Writing a business plan for a tour operator can be an intimidating task, especially for those just starting.
This in-depth guide is designed to help entrepreneurs like you understand how to create a comprehensive business plan so that you can approach the exercise with method and confidence.
We'll cover: why writing a tour operator business plan is so important - both when starting up, and when running and growing the business - what information you need to include in your plan, how it should be structured, and what tools you can use to get the job done efficiently.
Let's get started!
Why write a business plan for a tour operator?
Being clear on the scope and goals of the document will make it easier to understand its structure and content. So before diving into the actual content of the plan, let's have a quick look at the main reasons why you would want to write a tour operator business plan in the first place.
To have a clear roadmap to grow the business
It's rarely business as usual for small businesses. The economy follows cycles where years of growth are followed by recessions, and the business environment is always changing with new technologies, new regulations, new competitors, and new consumer behaviours appearing all the time...
In this context, running a business without a clear roadmap is like driving blindfolded: it's dangerous at best. That's why writing a business plan for a tour operator is essential to create successful and sustainable businesses.
To write an effective business plan, you will need to take stock of where you are (if you are already in business) and where you want the business to go in the next three to five years.
Once you know where you want your tour operator to be, you'll have to identify:
- what resources (human, equipment, and capital) are needed to get there,
- at what pace the business needs to progress to get there in time,
- and what risks you'll face along the way.
Going through this process regularly is beneficial, both for startups and existing companies, as it helps make informed decisions about how best to allocate resources to ensure the long-term success of the business.
To anticipate future cash flows
Regularly comparing your actual financial performance to the projections in the financial forecast of your tour operator's business plan gives you the ability to monitor your business's financial health and make necessary adjustments as needed.
This practice allows you to detect potential financial issues, such as unexpected cash shortfalls before they escalate into major problems. Giving you time to find additional financing or put in place corrective measures.
Additionally, it helps you identify growth opportunities, like excess cash flow that could be allocated to launch new products and services or expand into new markets.
Staying on track with these regular comparisons enables you to make well-informed decisions about the amount of financing your business might require, or the excess cash flow you can expect to generate from your main business activities.
To secure financing
A detailed business plan becomes a crucial tool when seeking financing from banks or investors for your tour operator.
Investing and lending to small businesses are very risky activities given how fragile they are. Therefore, financiers have to take extra precautions before putting their capital at risk.
At a minimum, financiers will want to ensure that you have a clear roadmap and a solid understanding of your future cash flows (like we just explained above). But they will also want to ensure that your business plan fits the risk/reward profile they seek.
This will off-course vary from bank to bank and investor to investor, but as a rule of thumb. Banks will want to see a conservative financial management style (low risk), and they will use the information in your business plan to assess your borrowing capacity — the level of debt they think your business can comfortably handle — and your ability to repay the loan. This evaluation will determine whether they'll provide credit to your tour operator and the terms of the agreement.
Whereas investors will carefully analyze your business plan to gauge the potential return on their investment. Their focus lies on evidence indicating your tour operator's potential for high growth, profitability, and consistent cash flow generation over time.
Now that you recognize the importance of creating a business plan for your tour operator, let's explore what information is required to create a compelling plan.
Information needed to create a business plan for a tour operator
Drafting a tour operator business plan requires research so that you can project sales, investments and cost accurately in your financial forecast, and convince the reader that there is a viable commercial opportunity to be seized.
Below, we'll focus on three critical pieces of information you should gather before starting to write your plan.
Carrying out market research for a tour operator
As you consider writing your business plan for a tour operator, conducting market research becomes a vital step to ensure accurate and realistic financial projections.
Market research provides valuable insights into your target customer base, competitors, pricing strategies, and other key factors that can significantly impact the commercial success of your business.
Through this research, you may uncover trends that could influence your tour operator.
