Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Thu December 31 2015

Biggest Winners and Losers in the Tour Operator World for 2015

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | December 31, 2015

Biggest Winners and Losers in the Tour Operator World for 2015

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The tour operator industry segment never has a dull moment. Everything that can happen in the world that affects travel affects their businesses. Here is a quick look at some of the winners and losers of 2015.


Back-Roads Touring

Back-Roads Touring had an amazing year in 2015, with a meteoric rise from being a relatively unknown specialty tour operator to an increasingly well-known mainstream brand. After two years of record-breaking booking numbers, the company expanded its peak-season departures by 22 percent for 2016 on its more popular trips.

Back-Roads was founded in 1986 based on the idea of offering small group touring that provide authentic and immersive experiences. Now that today’s consumer has caught up with the idea of authentic and immersive experiences, Back-Roads is in the right place at the right time and the company is catching on and growing like wildfire.

In a milestone agreement, Back-Roads also closed a deal in 2015 to provide 17 European tours to Avanti Destinations as part of Avanti’s largest growth spurt in its history.

Exclusive Group Travel

Rolled out in late 2014, the year 2015 was really the opening year for Exclusive Group Travel. But the company was born out of a solid foundation of knowledge and industry contacts formed by decades of experience by its founders. Steven J. Gorga, president and CEO of EGT’s parent company Tourism Holdings, was most recently president and CEO of Travel Impressions for 12 years. With a travel industry history of more than 25 years, Gorga has worked with American Airlines, SABRE, Kemwel Holiday Autos and other companies.

Gorga’s partner and the founder of Exclusive Group Travel is Elyse Elkin, who has also been in the industry for over 25 years, most of that time with Travel Impressions. The pedigree of EGT’s principals is so strong that the company came out of the starting gates as if it had already been in business for decades, which in a sense it has.

The company started with a specialized offering, what Gorga calls “a finely curated product line,” that included 160 resort partners in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean. From that base it set out to greatly expand its portfolio, with U.S. destinations such as Arizona, California and Hawaii.  

But the company is building its business not on the size of its offerings but on the intensity and quality of it customer service. Look for this company to continue to rise.

Central Holidays

Founded in 1972, Central Holidays is a old stalwart in the travel industry, but has been on a growth spurt in recent times. The company built its business on travel to Italy and the Mediterranean area and expanded across Europe.

In 2015 Central Holidays’ parent company Sakkara Group International greatly expanded its operations. It opened a new office in Paris called Central Holidays France. The office will handle destination management services for inbound travelers in France. The office will concentrate on providing the kinds of authentic, immersive experiences that travelers are looking for today.

The Paris office will provide destination management services not only for Central Holidays, but for other tour operators as well. The company’s affiliated brands include Central Holidays, Journeys by Central Holidays, France Vacations, World On Skis, Mosaic Holidays, STI Travel USA, and STI Travel UK.

The company is also expanding the operation of STI Travel USA by launching a new division focused on travel in Latin America. The Latin America division is headed by Arthur Berman, the former executive vice president of Latour. The Latin America division will expand the company’s travel options in Cuba, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, the Galapagos, Costa Rica, Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The old company is new again, going through a new growth spurt that is like a second childhood.


Tour Operators Offering the Middle East

The violence in the Middle East has left many losers. Any tour operator offering travel to the Middle East has been hurt. The TUI Group, the Hanover, Germany-based travel conglomerate that is probably the largest travel company in the world, reported that terrorist attacks in Tunisia and Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, devastated its business in those destinations. TUI reported that it took a $57 million hit from the massacre on a beach in Tunisia last June, which took the lives of 33 of its customers. The company canceled its flights to Egypt after the terrorist bombing of a Russian passenger jet in November.

Peter Long, the chief executive of TUI, said both destinations are now like “ghost towns.” Long called the incident in Tunisia “the most tragic event” he had had to deal with in his 30-year career in travel and “something that will live with us, and me, forever.”

Long praised the actions of TUI’s employees in their handling of the crises in the wake of the tragedies. And the company’s revenues are showing signs of hope yet again as it is revising its earnings projections upwards by 10 percent over previous expectations.

Tour Operators offering Europe

Tour operators in Delhi, India, reported a sharp decline in bookings to Europe after the bombings in Paris. The Daily Mail reported that tour operators in Delhi were anticipating a 50 percent decline in bookings following the terrorist incidents.

The tour operators of India reflected the depressing effect of the bombings on tour operators everywhere who offer tours to Europe. Travelers have become more resilient in recent years and are not quite as easily scared away from destinations because of acts of violence. But no one knows how badly tourism will be affected by the Paris bombings.

Tour operators have been taking a wait-and-see approach and hoping for the best. Memories are short today, but no one knows where and when the next incident will take place that will have a depressing effect on travel.

Ski Operators

A snow drought and the global warming trend have wreaked havoc on tour operators offering ski vacations in ski destinations. Ski areas in New York state, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and elsewhere have been up against natural conditions they have no means of dealing with. Even making snow is not an option when the weather is as warm as it has been this fall.

With every year now a record year in high temperatures, the viability of ski tourism is under threat. Operators are challenged to find ways to adapt.


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