The European Union is considering
tweaking its rules regarding "mobile workers." (See related
story, "E.U. operators mull regulations for tour managers,
guides.") Why, you may reasonably ask, should you care?
The regulations in
question require tour bus drivers to take an uninterrupted break of
not less than 45 minutes after driving four-and-a-half hours
straight and to drive no more than nine hours a day and 56 hours
Though these rules
are currently only enforced for motorcoach drivers, there is
concern among European tour operators that these limitations might
also be extended to tour managers (escorts). And if that happens,
tour operators would likely need to hire two escorts to cover a job
that today requires only one. That has obvious undesirable economic
consequences for operators.
executive director of the European Tour Operators Association,
suggested to ETOA members attending the Global European Marketplace
in London last week that they might deflect such requirements by
ensuring that their tour managers are contractors rather than
employees, because tour operators wouldn't be responsible for the
schedules of self-employed tour managers.
During the ETOA
meeting, I happened to have a conversation with a niche tour
wholesaler who had formerly worked as both an employed and
independent tour manager, and he described in detail some
unintended -- and undesirable -- consequences that can occur when
tour managers become independent.
The man, who did not
want his name or the names of the companies for which he worked
published, said he behaved differently depending upon whether he
was a contractor or an employee. He then revealed some "dirty
"For [a large,
well-known operator], I was not an employee but a self-employed
tour manager. I would essentially have to buy the tour from the
company -- they required me to pay a levy for every passenger, and
the levy just happened to equal the fee they paid me to manage the
tour. As a result, I was totally dependent upon tips and selling
optional tours to make any money at all.
"The tipping was very
good from Americans, but not from the Australians or Europeans, so
selling the optionals was very important. Here's how I'd work it:
We'd leave London for the [English Channel] port. I was the best
guide in the world at that point, very helpful, everyone's best
"When we arrived in
France, we'd get on the coach and I'd say, 'France is really a
great country, but there are some problems. There are language
difficulties, of course, and the money is different,' things like
that. Then we'd stop in some town along the way and I'd let them
out. I would make myself scarce. I'd let them struggle with
"When they got back
on the coach, I asked how they liked France. Generally speaking,
nobody had a good time. I then told them that they might consider
taking optional excursions when we stop, and that I could help them
with that. Even if they didn't sign up right away, they'd later
find that our hotel was often in an inconvenient location, and that
it would be difficult to see things on their own.
"I didn't like
working for that company. They didn't train me to do what I did,
but I soon learned from their other tour managers that it was the
only way to make money. What bothered me was that the low price of
the tour didn't really reflect what the guest ended up
Of course, not all
independent contractors work this way. But if it turns out that the
possible changes in E.U. regulation enforcement leads to more tour
managers of this stripe, the ironies would begin to pile up.
Regulators who intend to protect tour manager employees would
instead motivate tour operators to terminate their employment and
work only with contractors.
they're saving money by purchasing low-priced tours would end up
spending as much, or more, than if they had simply purchased
higher-priced, more inclusive tours.
And, in order to
compete economically, tour operators that may genuinely care about
both guest experience and their employees would have to consider
models that might serve neither well. American travel agents, too,
may come up short. There's no commission on midtrip add-ons --
add-ons that might be included in a higher-priced tour where
managers are employees.
So, to bring things
full circle: In today's global marketplace, it turns out there are
plenty of reasons to care when the E.U. tweaks seemingly obscure
rules regarding mobile workers. In this case everyone, it seems,
has something to lose.