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RTL Nieuws and tulip tours

It is always difficult to determine the price of a tour. Not only do we have to look carefully at how much the experience is worth, but also at how much the tour actually costs.

RTL Nieuws

Last year journalist Gert-Jan Verstegen wrote an article called 'Toeristen betalen zich blauw aan een dagje tulpen (en dat is big business)' (translated it means that tourists pay through the nose for a day of tulips) for the well-known news-channel RTL Nieuws. Tulip Day Tours, our small tour operator company, was featured. Well, that’s great you’d say! But in reality it wasn’t because the words used were not at all positive. Although Verstegen didn’t even use the right prices, he was sort of amazed by the pricing of our tours and made us look like fools.

The evening after the article was published I asked my friends what they thought about it. They sort of agreed reluctantly. “Well, Marloes, the tours offered by Tulip Day Tours aren’t really cheap either”. My friend just had her hair done and I asked her how much she paid for it. “I paid around € 159.” She added quickly that she spent three hours there and the hairdresser used much product. I can’t remember how much it was precisely, but I remember giving my friend money for a Zucchero concert ticket that wasn’t really cheap either. What happened that day startled me.

So the following day I called other small tour operators about this article. They, too, were surprised and missed any context. We wondered why the author hadn’t done some research about pricing in the tourism industry, before publishing an article in which he compares apples with pears. The words of journalists have impact, especially on small businesses like ours, and Verstegen should have realized that before lashing out.

Costs & Fees

Just like in the hotel industry, also tour operators pay commissions that range from 25 to 30% to have their tours sold by online travel agencies like Viator, TripAdvisor and GetYourGuide. Moreover, you’re not allowed to maintain different prices across different agencies or websites (I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to mention this here, but I believe people should be aware of this). Anyway, add the sales tax of 21% and without having done a thing, half the money is gone.

Then there is the salary of the guide and other fees and operational costs that are directly related to a tour, such as admissions, gas, parking, payment provider and banking transfer fees. But indirectly we are also dealing with a low season, insurances, vehicles, marketing, the office, banking fees, website & applications and any other costs that are related to running a business.

Quantity vs Quality

I explained this to my friends and elaborated that there are these large tour companies that operate tours in large buses. Cheap tours with sometimes forty people. And then there are these small independent tour operators. Rather than focusing on quantity or mass tourism, small tour operators focus on quality, authenticity and sustainability. With small groups of maximum six travelers we do something completely different. Without disrespect, but where’s the authenticity and sustainability in walking around in a group of forty people?

The downside of being a small tour operator is that unlike large tour companies, we can’t spread all these costs over a lot of people as we can only do a small number of tours per week with the handful of guides that we work with. My friends were convinced. One of them in hindsight even regretted that he didn’t join a tour in Petra as he thought he would have been ripped off. They became frustrated for me and felt, just like myself, powerless. We wish we had the platform to counter the narrow-mindedness of the author of the article. That the world would know how the travel industry really works. Because in the end, awareness about this is a small step towards sustainability.

Perhaps Verstegen should have written about this.