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Tourism and Travel: A Research Guide

Travel Agents & Tour Operators

In the ticket reservations department of one of the airlines, Washington, D.C. municipal airport, July 1941. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The idea of a business whose service line was organizing trips began with Thomas Cook a British Baptist preacher founded his firm Thomas Cook & Son back in 1841. It was considered the world's oldest travel firm and began by organizing railway excursions but branched out beyond that to organize tours to Europe and eventually the United States.

Historically, booking travel was largely the purview of travel agents who had specialized systems and the connections to book the travel as well as accommodations. They also made the effort to know destinations so they could make recommendations for their clients. While travel agents are still active and provide value, much of what agents did is now being done by individuals using Internet sites, social media, and smart phones apps. The Internet and social media like Instagram have proved helpful for those investigating destination options. Smart phone apps and websites from hotels, airlines, and other vendors or online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia,, Travelocity, and Priceline have made the process of comparison and booking of transportation and accommodations that much easier. There are also membership-based luxury travel concierge services and destination management companies (DCM) that are modern takes on a travel agent. DCMs are companies that offer a range of expertise and can help plan everything from flights, to hotels, to excursions. They are to travel what wedding planners and consultants are to weddings.

Online services may have different goals than airlines or even travel agents. For airline tickets and hotel rooms, many services reserve in bulk at a wholesale prices and resell at a higher price, though still cheaper than buying from the company. The companies themselves may look to their online ticket operations purely as a way to save money, but they can also create their own travel/accommodation packages and perks. Added to that in terms of accommodations, services like VRBO, AirBNB, and other similar vendors provide alternatives to hotels and other more traditional accommodations. Some travel agents have successfully made the transition by being very specialized or marketing themselves more as consultants.

The information in this section of the guide is specifically focused on resources that cover this particular part of the overall travel and tourism industry. We have also tried to include resources that provide data and information that will help researchers develop their own market profile.

For those doing research in this industry and needing to look at Census data in particular, this is an industry covered by two specific SIC and North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) and North American Product Classification System (NAPCS) codes. For more information on search strategies, you can use our Doing Industry Research guide.

Travel Agencies
SIC 4724 / NAICS 56151

Establishments primarily engaged in furnishing travel information and acting as agents in arranging tours, transportation, rental of cars, and lodging for travelers. EXAMPLE: Tourist agencies for the arrangement of transportation, lodging, and Travel agencies.

Tour Operators
SIC 4725 / NAICS 56152

Establishments primarily engaged in arranging and assembling tours for sale through travel agents. Tour operators primarily engaged in selling their own tours directly to travelers are also included in this industry. EXAMPLES: Tour operation (travel), Tours, except sight-seeing buses, boats, and airplanes, and Wholesale tour operators.


The North American Product Classification System (NAICPS) is a hierarchical structure consisting of sections, subsections, divisions, groups, subgroups, and trilateral products. It is a market- or demand-based, hierarchical classification system for products (goods and services) that is not industry-of-origin based but can be linked to the NAICS industry structure.

31 Leisure and long-distance travel, tourism, and accommodation products

31403 Packaged and customized tours with accommodation, except cruises and academic trips and tours

315 Travel arrangements, reservation, planning, and support services

31503 Reservation service for packaged tours

31505 Trip planning services

Associations & Internet Resources

There are a number of associations that represent these industries but only some have been included. Some of the information these groups provide is free; some is available for purchase or for members only. While much of the data and reports may not be fully accessible for free, you may be able to find some of the data in articles published in industry trade literature. Using a report name or association name in a full-text source may also be a way to find some of what you need.