Travel lingo: What’s the difference between a Tour Operator and a Ground Operator?

Like any specialized industry, the travel world can be full of confusing insider lingo that’s difficult for ordinary people to understand. It can get so bad that even we often have to Google some of the terms and acronyms that get thrown around, and we’ve been at it for 15+ years!

Two questions we get asked quite often – which are particularly relevant given Journeys Within’s recent decision to give away our ground operations businesses in Southeast Asia to focus exclusively on being a tour operator – are…

Journeys Within's Ground Operations team
The Ground Operations team of Journeys Within’s Cambodia office.

What’s the difference between a Tour Operator and a Ground Operator?

Tour Operator: An agent or agency that designs tour packages for travelers. Normally a package will include: airfare, ground transportation, accommodations and guide services (which the Tour Operator will book through local ground operators). Tour Operators book and pay for services on behalf of their clients, working with multiple agencies, and clients pay the Tour Operator for the full package.

Journeys Within has been a Tour Operator from the very beginning, and will continue to be as we transition away from our Ground Operations units.

Ground Operator: A local agency that provides services such as transportation and guide services. Generally, Ground Operators work with Tour Operators, but at times will work directly with clients.

In the beginning, Journeys Within also played the role of a Ground Operator for our clients, with local offices in the countries we serve. This was out of necessity at first, because we wanted such a high level of control at the local level to ensure our clients had incredible experiences while on tour. However, as our local staff has grown into leadership roles, we are now confident that they will be able to continue providing the incredible service levels our clients expect without the direct oversight from the U.S. office (of course, we’ll still be in close contact).

Andrea, her kids, and Narla on an inspection of new touring options in Cambodia.

Why would a traveler want to work with a Tour Operator vs. a Ground Operator?

A Tour Operator’s focus is creating the full tour that the guest is looking for. We understand the guest’s needs and can translate that into the trip that they’re looking for.

Tour Operators understand travel from the traveler’s perspective.

With a Tour Operator, you can pick up the phone and call someone in the U.S. to plan and discuss your trip details.

As a Tour Operator, we have traveled the region extensively, so you get the on-the-ground knowledge of a ground operator, but the service of a local travel agency.

When booking through an accredited Tour Operator, you know that you have the security of the U.S. travel regulations protecting your travel investment.

A Ground Operator is generally less expensive, but they are harder to reach as they are based locally, so you have to deal with time differences and often have limited English-speaking office staff.

Ground Operators tend to focus on working with Tour Operators who are their main clients vs. individual travelers.

Ground Operators focus on a local region. Therefore, if you’re looking to travel to multiple areas within one trip, you’ll need to book through multiple ground operators and coordinate the transfers between those regions on your own.

April Cole is the Vice President of Sales for Journeys Within Tour Company

Congratulations Leak on your new role as Andrea’s Booking Coordinator!

We wanted to take the chance to congratulate Leak as she has taken over as Andrea’s new Booking Coordinator!  Leak is an amazing person – very kind, fun-loving, a wonderful mom, and incredibly hard working, and she has worked for Journeys Within for around ten years, as a Central Booking Assistant.  If you have ever taken a tour with Journeys Within, then there is a strong chance that Leak helped put together your tour behind the scenes.

Having spent most of her younger years in Phnom Penh, Sreyleak or ‘Leak’ for short, eventually moved back to her hometown of Siem Reap to be closer to family and friends. She grew up with the dream of working in an office where she would get the opportunity to meet interesting people and work with different cultures. This led her to study Tourism and Hospitality Management at the Angkor City Institute, giving her the chance to share her passion for her country and help people to experience the wonders of Cambodia.  After university, Leak began work at one of the top hotels in Siem Reap, the FCC Angkor, where she worked as Tour Coordinator, organizing interesting and exciting tours for the hotel’s guests. Sreyleak heard about Journeys Within through Linda and the two friends have worked together for years now, first as a Central Booking Assistant, and now as a Booking Coordinator.

Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

Active Philanthropy is a core tenant of Journey’s Within’s company culture.  We believe that a tour company not only has a responsibility to its guests, but also a responsibility to the countries in which we live and work.  Beyond that, we believe that we have a responsibility to our team to provide the opportunity to grow.  As the countries in Southeast Asia develop, we’ve seen our own team members take on new roles, gain new skills and education, found businesses, raise families and blossom.  We are so proud to work with such amazing people!

Photo Credit: Courtney Ridgel

For other recent Journeys Within Team success stories, read about Central Booking Manager Linda’s hotel, Cambodia Director Makara’s modeling career and role on the JWOC Board, and Regional Director Narla’s career journey!

Photo Credit: Anna Baldwin
Photo Credit: Anna Baldwin

From the Ground: Makara celebrates 2 years on the Local JWOC Advisory Board

By Jay Austin

Last month, JWOC Scholarship graduate and Journeys Within Cambodia Country Director, Makara Put, completed two years as member and Chair of JWOC’s Local Advisory Board (LAB). Using his in-depth understanding of the local travel industry, knowledge of local opportunities and understanding of JWOC’s values and mission to promote equal access to quality education, he was able to be part of a team that helped JWOC’s ground team to pursue opportunities and avenues that would not have otherwise access to.

When speaking of his achievement, he said, “For me, it is really important to be in the LAB, because you will be able to learn from other members and from JWOC staff. Moreover you can speak your thoughts and turn your ideas into practice, sharing information that helps to develop JWOC as well. We never know if our ideas work or not if we don’t put them into action!”

Introducing Knowmad Adventures

Knowmad Adventures team

Journeys Within is excited to announce that we are partnering with Knowmad Adventures – a boutique travel agency specializing in active, authentic and sustainable travel to South America and Antarctica, with destinations including Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Easter Island and the Galapagos.

Jordan Harvey, one of Knowmad’s co-founders, has been listed as a fellow Condé Nast Traveler Specialist and Travel + Leisure A-List Winner.  We recommend Knowmad to our guests because they embrace a similar philosophy to our own – the belief that ‘travel makes us better people’ and that having incredible guides transforms a trip into a life-changing experience.

Knowmad creates customized itineraries and can arrange tours that focus on family travel, adventure travel, honeymoons, treks, luxury travel, visiting the highlights or incorporate a mix of all of the above.  They take pride in providing connections to the local community with every unique experience, married with incredible accommodations.

We recently had the chance to ask Knowmad co-founder Tara Harvey a few questions about the company. Her answers are below…

Journeys Within: Tell us your story. When did you start Knowmad Adventures and what is your focus?

My husband Jordan and I started Knowmad Adventures 8 years ago. We hopped on a flight right after we got married and rented a cabin heated only by a wood-burning stove on a farm in Northern Patagonia, Chile. From there we explored the country, building trips that we envisioned family and friends would love. It was an incredible adventure!

A year later we landed back in Minneapolis, where we’re both from and are now based, and today we’ve grown to a team of 7 operating more than 500 authentic, custom trips annually to Chile, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Antarctica.

Call or email a Knowmad Trip Specialist to create your South America trip today: 1-877-616-8747 or travel@knowmadadventures.com.

Patagonia, Chile and Argentina

JW: When is the ideal time of year to visit and plan a trip to South America?

Patagonia & Chile or Argentina: If your journey to Chile or Argentina includes Patagonia, you’ll want to go during our winter and their summer (November through March).

Central Chile and Argentina (the vineyards, Buenos Aires & Santiago) have a climate similar to the Mediterranean and can be traveled to year round.

Easter Island, a Polynesian island off the coast of Chile, and Northern Chile and Argentina (the Atacama Desert, Salta, Iguazu Falls) are also great year-round destinations.

We recommend planning your trip to Chile or Argentina at least 6 to 8 months out for the most accommodation choices, and during the high, holiday season as much as one year in advance.

Peru

Machu Picchu & Peru: Travelers can visit Peru any time of year. Dry season starts in the second half of April and lasts until November. Daytime temps throughout the year are consistently moderate in the areas of Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, however nighttime temperatures are cooler during the dry season and can drop below freezing. June, July and August are the most visited months and the weather is pleasant, however it is more crowded. Our favorite time to visit is the ‘shoulder season’ coming just before and just following the rainy season (the second half of April, May, October, November) when the weather is fairly dry and visits aren’t at their peak.

