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What requirements must my services comply with to attract European tour operators?

Takes 9 minutes to read

There are no legal requirements for non-European tourism companies. Nevertheless, you should study the Package Travel Directive. European tour operators are likely to translate it into demands for you. Common non-legal requirements concern reliability, liability, sustainability and the protection of children in tourism. Sustainability certification is well on its way to becoming a mainstream requirement. Voluntary ISO standards support safety in several niche tourism markets.

1 . What legal and non-legal requirements must your product comply with?

Package Travel Directive

Because you offer your tourism services in your own country, European legal requirements do not apply to you directly. However, your European partners must comply with the Package Travel Directive (90/314/EEC). This directive protects travellers’ rights when booking package holidays; for example, in terms of liability, repatriation and refunds.

An updated version of the Package Travel Directive (2015/2302/EU) will come into effect in 2018. This update increases the legal protection of European travellers. It expands the definition of package travel to include customised packages and linked travel arrangements, as well as traditional pre-arranged packages. The update also applies to online bookings, contains stronger cancellation rights and requires clear liability arrangements.

Although the Package Travel Directive does not apply to you as a non-European party, you should be familiar with it. European tour operators translate their requirements into demands for you, which are set to become stricter with the update. Issues of health and safety are particularly important. To enter the European travel market, you should at the very least comply with the legal requirements in your own country.


  • Study the Package Travel Directive and its upcoming revision. The European Union’s fact sheet on stronger protection for package holidays further illustrates the differences.
  • Consult your country’s regulations for the type of products that you offer, as well as those on health and safety. Make sure that you have all the required permits.

2 . What additional requirements do buyers often have?


European tour operators are looking for reliable, professional partners. They do not want to take any legal risks and try to avoid damaging their corporate image. This is especially true for large tour operators with valuable brand names. Tour operators are therefore likely to require you to comply with their code of conduct. These codes commonly include health and safety requirements, business ethics and social responsibility.

Tour operators often monitor compliance through regular audits. They also use feedback from guides and clients, which they receive via evaluation forms. In addition, they increasingly consult comments from travellers on social media and review websites such as TripAdvisor. Membership of national and international sector associations can help to prove your reliability and professionalism.

Many European tour operators only do business with a select few destination management companies in their target countries. They hold these agents responsible for ensuring that all suppliers comply with their requirements.


  • Study European tour operators’ codes of conduct and check how they correspond to your business practice. Adapt your business practice to increase your chances on the market.
  • Join national and international sector associations and networks; for example, your own country’s tourism trade association.
  • Increase your trustworthiness by sharing photos/videos online and asking satisfied customers for testimonials and reviews.


Travellers can hold their European tour operators accountable for injuries or health problems on holiday. However, tour operators’ liability insurance often does not cover damage caused by third parties. This leads them to increasingly ask their suppliers to have liability insurance. This type of insurance could give you a major competitive advantage. Unfortunately, in many African, Asian and Latin American countries, liability insurance is not yet available.


  • Get liability insurance and clearly communicate that you have this insurance in place.
  • If liability insurance is unavailable in your country, regularly urge your authorities and trade associations to change this. Also discuss it with current and potential partners, as they might have some influence.
  • Communicate the importance of travel insurance to your customers, especially if you do not have liability insurance.


European tour operators increasingly demand sustainability from their suppliers. The primary focus used to be on environmental sustainability, such as pollution and waste, energy and water management. Recently, it has expanded to include social issues such as human rights and labour conditions. Tour operators usually anchor these values in their code of conduct with a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy.

Animal welfare is also becoming a major issue, especially for tour operators in northern and western European countries. Many have recently eliminated animal attractions such as elephant rides from their offers. Some of Europe’s main tour operators are now committed to the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism. For 2017, TripAdvisor announced a ban on ticket sales to attractions where travellers come into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals.

Preventing negative sustainability effects is essential to long-term survival in the tourism industry. In addition, European tour operators increasingly stimulate positive sustainable development; for example, by preserving or restoring biodiversity and bringing economic growth to local communities. They communicate these activities to their clients and may let them participate. This is attractive to tour operators, as it provides their clients with authentic and ‘feel-good’ experiences.


Protection of children

One specific sustainability issue that is of crucial importance concerns the protection of children in tourism. Many European tour operators have signed The Code. This is an industry-driven code of conduct against the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. It includes a zero-tolerance policy throughout the value chain. Tour operators often require their suppliers to adhere to this.


3 . What are the requirements for niche markets?

Sustainability certification

In recent years, sustainability certification schemes have become increasingly common both on a national and an international level. These schemes used to mainly focus on the sustainability performance of accommodations. Now their scope is expanding to include agents and providers of activities and transportation.

The number of certified tourism suppliers in developing countries is still limited. The certification process can be demanding and expensive, making it the most feasible for larger enterprises. However, large tour operators previously predicted certification to become a mainstream requirement. This prediction is now becoming reality, starting with accommodation. For example, TUI Benelux’ accommodation partners must have sustainability certification by 2020.

Even when European tour operators do not demand sustainability labels, given the option they generally prefer certified suppliers. Globally recognised sustainable tourism certification programmes include Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance and Travelife. Local sustainability initiatives exist as well, such as CST in Costa Rica and Smartvoyager in Ecuador.


  • Explore your options for certification. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) provides additional information on internationally recognised schemes.
  • Apply for national and international sustainability certification.
  • Make sure that the logo is visible on your website and that your company is visible on the certification body’s website.
  • For a list of other certification schemes in the tourism sector, check the ITC Standards Map.
  • Read about specific certification schemes in our studies of various tourism segments.
  • If you cannot apply for sustainability certification, study the requirements anyway. Use them to shape your sustainable business practice and to show that you care. This also prepares you for when certification may become a mainstream requirement.

Sustainable tour operators

In a recent trend, European tour operators increasingly apply for certification as well. Important European initiatives include TourCert, Travelife and ATR. These schemes greatly value sustainability throughout the tourism industry’s value chain. This indirectly affects you, as certified tour operators are required to favour sustainable suppliers.


Sustainable destinations

Sustainability certification for destinations is a new phenomenon. The extent to which the tourism industry will embrace this trend is not yet clear. Some major players on the European market are enthusiastic. For example, TUI Netherlands has developed a policy to promote the concept of sustainable destinations. In future, certification might become a condition for inclusion in their offers. International certification schemes include Biosphere Responsible Tourism and EarthCheck.


  • Follow developments in the area of sustainability certification for destinations.
  • If you see new business opportunities, seek cooperation with your local government and other local stakeholders.
  • See the GSTC Destination Criteria for more information on the certification requirements.


Another new development involves labelling the CO2 footprints of tourism products. Dutch carbon calculator Carmacal is drumming up global interest by winning some prestigious innovation awards. The tool calculates the CO2 impact of travel packages. Several tour operators have expressed interest in using this tool to “label” their products. After the carbon calculator is rolled out among tour operators, the goal is to make it available for consumers to make their own calculations.


  • Follow developments involving the application of CO2 footprint labels to tourism products. Consult tour operators from the Netherlands, as this market is a frontrunner.

Voluntary ISO standards for niche tourism

ISO standards are voluntary, consensus-based, market-relevant International Standards. They support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges. To support safe practices, there are specific standards for certain niche tourism markets; for example, adventure tourism, Thalasso therapy, diving, wellness spas and food safety management for culinary tourism.


  • Consult the ISO Standards Catalogue for relevant standards.
  • Use the ISO standards to enhance your safety performance, meet expectations for participant and staff safety, and demonstrate safe practices.

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