1. Your tour operator might find that travelers are increasingly interested in eco-friendly trips, such as those focused on sustainable travel and ecotourism. 2. Your tour operator could discover that people are looking for more immersive experiences when traveling, such as unique cultural activities and opportunities to interact with locals.
Such market trends play a significant role in forecasting revenue, as they offer valuable data about potential customers' spending habits and preferences.
By incorporating these findings into your financial projections, you can present investors with more accurate information, helping them make informed decisions about investing in your tour operator.
Developing the marketing plan for a tour operator
Before delving into your tour operator business plan, it's imperative to budget for sales and marketing expenses.
To achieve this, a comprehensive sales and marketing plan is essential. This plan should provide an accurate projection of the necessary actions to acquire and retain customers.
Additionally, it will outline the required workforce to carry out these initiatives and the corresponding budget for promotions, advertising, and other marketing endeavours.
By budgeting accordingly, you can ensure that the right resources are allocated to these vital activities, aligning them with the sales and growth objectives outlined in your business plan.
The staffing and equipment needs of a tour operator
Whether you are at the beginning stages of your tour operator or expanding its horizons, having a clear plan for recruitment and capital expenditures (investment in equipment and real estate) is vital to ensure your business's success.
To achieve this, both the recruitment and investment plans must align coherently with the projected timing and level of growth in your forecast. It is essential to secure appropriate funding for these plans.
A tour operator might incur staffing costs for tour guides, bus drivers, and administrative staff. Additionally, they may need to purchase or rent vehicles, such as buses or vans, for transportation. They may also need to purchase or rent equipment such as tents, sleeping bags, or other camping gear for outdoor activities.
To create a financial forecast that accurately represents your business's outlook, remember to factor in other day-to-day operating expenses.
Now that you have all the necessary information, it's time to dive in and start creating your business plan and developing the financial forecast for your tour operator.
What goes into your tour operator's financial forecast?
The financial forecast of your tour operator's business plan will enable you to assess the growth, profitability, funding requirements, and cash generation potential of your business in the coming years.
The four key outputs of a financial forecast for a tour operator are:
- The profit and loss (P&L) statement,
- The projected balance sheet,
- The cash flow forecast,
- And the sources and uses table.
Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail.
The projected P&L statement
The projected P&L statement for a tour operator shows how much revenue and profit your business is expected to make in the future.
A healthy tour operator's P&L statement should show:
- Sales growing at (minimum) or above (better) inflation
- Stable (minimum) or expanding (better) profit margins
- A healthy level of net profitability
This will of course depend on the stage of your business: numbers for a startup will look different than for an established tour operator.
The projected balance sheet of your tour operator
Your tour operator's forecasted balance sheet enables the reader of your plan to assess your financial structure, working capital, and investment policy.
It is composed of three types of elements: assets, liabilities and equity:
- Assets: represent what the business owns and uses to produce cash flows. It includes resources such as cash, equipment, and accounts receivable (money owed by clients).
- Liabilities: represent funds advanced to the business by lenders and other creditors. It includes items such as accounts payable (money owed to suppliers), taxes due and loans.
- Equity: is the combination of what has been invested by the business owners and the cumulative profits and losses generated by the business to date (which are called retained earnings). Equity is a proxy for the value of the owner's stake in the business.
Your tour operator's balance sheet will usually be analyzed in conjunction with the other financial statements included in your forecast.
Two key points of focus will be:
- Your tour operator's liquidity: does your business have sufficient cash and short-term assets to pay what it owes over the next 12 months?
- And its solvency: does your business have the capacity to repay its debt over the medium-term?
The cash flow forecast
As we've seen earlier in this guide, monitoring future cash flows is the key to success and the only way of ensuring that your tour operator has enough cash to operate.
As you can expect showing future cash flows is the main role of the cash flow forecast in your tour operator business plan.
