TransferWise for Tour Operators – fast and cost-effective international payments

International travel is a timeless experience. Adventurous stories written in books and blogs or beautifully presented in videos and social media encourage us to cross borders and seas. Travelers who value their time, choose to buy prepared packages and we the tourism professionals are here to help them. Particularly if you run a tour operator business you know how important are the international business relationships. This article is specifically about optimizing money transfers across the borders with service called TransferWise.

Tour operator working with TransferWise

Are you a tour operator?

In general it’s any company that is selling a travel package. It can contain such elements like:

  • transportation,
  • accommodation,
  • meals,
  • additional activities.

The legal definition of a tour operator can differ depending on the country where your company is registered. Nevertheless the key component is to have special insurance that secures your customers’ return to the home country, in case of bankruptcy.

The size of a tour operator company doesn’t really matter. There are individuals who run everything by themselves, multinational chains that own whole resorts and everything in between. The common denominator for tour operators is the need to pay and receive money in multiple currencies.

Traditional international payments

The current bank system has not been designed to be used by the general public. The most widely adopted international payment method called SWIFT is slow, expensive and relies on the biggest banks in each country.

What is even more problematic is the lack of transparency and modern Internet-based infrastructure. It would help small and medium-sized companies to stay in control of their costs while managing international business relationships.

Local tour guide at work
Local tour guide at work | Photo by Atlas Obscura on Unsplash

International payments with big networks

Internet is old enough to be a testing ground for financial institutions that are alternative to banks. Especially for these companies that are trying to optimize costs while expanding services internationally.

PayPal logo


It was a brainchild of such prominent figures like Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) and Peter Thiel (Palantir, the first investor in Facebook). Online auctioning and e-commerce platforms popularized it to the point that eBay bought the company in 2002. Now it’s one of the most used consumer-focused payment networks. Dominant in countries like United States, United Kingdom and Australia.

Western Union logo

Western Union

They are focused on the expansive network of physical locations – kiosks, newspaper stalls, airport shops or currency exchange points. A centralized system allows Western Union to get the cash deposit notification from one location and allow withdrawal in (a foreign currency) in another WU branch. Transfers with this company are usually the only accessible way in developing countries.

TransferWise – moving money experts for tour operators and other businesses

Unfortunately like the traditional banks that operate via SWIFT, the big financial networks – PayPal and Western Union, are also prone to high costs. Maintaining physical locations and an army of employees is an expanse that has to be covered with their service fees.

That’s why I’m glad to see the new breed of online financial institutions. In 2010 two Estonians created TransferWise. International bank transfers and expensive conversion rates between euros and British pounds were dissatisfying. That’s why they invented their own peer-to-peer way to use mid-market conversion rates and cut costs.

The ingenuity quickly became useful financial service that turned TransferWise into a well-funded “fintech“. It is a technological innovation company that operates in the financial industry. Now over 7 million users, including tourism professionals, are using TransferWise to make international payments and manage multiple currencies.

Receiving payments in native currency

The most important step to optimize tour operator costs is to be able to receive major currencies natively. It means that if you are waiting for a 10 000 euro payment from your contractor, you should receive exactly that amount in EUR to your business bank account. There shouldn’t be any processing/handling/hidden fees or forced currency conversions.

TransferWise gives you exactly that.

As an international e-wallet institution TransferWise has set up proper financial infrastructure in the following countries. This allows us, the TW users, accepting traditional wire transfers from any individual or company operating in the specific region.

USD – American dollar

usd american dollar

Your routing (ABA) and Account Number gives the possibility to operate with the United States-based business partners and any other territory (like Caribbeans) that use American dollars. It’s also an important denominator for international transactions when there are a couple of different currencies involved at the same time. Your USD TransferWise account can receive:

EUR – euro

eur euro

With SWIFT/BIC codes and IBAN details you can work with any entity in the European Union. This includes member states who still use local currency i.e. Denmark, Sweden, Czechia. Their financial systems are compatible with IBAN. Their businesses and citizens often use sub-accounts denominated in euro. Therefore practically the whole of Europe and some outlying territories are open for business collaboration. Your EUR TransferWise account can receive:

GBP – pound sterling

gbp british pounds

While geographically limited to the United Kingdom, pound sterling is important in the financial industry and in certain corporations that are based in Britain. Regardless of the Brexit implications, the world is going to continue business operations with the UK. With British Account Number and Sort Code you can receive pounds one to one. The following transfer methods are available in your TW GBP subaccount:

AUD – Australian dollar

aud australian dollar

The significance of local currency is tied with the tourism potential that this vast continent offers. While some big hotel chains or major tourist attractions may accept payments in USD, it’s much better to operate with the currency native to their land. Your Bank-State-Branch Code and Account Number functions as a regular Australian bank account.