We recommend planning your trip to Peru at least 4 to 8 months in advance. If looking to travel during the high season (May through August and the holidays) or hike the Inca Trail, we recommend 8 to 12 months in advance for the most choices and permit availability.

Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands & Ecuador: As Ecuador is located on the Equator, there is little seasonal differentiation and it is a great year-round destination. Although there is a slightly wetter season and a slightly drier season, there is little predictability and these variations differ from region to region, as Ecuador is so geographically diverse. There is never a bad time to visit the Galapagos. Talk to a Knowmad Trip Specialist for details on the best time of year to snorkel or dive, to see the bird’s mating rituals or sea turtles nesting.

We recommend planning your trip to Ecuador & the Galapagos at least 4 to 8 months out for the most accommodation or cruise choices. If looking to travel during the holidays or if working with a strict travel window, we recommend 8 to 12 months.

Antarctica

Antarctica: October to March is the only permitted time to travel to Antarctica. With that being said, the best time to plan your Antarctica travels is dependent on the wildlife you want to see, as penguins, sea birds, whales, and seals have specific time periods in which they mate, birth or are in the region to feed.

Plan your trip to Antarctica at least 6 to 8 months out, and during the holiday season as much as one year in advance.

Please note that Knowmad has planned trips with as little as 1 week of notice as well, so if you’re looking at planning a last-minute trip, please reach out and your Trip Specialist can check availability in the region where you are looking at traveling.

JW: What itinerary would you recommend for a traveler’s first trip to South America?

Peru is a great country to start with for your first visit to South America, offering a variety of landscapes and cultures, and it’s under a 7-hour flight from Atlanta. Our Classic Machu Picchu trip idea has you getting off the beaten path in the Sacred Valley, visiting vibrant traditional villages and markets and returning to charming accommodations as you journey through ancient ruins, ending at the famed Machu Picchu. There are a multitude of options to customize the itinerary with culinary experiences, active excursions such as stand up paddle boarding, trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting and camping, or luxury hacienda stays, and more!

Classic Machu Picchu tour

Classic Machu Picchu Trip Idea Highlights:

  • Experience a variety of vibrant indigenous Andean cultures
  • Ride the rails in an historic train along the ancient Inca Trail
  • Explore the famed Lost City of Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate
  • Wander the legendary Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Ollantaytambo
  • Meander the stone streets and bustling markets of Cusco
  • Get off the beaten path, discover the ancient ways of Amaru villagers, and bargain for colorful, hand-woven textiles in colorful Pisac market
  • Lunch in a centuries-old hacienda while relaxing in the Sacred Valley

Extension ideas include the Amazon, Lake Titicaca, or even combine your trip to Peru with the Galapagos Islands.

Click here for more details on the Classic Machu Picchu trip idea.

Knowmad typical travelers

JW: What type of travelers do you typically work with?

We work with independent-minded travelers looking for unique, custom, and private travel experiences in South America. Since we’re experts in the regions we operate (vs. specializing in one travel style worldwide) we’re able to maximize your time by planning a trip that is tailored specifically to your interests and dates. We offer:

  • Same or better pricing
  • Stress-free planning process
  • Pre-departure information and local on-the-ground support
  • Door-to-door trip planning services; Knowmad will navigate seasonality of a the destination, logistics in transportation, and coordinate your accommodations and excursions for a holistic, seamless South American itinerary

Don’t take our word for it though! See what our travelers and the press have to say about us:

“Harvey and his wife were living on a dairy farm in Patagonia when they founded Knowmad Adventures, and their friends – artists, chefs, architects, and photographers – became their network of insider contacts. The result? Many of the vineyards, haciendas and estates available to their clients aren’t typically open to the public.” – Travel + Leisure

“Quite simply the best trip we’ve ever taken. Destinations astounded, logistics and planning flawless, and your intimate knowledge and relationships made for a trip that was personal every inch of the way.” – Deanna and Rachel, Santa Barbara, CA

“Harvey focuses on customized travel to areas off the beaten path.” – Condé Nast Traveler

“The Knowmad team put together the trip of a life time for us. Everything was perfect, from the guides to the accommodations to the activities, and your extensive knowledge of the area and personal relationships with the people we met in Chile were invaluable. We can’t recommend Knowmad highly enough.” – Ben and Sarah, New York, NY

JW: What is your trip planning process like?