It is best practice to organise the cash flow statement by nature in order to show the cash impact of the following areas:
- Cash flow generated from operations: the operating cash flow shows how much cash is generated or consumed by the business's commercial activities
- Cash flow from investing activities: the investing cash flow shows how much cash is being invested in capital expenditure (equipment, real estate, etc.) either to maintain the business's equipment or to expand its capabilities
- Cash flow from financing activities: the financing cash flow shows how much cash is raised or distributed to financiers
Looking at the cash flow forecast helps you to make sure that your business has enough cash to keep running, and can help you anticipate potential cash shortfalls.
Your tour operator business plan will normally include both yearly and monthly cash flow forecasts so that the readers can view the impact of seasonality on your business cash position and generation.
The initial financing plan
The initial financing plan, also known as a sources and uses table, is a valuable resource to have in your business plan when starting your tour operator as it reveals the origins of the money needed to establish the business (sources) and how it will be allocated (uses).
Having this table helps show what costs are involved in setting up your tour operator, how risks are shared between founders, investors and lenders, and what the starting cash position will be. This cash position needs to be sufficient to sustain operations until the business reaches a break-even point.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what goes into the financial forecast of your tour operator business plan, let's shift our focus to the written part of the plan.
The written part of a tour operator business plan
The written part of a tour operator business plan is composed of 7 main sections:
- The executive summary
- The presentation of the company
- The products and services
- The market analysis
- The strategy
- The operations
- The financial plan
Throughout these sections, you will seek to provide the reader with the details and context needed for them to form a view on whether or not your business plan is achievable and your forecast a realistic possibility.
Let's go through the content of each section in more detail!
1. The executive summary
In your tour operator's business plan, the first section is the executive summary — a captivating overview of your plan that aims to pique the reader's interest and leave them eager to learn more about your business.
When crafting the executive summary, start with an introduction to your business, including its name, concept, location, how long it has been running, and what sets it apart. Briefly mention the products and services you plan to offer and your target customer profile.
Following that, provide an overview of the addressable market for your tour operator, current trends, and potential growth opportunities.
Next, include a summary of key financial figures like projected revenues, profits, and cash flows.
Finally, in the "ask" section, detail any funding requirements you may have.
2. The presentation of the company
In your tour operator business plan, the second section should focus on the structure and ownership, location, and management team of your company.
In the structure and ownership part, you'll provide an overview of the business's legal structure, details about the owners, and their respective investments and ownership shares. This clarity is crucial, especially if you're seeking financing, as it helps the reader understand which legal entity will receive the funds and who controls the business.
Moving on to the location part, you'll offer an overview of the company's premises and their surroundings. Explain why this particular location is of interest, highlighting factors like catchment area, accessibility, and nearby amenities.
When describing the location of your tour operator, you could emphasize the potential for success due to its strategic position in a growing region. The area may have a broad range of appeal, with access to attractions and activities that could draw visitors from around the world. You could also point out the potential for lower costs of operation due to its proximity to key transportation hubs, airports, and ports. Finally, you could note the diverse range of accommodations nearby, from economical to luxurious, that could entice all types of travelers.
Finally, you should introduce your management team. Describe each member's role, background, and experience.
Don't forget to emphasize any past successes achieved by the management team and how long they've been working together. Demonstrating their track record and teamwork will help potential lenders or investors gain confidence in their leadership and ability to execute the business plan.
3. The products and services section
The products and services section of your tour operator business plan should include a detailed description of what your company sells to its customers.
For example, your tour operator might offer customers everything from a multi-day package tour of a foreign country to a single-day excursion to a nearby attraction. They might also offer services such as hotel bookings, transportation, and customized activities tailored to the customer's interests. All of this is provided to give customers the best possible experience while traveling, while still offering them flexibility and convenience.
The reader will want to understand what makes your tour operator unique from other businesses in this competitive market.
When drafting this section, you should be precise about the categories of products or services you sell, the clients you are targeting and the channels that you are targeting them through.
4. The market analysis
When outlining your market analysis in the tour operator business plan, it's essential to include comprehensive details about customers' demographics and segmentation, target market, competition, barriers to entry, and relevant regulations.
