training and managing Tour Managers for various parts of the world. Managers are usually responsible for several different countries for example so recruit and manager Tour Managers accordingly.

Tour Managers at larger coach holiday companies are usually self employed. That means negotiation is required around availability and covering tours, based on how much work the Tour Manager is available to do and how many tours there are available. This can be tricky to organise as many Tour Managers work for several holiday companies at the same time, so they have to balance demand across all of them.

The coach holiday company also needs to balance the requirement to book Tour Managers with the demand for the tour. If the tour doesn’t sell enough it may not run which would mean cancelling the Tour Manager which would result in lost income for them. If this happens regularly the Tour Manager is unlikely to want to work for the company.

Once the Tour Manager is contracted to lead the tour they get sent the tour pack. Initially this may be the tour manual which includes information on how the tour should run, timings, suppliers, what to do when and details of local agents who are responsible hotels and suppliers in certain countries for example.

Some coach holiday companies provide a pre trip briefing to enable a Tour Manager taking a tour they haven’t done before to speak to someone who has done it previously.

Tour Manager’s for larger coach holiday companies often don’t get the chance to do the tour in advance before they lead it themselves.

Of course there are differences here too. Some larger companies only employ Tour Managers to work in places they know really well already or perhaps a country they know really well.

Coach holidays are not all the same here too. Different companies approach to how they operate their holidays in terms of Tour Managers, preparation, support and guidance differently.

Once again it is an area to perhaps ask or find out more about before you book your holiday experience.

Smaller Coach Holiday Companies – Tour Managers

In a smaller coach holiday company a Tour Manager or guide may well be employed directly by the holiday company, which can make a big difference to the relationship they have with the company as a result.

It can also mean they have much more experience working with the customers of that company, rather than working across several different companies. This can make a big difference to the customer knowledge, understanding and experience.

Larger Coach Holiday Companies – On Tour Support

For larger coach holiday companies once a holiday departs it becomes the responsibility of the operations team. They are the people that Tour Managers can call 24 hours a day in the event of any issue, whether it be a medical problem, transport problem or anything else.

The operations team will be liaising with the product, supplier and customer service team but are the single point of contact for the Tour Manager on the tour itself.

The operations team generally won’t know the tour program in detail and will be there to respond to any issues. In larger companies they have protocols for responding to large incidents which can involve having a team on standy to fly out at anytime to assist in such cases.

The support that the Tour Manager needs whilst on tour varies as it depends on the coach holiday company policies. For example some companies may place restrictions on the type of decisions Tour Managers are able to make without getting authorisation. This could be the amount of compensation given to a customer for something that has not met their expectation.

As the individual profitability of each coach holiday has been put under the spotlight so has the amount of cost involved in dealing with customer issues while on tour. Some companies have placed limits on what can be given when.

At the other end of the spectrum some companies have given much more freedom to resolve problems on tour, so they can greatly reduce the need for a large customer service department to look into issues once a holiday is over.

Smaller Coach Holidays – On Tour Support

With smaller coach holiday companies there is much less need for all the departments that a larger copany requires.

This can mean that when you are on tour you are already with the people who have designed and created your holiday experience and they may also be the people who can directly sort out issues as a result.

Even if they are not the chain of communication to resolve issues is likely to be much shorter and therefore quicker.

Once again coach holidays are not all the same!

Post Tour

Larger Coach Holiday Companies

Larger companies are likely to have customer service departments who will be there to deal with any issues that may have arisen on holiday.

They often carry out analysis of customer surveys, passing detailed feedback to particular departments for them to action.

From a customer point of view they will be the team that deals with any issues that couldn’t be resolved during the holiday itself. This may involve investigation of issues with suppliers, Tour Managers and other team members to respond to customer queries.

Smaller Coach Holiday Companies

Given the smaller company size there is likely to be less people involved in dealing with any issues that may have arisen on holiday, meaning perhaps a quicker response than is possible when more people are involved.

In Summary;

As with all comparisons things can be very different from one coach holiday company to anther, which is why pre holiday research is so important.

If you are considering taking a coach holiday for the first time then check out my 10 Things You Need To Know to help you with some of the questions/areas you might like to ask or learn more about. Holidays vary widely so it’s important to find the right one for you.

Check out online reviews to ask questions and read about previous travel experiences.

Read travel forums such as Silver Travel Advisor for information around coach holidays and also ask questions too.

As with much in life sometimes size does make difference 🙂

Coach Holiday Series by The Coach Holiday Expert

Have a look at my Travel Inspiration section for ideas on places to visit.

I’ve also got heaps of resources on how to travel cheaper, helping you to see even more of the world!

Coach Holiday Companies;

Here are some of the coach holiday companies I know;

Titan Travel

Saga Holidays


Maynes Holidays

Maynes have got some lovely holidays available in England and Scotland – ideal options for this year. There is plenty to choose from – for example a Castles and Gardens of Scotland tour staying in the North West Castle Hotel in Stranraer.

Harrods Coaches