A company which, through contracts with different levels of risk (charter contracts, empty for full hotel, allotment with right of withdrawal, etc.), acquires room availability, but does not directly manage (property, joint investment, joint ventures, etc ..), a range of tourist services (transport, accommodation services, catering, entertainment, excursions, etc ..) in large quantities, using them to build tour packages that can be sold directly to consumers or, as usually happens, are distributed through a network of travel agencies. The tour operator builds the packaging of its own catalog well in advance so it can produce and distribute its brochure throughout the agency network between 6 to 12 months before the start date of the program.

According to another school of thought, the tour operator should rather be considered as a wholesaler, with a resulting limitation of its activity to the purchase of large volumes of tourist services that it will then sell piecemeal to retail travel agents or directly to tourists. The wholesaler is limited to the wholesale purchase of services or even packages already prepared by others and then selling them on to different retailers without carrying out the functions of actual tour operators, that is to say, without making any changes to the product that it has purchased.

Tour operators are in a position of strength towards suppliers and, in general, towards tourist destinations, but they obtain low profit margins from sales. Therefore, a decisive factor for tour operators, especially when they operate in markets with little product differentiation and strong price competition, becomes the achievement of a high volume of customers and turnover that enables them to obtain greater discounts from suppliers who will take into account factors such as past performance, the type of clientele, the seasonal nature of tourist flows and the financial reliability of the operator.

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