The primary aim of this section is to give the reader an understanding of the market size and appeal while demonstrating your expertise in the industry.
To begin, delve into the demographics and segmentation subsection, providing an overview of the addressable market for your tour operator, key marketplace trends, and introducing various customer segments and their preferences in terms of purchasing habits and budgets.
Next, shift your focus to the target market subsection, where you can zoom in on the specific customer segments your tour operator targets. Explain how your products and services are tailored to meet the unique needs of these customers.
For example, your target market might include families who are looking for an all-inclusive vacation. These families want to take a vacation with their children but are looking for convenience and ease of planning. They are looking for a tour operator who can provide a comprehensive package that includes accommodations, meals, and activities.
In the competition subsection, introduce your main competitors and explain what sets your tour operator apart from them.
Finally, round off your market analysis by providing an overview of the main regulations that apply to your tour operator.
5. The strategy section
When crafting the strategy section of your business plan for your tour operator, it's important to cover several key aspects, including your competitive edge, pricing strategy, sales & marketing plan, milestones, and risks and mitigants.
In the competitive edge subsection, clearly explain what sets your company apart from competitors. This is particularly critical if you're a startup, as you'll be trying to establish your presence in the marketplace among entrenched players.
The pricing strategy subsection should demonstrate how you aim to maintain profitability while offering competitive prices to your customers.
For the sales & marketing plan, outline how you plan to reach and acquire new customers, as well as retain existing ones through loyalty programs or special offers.
In the milestones subsection, detail what your company has achieved thus far and outline your primary objectives for the coming years by including specific dates for expected progress. This ensures everyone involved has clear expectations.
Lastly, in the risks and mitigants subsection, list the main risks that could potentially impact the execution of your plan. Explain the measures you've taken to minimize these risks. This is vital for investors or lenders to feel confident in supporting your venture - try to proactively address any objection they might have.
Your tour operator could face a variety of risks in their business. For example, they may experience issues with transportation or accommodation arrangements. If, for example, a tour bus breaks down or a booked hotel is overbooked, it could put the tour operator in a difficult position. Alternatively, they could face risks related to weather; if a tour is disrupted by severe weather, the tour operator could be held responsible for any damages or lost revenue.
6. The operations section
The operations of your tour operator must be presented in detail in your business plan.
The first thing you should cover in this section is your staffing team, the main roles, and the overall recruitment plan to support the growth expected in your business plan. You should also outline the qualifications and experience necessary to fulfil each role, and how you intend to recruit (using job boards, referrals, or headhunters).
You should then state the operating hours of your tour operator - so that the reader can check the adequacy of your staffing levels - and any plans for varying opening times during peak season. Additionally, the plan should include details on how you will handle customer queries outside of normal operating hours.
The next part of this section should focus on the key assets and IP required to operate your business. If you depend on any licenses or trademarks, physical structures (equipment or property) or lease agreements, these should all go in there.
You could have key assets such as the tour operator's website and booking software. These may provide the interface for customers to access the tour operator's services, and could be protected by copyright and other intellectual property regulations. Additionally, the tour operator might have a portfolio of tours and destinations, which could be protected by trademarks and other forms of intellectual property.
Finally, you should include a list of suppliers that you plan to work with and a breakdown of their services and main commercial terms (price, payment terms, contract duration, etc.). Investors are always keen to know if there is a particular reason why you have chosen to work with a specific supplier (higher-quality products or past relationships for example).
7. The presentation of the financial plan
The financial plan section is where we will include the financial forecast we talked about earlier in this guide.
Now that you have a clear idea of the content of a tour operator business plan, let's look at some of the tools you can use to create yours.
What tool should I use to write my tour operator's business plan?
There are two main ways of creating your tour operator business plan:
- Using specialized business planning software,
- Hiring a business plan writer.