The process is easy. First is a quick call or email exchange that allows us to learn a bit about you and your group (custom trips can be for one or many people). If you have a general idea of where you want to visit that’s great, or if you don’t know when or where you’d like to travel we will discuss options.

We will learn about how physically active you want to be, how long you may travel, what activities interest you most, and some general info about your travel style and preferences. With this information we create a ‘skeleton’ or bare-bones trip flow or two that we send for you to look over, or we suggest a sample itinerary. After sharing with your travel partners we can collaborate on changes, or you may like the general outline of the trip.

From there we will create a detailed custom trip proposal with all suggested activities and lodging provided, as well as exact costing and inclusions. We can collaborate on any desired changes, or you may choose to confirm your trip. This process and detailed custom proposal is free and there is no obligation to confirm your trip.

We are the leader in custom travel to South America, and not only is this process easy, but it results in you having your perfect trip, one that is as dynamic and unique as you are.

Knowmad Adventures – 1-877-616-8747 or travel@knowmadadventures.com

JW: Are their any other favorite itineraries or excursions you want to share with us?

This is such a hard question to answer! It’s our job to be innovative with trips and we’re constantly seeking out new excursion options, foodie experiences, tucked away boutique hotels, and off the beaten path destinations.

Stand up paddle boarding paired with a Pachamanca feast on the shores of a high altitude lake in Peru has been a recent favorite excursion of mine. We’ve also come up with a variety of itineraries that explore the Galapagos Islands in a land-based way vs. on a cruise.

Combining Chile and Argentina by way of Patagonia like this luxury Chile and Argentina adventure trip does is a stunning way to experience the contracting cultures and landscapes of both sides of the Andes. Ice hiking on centuries old glacier, galloping up sand dunes in the Atacama Desert, wine tasting with the owner of a vineyard in Mendoza – you name it! They’re all favorites!

Let the Journey Begin – Call Knowmad at 1-877-616-8747

Planning a trip to South America might seem a little overwhelming at first and sometimes the easiest way to get started is to simply give us a call 1-877-616-8747. You’re likely to get company owners Tara or Jordan Harvey on the phone, and we’re happy to chat travel at absolutely no obligation to you. Or send us a quick email at travel@knowmadadventures.com and we’ll get back to you shortly.

From the Ground: The New Siem Reap Boutique Shopping Tour

By Jay Austin

We always provide our guests with ‘Cheat Sheets’ that list our favorite shopping and restaurant suggestions.  However, we’re taking it to the next level!  Our new Siem Reap Shopping Tour is a great way for guests to experience the boutique side of Siem Reap.  This tour provides the perfect ‘girls’ day out’ which begins with cocktails before stepping out for some serious shopping, and is led by either Jay or Naida – Siem Reap’s shopping experts!

Here’s what the new Shopping Tour looks like:

Your driver will collect you from your hotel at 2pm to begin your boutique shopping experience.  This afternoon you will have the opportunity to visit some of Siem Reap’s finest boutique stores and experience creativity inspired from across the globe. You will begin your afternoon with a visit to the trendy Kandal Village, a street lined with boutique stores of all types and tastes from clothing to homewares. From here you will move on to visit the Eric Raisina Couture House where you will find some of Asia’s finest textiles.  Eric Raisina is a world renowned textile designer born in Madagascar whose career has included highlights such as producing textiles for Yves Saint- Laurent and Christian Lacroix. From here you will return to the center of Siem Reap city to visit the well populated Alley West, a small laneway in the center of town offering a diverse range of boutique stores from fashion, to ceramics, to swimwear. Your final stop on this boutique exploration is the Kings Road complex, a newly developed shopping area housing photography galleries, vintage stores and in the center of it all lies the Made in Cambodia Market offering a range of individually styled souvenirs to suit all tastes. The Kings Road complex is home to some of the restaurants on our cheat sheet if you would like to stay for dinner or you can have your driver take you back to the hotel with all of your purchases.