Reaching out to a local operator for transport, accommodation, or experience can seem daunting for a new Champion. Read our interview with Lee Ling and Georgina on how to best work with operators.
Hi Lee Ling and Georgina, Thanks for sharing some of your experience in curating your trips today! To start off, would you recommend to work with local operators directly?
Lee Ling: Yes! I book with local operators for all countries I visit. One big reason is cost: If I use local operators, I can lower the trip cost for my group by a lot. But more importantly, we here at 3PlayGrounds believe in working with the local operators directly, instead of some overseas middle men. By doing that we can support the local communities. So we hope that our travels can make a positive impact to the locals this way.
Georgina: Also, I want to share with my group unique places that I personally want to go. A package from an agent would be boring for me. I work with the local operators to make it a unique experience, the one that I like best.
How much do you typically save when booking via local operators vs. a package from a travel agent?
Lee Ling: Most of my trips you cannot get from a travel agent. But comparing roughly, I would say up to 50%.
How do you find an operator?
Lee Ling: It’s not as hard as you may think – most of the time I use google. Over the years, I have built quite a list of operators that I like to work with.
Georgina: I also listen to recommendations from other travelers or from operators I have previously worked with.
How do you ensure that your operator is trustworthy?
Georgina: I check the review available from internet and if they are a reputable company. Also, they should not ask me for upfront payment.
Lee Ling: First, I check in tripadvisor for reviews. Next I get their phone number and email and write them a mail and start communicating. For me, it’s a red flag if an operator promises everything is possible, or if they ask for full upfront payment. Good indicators are when they tell you their limitations and constraints, when they ask for a deposit only, when they are realistic about expectations, and when they tell me what they are good at and what they aren’t.
Do you prefer buying everything from one operator, or do you have 1 for transport, 1 for kayaking, 1 for hotel, etc. ?
Lee Ling: My answer is that it depends on the destination: In some destinations it is not possible to find an operator that gives everything at a price you want. In that case, you search for separate operators to support you for each activity. And in many cases that will significantly lower your cost. But in other destinations, using multiple operators won’t give you significant savings.
Georgina: Some operators will list a default package on the internet. Then you can try to contact them and ask them to create a customized itinerary for you. Some will do that. If I can get that, I prefer it, because it’s less stressful for me as the Champion if I only have to communicate with only 1 party.
What is the most difficult thing when dealing with an operator, and how do you get around it?
Georgina: No response or slow response time. Not answering all my questions. I usually try to call them to clarify any questions in a timely manner.
Lee Ling: How do you know we can trust them? Can they deliver their service as expected? Will they turn up for their service?
How do you ensure the trip runs as planned?
Georgina: I constantly communicate with my operator on WhatsApp before the trip. That being said, there can always be unforeseen circumstances, so I find it important to inform my group in advance that there is a possibility for slight changes to the itinerary.
Lee Ling: I try to have a very vivid and clear understanding for every single day of my trip. For each activity, connection, and hotel, I play through: Where can it fail and how can each point of failure or risks be mitigated? I have a backup plan ready for each of the biggest risk items. An obvious example is the contingency plan for bad wheather for each day.
Have you ever had an operator not show up / deliver something other than agreed?
Georgina: Not yet.
Lee Ling: So far we have none. I think it is because we do a lot of homework on our operators beforehand, to check that they are reputable like I explained above.
When do you pay your operator and how?
Lee Ling: We pay a deposit, normally 50%, some as low as 30%. We pay it via bank funds transfer and credit cards. We pay the balance in cash on arrival.
For the part that you pay on arrival, in which currency do you pay?
Lee Ling: I will pay in the currency that the operator asked for. I will use the exchange rate from around the time the trip was realized, which is normally a few weeks before the trip happens…
Georgina: Here there is always the risk of the exchange rate changing. We always put a statement in our trip description that says, if the exchange rate goes up or down, the participants will either get reimbursed or have to top up for that amount.
Have you ever gotten into a quarrel with an operator?
Lee Ling: No.
Georgina: Of course not.
Thanks so much for sharing all these experiences with us today! Any last recommendations?
Lee Ling: When you work with a transport operator, you want to make sure that you will not miss each other at the agreed meeting location. I always ask my operator a few days before the trip to give me the number of the driver and the make of the car and license plate. Then I WhatsApp the driver and make sure he responds, so that I know I can reach out to him.
Georgina: If you need advice, we are always happy to help. You can message us at firstname.lastname@example.org , or just use the 3PG messaging system.1