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'Small' vs 'large' tour operators

Lincolnshire Youth Symphony

Nigel Morley, pianist and conductor of the Lincolnshire Youth Symphony (seen above and below), started his own tour company Legato Tours in the early 1990s. He sold and operated by himself from his home but after a few years encountered difficulties when trying to expand. As a consequence he joined ACFEA in 2008. Here are his observations of “small vs large” tour operations.

Amateur concert tours are sold and promoted by a wide range of companies, all claiming to offer the same services. Clever marketing and a wizzy website can make a small company appear to be much larger than it really is. However, if we look a little closer all may not be as it seems. How can I say this with certainty? As a previous “small company” owner myself before joining ACFEA, I have perhaps a unique insight into both sides of the fence.

Lincolnshire Youth Symphony

I first entered the amateur touring business in the early 1990s, initially organising tours for my own groups and subsequently for friends and then friends of friends. At the beginning I offered a very limited range of destinations, Poland being my first, and one that over the years was repeatedly requested. Obviously I needed more strings to my bow and I tried to add a new destination every year, to meet my customers’ demands. The problem of all small tour companies - I was no exception - is that day to day operations get in the way of growth, research and planning. There are still companies around who will sell a tour when they do not have the resources in place to run it. “Give me your money and I’ll fix it!” is hardly a recipe for consistency.

Health and Safety is now a major concern for most clients. In my early days it was nowhere near as time and resource consuming as now - it is difficult to see how a small company could cope with the mountains of documentation currently required. Having moved to ACFEA in 2008 with its significantly larger operation, the difference is clear.

Health and Safety is a top priority with specialist training and systems in place; a great reassurance for teachers, parents, bursars and Trustees. ACFEA`s tour operations are genuinely worldwide. They do not base a proposal on vague or tenuous links; every destination offered has been thoroughly researched with the aid of local representation. There is no way that the “cottage industry” model can offer this. Some clients are naturally attracted by the idea that such operators will offer really personal service and many think that smaller will mean cheaper because of lower overheads. Both of these assumptions are quite wrong; smaller operators do not have the breadth of contacts, experience and buying power and their profit margins are the same. Less choice, similar costs, less supervision. The fact that touring tends to be highly seasonal means that great strains are put on small operations at peak times.

I have never once regretted the move to ACFEA – I can now negotiate from a position of genuine confidence in the results.

Published: 29 February 2016