  • You can receive local bank transfers that uses BSB Code and Account Number.

NZD – New Zealand dollar

nzd new zealand dollar

Similarly to the Australian dollar, NZD is the key to unlock cooperation with Kiwi contractors. USD can be in use in some places, but there’s no need to loose on currency conversions when you can operate with native New Zealand dollar. Local Account Number is your universal tool to work with partners based on these islands.

  • You can receive local bank transfers in New Zealand dollars.

PLN – Polish złoty

pln polish złoty

It’s not an international financial instrument like the currencies above, yet it’s used by around 38 million Poles. The incoming tourism industry has been steadily growing for years and the rapid adoption of contactless terminals in shops and fintech solutions, including TransferWise, made Poland an intriguing business destination. With your own Polish Account Number, you can easily cooperate with local companies and individuals.

  • You can receive local bank transfers in Polish złoty.

Send money to people and businesses in 70+ different countries

As the name suggests TransferWise knows how to move your money. Most banks and payment networks like PayPal and Western Union are hiding fees in their conversion rate, therefore the overall cost is high. TransferWise leverage the traditional inter-bank network (like SWIFT) with cost-efficient automation. Their fee structure is transparent and clearly stated before each operation.

The tourism industry is always dynamically adjusting to customer trends and geopolitics. For efficient business relationships to thrive it’s vital to have a proven payment solution. TransferWise currently allows sending money to over seventy countries, and they are adding new regions each year. In many situations TransferWise is my go-to platform as more and more travel destinations realize its advantages.

TransferWise allows sending money to places like:

  1. France
  2. Spain
  3. United States
  4. China
  5. Italy
  6. Turkey
  7. Mexico
  8. Germany
  9. Thailand
  10. United Kingdom
TransferWise Business Mastercard

Spend money in all places where Mastercard is accepted

Depending on the scale of your tours there are situations when you need to pay some costs on the spot and not via bank transfers. TransferWise offers a multi-currency debit Mastercard with a contactless chip that can be added to mobile wallets – like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

There are multiple methods of payment with your TransferWise business Mastercard:

You can manage and convert all supported currencies on the web or via the mobile app. It means that in many places you can quickly add funds and pay natively 1:1. For example if you store money in EUR and you’re coming to Malaysia for a week, then you change enough EUR to MYR to have funds for the whole trip. Now when you pay by the TW Mastercard in Malaysia, the exact amount of ringgits is deducted from your MYR subaccount.

When you don’t have the local currency in your account, there’s a conversion fee between 0.24-3.69%. Remember to always choose the local currency to ensure low TransferWise’s rates. This also applies to online payments.

Low-fee conversion rates and rate alerts

Buying and selling travel services with dollars, yen or euros is an integral part of the tourism industry. Our profit margins are directly tied to the exchange rates between major and country-specific currencies. The best way to secure better profits is to get better exchange rates.

If you predominantly use cash, your margins are always at the mercy of currency exchange shops (i.e. at the airports) that need to cover the costs of rent, staff and operations. Internet-based companies, like TransferWise don’t have physical shops and their on-going costs are easier to optimize thanks to automation and scalability.

This is why TransferWise can offer the mid-market rate as a baseline for your currency exchange. Their fee depends on the:

  • involved currencies,
  • the amount you’re sending,
  • payment method – bank transfer, card top-up, online payment gateway.

Additionally, you can lock the rate for 24 to 48 hours or set up an email alert to get a notification the moment your desired rate is present on the market.

Managing TransferWise on a computer
Managing TransferWise on a computer

Manage the account via web browser and mobile app

The key factor of any Internet solution is user experience. It’s the overall design, clarity of structure and seamless workflow of the whole system. TransferWise brand uses dark and bright blue backgrounds with strong green to accent buttons and their payment cards. Regardless if you use a web browser or the mobile app you are able to perform all operations:

  • convert currencies,
  • send and receive transfers,
  • check bank details, statements, transfer confirmations, etc.

Personally I admire how smooth is the whole process of filing a bank transfer. From the very beginning to the very end of the transaction I see every step. Moreover TW sents automatic email confirmations to the receiver and me. There’s no ambiguity or corporate secrecy. Both parties are aware of the timeframe and have sufficient documentation in case a receiving bank would need some additional information.

Very responsive customer service and distributed workforce

TransferWise was built from ground up as an international financial institution. It means that founders understand the 24/7 global cycle of money. Moreover tourist activities are usually generating more revenue during weekends and holidays, so it’s crucial to have proper customer support, also during these periods.

Besides an extensive base of help articles and blog posts TransferWise offers 24/7 support via calls and emails. Their offices are in 14 different offices around the world and over 2200 employees are able to work remotely, so you as a customer can get ongoing and uninterrupted service.