Using an online business plan software for your tour operator's business plan
The modern and most efficient way to write a tour operator business plan is to use business plan software.
There are several advantages to using specialized software:
- You can easily create your financial forecast by letting the software take care of the financial calculations for you without errors
- You are guided through the writing process by detailed instructions and examples for each part of the plan
- You can access a library of dozens of complete business plan samples and templates for inspiration
- You get a professional business plan, formatted and ready to be sent to your bank or investors
- You can easily track your actual financial performance against your financial forecast
- You can create scenarios to stress test your forecast's main assumptions
- You can easily update your forecast as time goes by to maintain visibility on future cash flows
- You have a friendly support team on standby to assist you when you are stuck
If you're interested in using this type of solution, you can try The Business Plan Shop for free by signing up here.
Hiring a business plan writer to write your tour operator's business plan
Outsourcing your tour operator business plan to a business plan writer can also be a viable option.
Business plan writers are experienced in writing business plans and adept at creating financial forecasts without errors. Furthermore, hiring a consultant can save you time and allow you to focus on the day-to-day operations of your business.
However, hiring business plan writers is expensive as you are paying for the software used by the consultant, plus their time, and their profit margin of course.
From experience, you need to budget at least £1.5k ($2.0k) excluding tax for a complete business plan, more if you need to make changes after the initial version (which happens frequently after the initial meetings with lenders or investors).
You also need to be careful when seeking investment. Investors want their money to be used to grow the business, not spent on consulting fees. Therefore, the amount you spend on business plan writing services (and other consulting services such as legal services) needs to be negligible relative to the amount raised.
The other drawback is that you usually don't own the business plan itself: you just get the output, while the actual document is saved in the consultant's business plan software - which makes it difficult to maintain the document up to date without hiring the consultant on a retainer.
For these reasons, outsourcing the tour operator business plan to a business plan writer should be considered carefully, weighing both the advantages and disadvantages of hiring outside help.
Ultimately, it may be the right decision for some businesses, while others may find it beneficial to write their business plan using online software.
Why not create your tour operator's business plan using Word or Excel?
Using Microsoft Excel and Word (or their Google, Apple, or open-source equivalents) to write a tour operator business plan is not advisable. Allow me to explain the reasons.
Firstly, creating an accurate and error-free financial forecast on Excel or any spreadsheet demands technical expertise in accounting principles and financial modelling. Without a degree in finance and accounting and significant financial modelling experience, it's unlikely that the reader will fully trust your numbers.
Secondly, relying on spreadsheets is inefficient. While it may have been the go-to option in the past, technology has evolved, and software now performs such tasks much faster and more accurately.
The second reason is that it is inefficient. Building forecasts on spreadsheets was the only option in the early 2000s, nowadays technology has advanced and software can do it much faster and much more accurately.
And with the rise of AI, software is also becoming smarter at helping us detect mistakes in our forecasts and helping us analyse the numbers to make better decisions.
Moreover, software offers ease in comparing actuals versus forecasts and maintaining up-to-date forecasts for clear visibility on future cash flows, as we discussed earlier in this guide. Such tasks are cumbersome when using spreadsheets.
Now, let's address the written part of your tour operator business plan. While it may be less prone to errors, using software can significantly boost productivity. Word processors lack instructions and examples for each section of your business plan. They also won't automatically update your numbers when changes occur in your forecast, and they lack automated formatting capabilities.
In summary, while some entrepreneurs may consider Word or Excel for their business plan, it's far from the best or most efficient solution when compared to specialized software.
- Having an up-to-date business plan is key to maintaining visibility on your future cash flows.
- A business plan has 2 parts: a financial forecast highlighting the expected growth, profitability and cash generation of the business; and a written part which provides the context needed to interpret and assess the quality of the forecast.
- Using business plan software is the modern way of writing and maintaining business plans.
We hope that this guide helped you to better understand how to write the business plan for a tour operator. If you still have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.
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