Traditionally, travel companies like to draw a veil of secrecy around how they actually operate. In truth, most of us work with locally-based in-country partners, known as DMC's (Destination Management Companies), to manage the logistics of delivering holidays on the ground. We make no apologies for our setup: the right partner is critical to the effective delivery of your holiday, as we set out below.
Why are in-country partners important?
As tour operators, we are responsible for the delivery of your holiday. That's not only ensuring that you have a brilliant holiday, but also that you are kept safe and well. However, we can't be everywhere at once. We might also lack the necessary experience in specific areas, both logistically and culturally. To focus on creating the magic, we work with a network of in-country partners across all destinations to arrange the logistics. They take responsibility for ensuring all arrangements happen smoothly and correctly, and if you need help, they are a phone call away.
We design our holidays: select and design experiences, hotels and excursions around what our clients need. We obsess over the experience and how our holidays should feel. Our in-country partners deliver on the ground.
For your holiday, guides need booking, vehicles and drivers assigned (and checked for safety purposes), timings finely calibrated, train tickets purchased, safari guides and vehicles confirmed, entrance tickets sourced, and changes communicated. The list barely scratches the surface of why in-country partners are essential. As ever in travel, personal relationships are critical. Our in-country partners often provide informal social and economic support and training and development for our many freelance employees. We take our hats off to them: it's what they do. We believe that people on the ground are best placed to deliver these services, understand the cultural and legal nuances and ensure that everything is delivered as promised.
If your local partners are so important, why do we need you?
Ultimately, we are legally accountable for your trip, from safety to financial protection and delivery. We help design your holiday in the first place, working with you to maximise the time and budget to meet your requirements. Our job is to understand and anticipate what you want from your holiday and design the end product accordingly. We call this 'holiday engineering'. It might be finding those local partners in the first place. It could be in identifying the most suitable hotels and activities. It means designing experiences, excursions and routings. It always means passing on to our guides and drivers what our standards are, how our holidays should be delivered and training on how they can help your holiday become magical.
It occasionally even means taking over when something goes wrong and we’re never more than a step away from the action. You can discover a lot more about 'what happens when something goes wrong on your holiday here'.
How does your approach to in-country partners differ from other tour operators?
We can't speak for other tour operators, but we take pride in two critical aspects of our relationships with our in-country partners.
Firstly, we take a long-term collaborative approach. We work together on pricing rather than pushing relentlessly for lower costs. We can help our partners ensure excellent working conditions for their staff and freelancers by taking this approach. They, in turn, will provide the best possible experiences for you. This collaborative approach enables our partners to build their businesses sustainably, helping to ensure we can all continue to enjoy these beautiful destinations in the long run.
Secondly, we take firm ownership of our holiday experience. From physical branding, health and safety, the design of the experiences and the processes which underpin all this, we're heavily involved at every single stage. We own it. You will never hear us blame our local partners for an error. Any mistake is our responsibility.
How closely do you work together with your local partners?
We work together very closely. In several cases, our relationships are as old as the company. We have grown together. We meet regularly in person in the destination, work together to develop experiences and train and reward our guides as a team. We also have a lot of fun together. Operational teams meet once a month on Zoom (we did Zoom long before it was trendy!).
One critical part of our relationship is the 'ETG Partner Conference', which we have held roughly every two years since 2014. We bring together representatives from all our partners on the ground, share ideas, best practices and, of course - a lot of food and drink! The ETG way is all about this community, learning and developing together.
How do you select your in-country partners?
That would be telling! To give you a flavour, we rely heavily on our extensive network of contacts throughout Asia to come to a starting point. We then spend some time getting to know people. We are great believers that sharing values and a common approach to travel is fundamental. We also need to get on as people.
The technical process involves detailed agreements held together by 'Memorandum of Understandings (MOU)'s, often running to 30 pages in length. We follow a detailed 'standard operating procedure' to check off the many various points from logistics to health and safety, insurance, and those boring but critical parts of our work. More exciting is developing the experiences on the ground and the training and development for all our guides, drivers, etc. Finally, we test this in practice by travelling ourselves, tasking customers or 'pioneers' as we call them, to test our local partners and their set-up in many ways.
Have we ever made any poor choices in selecting those in-country partners?
Yes, we have made one poor choice. Our key learning from that experience was to physically test whatever we could and work with people with whom we felt personally comfortable. There must be a meeting of values. Even with that in mind, ongoing assessment, learning, feedback, and improvement is critical. It’s never finished.
We’ve also learnt over the years that we work best with agile, innovative and flexible partners. We’re always full of ideas, and we need our partners to be enthusiastic about developing them with us. It’s who we are. We look for ambition and innovation, but not at the cost of personal relationships and sustainability. While they needn’t always be small (though in practice they usually are, relatively speaking), we avoid a corporate approach as it means we lose the personal relationships, which are such a critical link at every part of the chain.
OUR HOLIDAYS ARENOW TIP-INCLUSIVE
ETG has been working on the idea of tipping inclusive holidays since 2018 now. It's been a long road, and without some big hurdles to say the least, but we wanted to tell the whole story, so we've produced this long read blog to help take a deeper dive into this complex subject. We hope you enjoy!