I’m very satisfied with their communication skills. There’s a big difference between talking with an open-minded borderless TransferWise representative and rigid employee of a bureaucratic traditional bank. You’ll feel it on your first interaction regarding international payment.

TransferWise mobile app
TransferWise mobile app

Xero integration and Open API

Internet-based services have this amazing advantage, that they can “talk” with other online tools. TransferWise offers an official integration with Xero and is open for custom-made connections via their API. Xero is one of the leading accounting software that helps you manage all payment operations in your company.

API stands for Application Programming Interface, which is a common term for coders. You can hire a specialist to create a custom solution or find one created by the TransferWise community. For example you can connect your TW account with Zapier and build automation with other online services like Mailchimp, Google Sheets or Salesforce.

Zapier is in fact one of my most important toolkit that glues all online services I use for my work. I also build automation with apps you already use and that are aligned with your local specifications – i.e. languages, regions, demographics. Let me help you find and implement the right solution. Email me at [email protected] or write a message in the form below:

    Batch payments and multi-user access

    TransferWise mobile app is great for on-the-go use, but when you need more advanced features – stick with your computer web browser. Here you can create a batch payment that can be set in multiple currencies and destinations at once. Considering that traditional banks have issues with single international payments, TransferWise can save you a lot of time and cut costs. Mass payments operate with the same low fees as single transactions.

    Another important feature is the multi-user access. If your organization has many people that manage inbound and outbound transactions then each one of them should have their own login to the company account. It’s a tried and tested security measure, that prevents unauthorized people from seeing your finances. Currently, you can assign admins and viewers to your TW account.

    Tourists at Louvre Pyramid in Paris, France
    Louvre Pyramid, Paris, France | Photo by Daniele D’Andreti on Unsplash

    Practical tips on how to manage money with TransferWise

    I have been actively researching and using fintech solutions like TransferWise since 2014. These forward-thinking companies greatly help tour professionals like myself. If you are interested in other Internet-based finance services, I wrote a separate article about it.

    Exchange money during business hours

    The mid-market rate is a constantly changing value that banks use between themselves to buy and sell different currencies. Stock markets, geopolitics among other factors influence these values. Since financial institutions operate primarily during the workweek, you too should manage your transfers during that time. That’s because during weekends and public holidays exchange rates can be on a higher level.

    TransferWise is present in international markets, so their advice is to operate between opening business activities at 9 AM in Auckland, New Zealand and closing at 5 PM in New York, USA. My rule of thumb is to follow London time – the British time zone overlaps with other markets and gives the most convenient window for exchanging currencies.

    Of course feel free to adjust your work to preferred regions and currencies. For tours in the Australasia region you should stick to time zones between Auckland and Singapore. On the other hand if your business focuses on the Americas or Europe/Africa/Middle-East then follow appropriate clocks in these parts of the world. Follow current time in different zones (including daylight saving) with World Time Buddy app.

    TransferWise blog categories
    Categories and sections on TransferWise Blog

    Read TransferWise blog and receive the newsletter

    Fintech companies much like other technology-focused ventures evolve at a rapid pace. They need to stay relevant in the competitive global market, therefore their services and offers can shift in the span of months.

    It means that your bank account details can change, they added additional currency or bank partnership stopped. Therefore I recommend regularly checking their blog and sign-up for email notifications. Their writing style is light and informative – it’s the opposite of what you get from a traditional financial institution. You’ll gain additional cost reduction the more you know about TransferWise features.

    Be aware that the TransferWise blog divides content for supported countries. Some articles can be available only in local languages. While some topics are universal and affect all TW users (i.e. fee changes), some are more niche and are published specifically for users in one region (i.e. accounting advice).

    How to keep your funds safe and secure?

    Please keep in mind that TransferWise is not a bank. Yet, it is a financial institution regulated by:

    Renowned banks JP Morgan Chase and Barclays store your money. They are separate from the TW business operation accounts. In the case of TransferWise insolvency, your money returns to you.

    While TransferWise is a modern and convenient service for international financial operations I recommend storing larger funds in traditional banks. National deposit insurance covers your funds. For example in the United Kingdom, Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) is currently protecting your deposits up to 85 000 GBP. In Europe the safety net is up to 100 000 EUR – provided by European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS).

    City tour bus
    City tour bus in London | Photo by Alyssa li on Unsplash

    Create your free TransferWise account

    I’m very satisfied with how TransferWise runs its service. It’s an indispensable and valid alternative to PayPal, Western Union or traditional bank transfers. Create your personal and business accounts in TransferWise and start cooperating with international travel partners in a fast and cost-effective way.

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