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Sabah Karimi

As a tours and activities operator, you want to effectively communicate all highlights of the experience to your customers. That doesn't just mean detailed descriptions of what sets your tour or activity apart from the rest. It also means providing customers all the nitty gritty of the provisions and terms associated with the booking or reservation. For example, what happens in the event of inclement weather? What's your cancellation policy? How do you honor requests for a refund? Laying these—and other key elements of the transaction—out clearly in the Terms and Conditions section of your website can reduce conflicts, freeing you from certain liabilities when dealing with an unhappy customer.

If you're unsure of how to start crafting your Terms and Conditions statement, use this guide to get you on your way.

Basic Outline: Your Terms and Conditions Page

First things first: Your Terms and Conditions page or section needs to begin with a brief introduction stating the full company name, address of headquarters, and the statement that this is a contract between the company and the customer. (If means allow, it may help to speak with a small business lawyer to draft this section to identify all parties involved and use a professional tone throughout.)

Take a look at IGLU Cruise's Booking Conditions page for a great example of a formal introduction identifying all parties and what the references throughout the Terms and Conditions page mean.

From there, you'll need to cover at least the following sections to ensure your customers are fully aware of your policies:

  • Bookings and Reservations

  • Payment

  • Changes and Cancellations by the Company

  • Changes and Cancellations by the Customer

  • Limitation of Liabilities

  • Customer Special Requests

  • Safety

  • Behavior or Code of Conduct

  • Complaints

  • Data Protection

In Depth: What to Include in Each Key Section

While to some extent each section will need to be relevant to your particular type of tour and activity, you'll need to include specific details relevant to your target market so that you cover all of your customer's needs.

Here's a breakdown of what to include under each section of your Terms and Conditions page.

BOOKINGS AND RESERVATIONS

Begin by outlining exactly what the booking and reservation process looks like both online and offline. Use a step-by-step guide that walks the guest through the process, providing an example of what happens when the guest books online, over the phone, or in person. This serves as your booking and reservation policy and should indicate that the reservation is a binding contract between the guest and your company once a deposit or full payment has been received.

PAYMENT

Outline all forms of payments accepted and your expectation of any deposits (if any). Also inform guests that they'll receive a confirmation email or message with a reservation number, an invoice of any remaining balances, and how much they will be charged if a debit card transaction fails or a check bounces.

CHANGES AND CANCELLATIONS BY THE COMPANY

This is where you can outline how you handle different situations and scenarios—say, if one of your tour guides gets sick or the trip is canceled because of inclement weather—and what options the customer has for re-booking or receiving a refund. Ideally, you want the customer to re-book for another date or choose another trip you have available, so make sure you encourage that in this section.

CHANGES AND CANCELLATIONS BY THE CUSTOMER

Identify what your policies are for refunds before your cancellation period, and how you handle cancellations overall. This varies significantly from business to business, so present a table with a breakdown of acceptable timelines of changes and cancellations, along with the amount that will be refunded. Outline exactly what the customer has to do to request a cancellation, refund, or changes to their booking. Do they need to call or email you directly? Send or fax something in writing? Be as clear as possible about what the process is so there are no questions.

Take a look at this summary of the cancellations and amendments policy by Walks of Italy, a tour operator that provides a variety of tours of Italy. A snippet from their policy: "For cancellations made between 4 and 30 days (in Venice, between 8 and 30) prior to tour commencement: Cancellations subject to a $10.00 USD per person cancellation fee." (We also provided some examples and tips for creating a fool-proof cancellation policy here.)

LIMITATION OF LIABILITIES

This section needs to contain the legal information related to compensation in the event a guest dies or becomes injured or ill before they can take the trip. You will need to clearly state how—or even whether—your company provides compensation, or if you can offer guidance in the event that this situation occurs. The goal of this section is to clearly express what you are and what you are not responsible for in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

CUSTOMER SPECIAL REQUESTS

List here any specific policy or guidelines for handling customer requests, such as accommodating travelers with disabilities, food allergies, and other situations that may interfere with the activity. Encourage customers to contact you directly (in writing or via email) at least a week or more before the booking date to make any special requests.

SAFETY

Safety clauses for tours and activities operators will vary significantly depending on the type of activity taking place on land, water, or air. But you'll need to include information on what your safety protocol is, what state safety rules and regulations you are in compliance with, and how guests can best protect their personal safety, health, and well-being by being adequately prepared for the tour and experience. Include a disclosure that states that the company is not responsible for any health issues, accidents, and other safety-related issues that occur, so the traveler must assume full responsibility for any injuries or health issues that arise. Again, working with a lawyer to identify specific situations relevant to your tour or activity operation will help to identify who is responsible in the event of an accident.

BEHAVIOR OR CODE OF CONDUCT

Highlighting the fact that you expect customers to behave responsibly during the trip, refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages (unless they are served as part of the trip), and to respect other guests and the tour guide throughout the trip, are all important points to list here. Creating a simple and straightforward code of conduct that applies to all guests can help to set a standard and expectations on behavior.

Also, outline what steps you'll take if a guest fails to follow the basic behavioral codes of conduct. For example, the tour guide has the right to ask a guest to leave the tour or activity if they are not behaving responsibly. The company may also have the right to cancel all future bookings or reservations by a disruptive customer at their discretion.

COMPLAINTS

List the basic steps a customer can take to file a complaint in the event they are unhappy with the tour or need something resolved during the tour. This section can include a customer service phone number and email address, as well as step-by-step directions for filing a formal complaint when the customer goes home.

DATA PROTECTION

If you collect data from your customers, such as their email address, IP address, or other information for marketing purposes, make sure to include your data protection and privacy policy somewhere in this document. Entrepreneur Magazine recommends checking to see whether your state laws require full disclosure of the privacy policy, such as the California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Some other topics you may consider adding to your terms and conditions pages are:

  • Publicity and image use rights—all photos taken by the company during a tour are the company's property and may be used for marketing purposes without the customer's permission

  • Email communications policy—agreement to receive emails from the company about a reservation, company updates, special offers, etc.

  • Accuracy of information listed on the website—website material or content can be changed at any time at the company's discretion

Your Terms and Conditions page needs to be clearly visible on your website and needs to be reviewed by the customer before completing a booking or signing a contract for a reservation. Make sure to include a link to this page during the checkout process so the customer has a chance to review it before they are able to complete the booking. If you are completing the transaction in person, have a physical copy of this document available for the customer to review and sign before they complete the reservation. This way, everything is documented and there are no questions.