The travel industry offers great career options for entrepreneurs. For those who are just starting out, selling leisure travel can be a rewarding but complex business.
According to an August 2020 study from the British-based travel technology company Travelport, travelers are more likely to book through a travel agent than before the COVID-19 crisis, with 33% of all travelers anticipating an increase in their use of travel agent services. This trend was particularly evident among the 44% of millennials who said they would up their use of advisors. Overall, 65% of respondents said it’s because they feel travel agents are best placed to provide them with the latest travel safety information.
The survey polled 5,000 travelers across the United States, United Kingdom, India, Australia, and New Zealand.
Here’s where to start:
1. Educate yourself.
Work on developing your business, sales, and communication skills. It might seem intimidating all there is to know as an advisor, but the good news is you have plenty of resources available to you. It’s important to establish yourself as an expert and know who needs your expertise.
Attend programs like the Travel Institute, supplier webinars, and training through your host agency or consortium. Familiarize yourself with the tax and legal requirements in your state, health insurance, and Errors & Omissions Insurance.
2. Create a business plan.
For any entrepreneur, you want to create a business plan that lays out your costs, fees you plan to charge and commissions you will earn, so you see clearly how much cash you’ll need to cover living.
To generate positive cash flow, so that what your business earns exceeds your expenses, estimate the net amount of cash and cash-equivalents transferred into and out of a business. Because you are not going to realize revenue until the time of travel or in some cases after travel, you may want to charge service fees, which are collected at the time a client employs you.
Since income is paid at the time of booking, service fees can expand your overall annual income, and supplement commission payments that are seasonal.
You may also want to become an LLC to protect your personal assets from claims against the business, including lawsuits. There is also the tax benefit. If you're an independent contractor, you need to pay self-employment tax (which is 15.3% of your net business income).
Having, and sticking to, the correct business plan is the difference between a lot of successful and unsuccessful travel agencies. Photo: takasu/Shutterstock.com.
3. Focus on a specialty.
By specializing in a product you differentiate yourself from the competition and can hone in on a target audience. Find something you are passionate about to specialize in and develop solid relationships with suppliers in their chosen niche. Most importantly, experience the product you are selling. Take advantage of travel agent rates, fam trips (once they’re available again), and more. The best way to sell a product is to experience it firsthand and share those experiences with your customers.
Two of the fastest-growing niches in the industry, according to research from TMR, are wellness and expedition travel. TMR’s Wellness Travel Outlook, which was released last year and was sponsored by Cunard, found that over 70% of advisors believe their annual sales for wellness travel are likely to increase in 2021.
And TMR’s 2020 Expedition Cruise Outlook found that advisors believe there is going to be at least a 10% to 25% increase in their sales for expedition cruises in 2021,
4. Consider joining a host agency, consortium, or franchise association.
Host agencies, consortia, and franchise associations offer training and programs that are dedicated to growing your business, like free social media programs and business development managers who provide local marketing support.
Not only will they educate you on how to sell cruises and tours, but to also run a business and become a super salesperson. They also provide a community, from veteran advisors to personal relationships with suppliers to a team of experts available to help you along the way.
Take advantage of the technology, business resources, back-office support, and other opportunities provided for you. If you want to be an independent contractor, it likely means you’re working as part of a larger host agency, where you’re building your own business from the ground up, with basic support from the host. There is a commission split between the host and the independent agent. When you buy a franchise, you are buying a recognizable brand and a business model set up to include everything you need to get started. Franchisees get 100% of the commissions. In turn, the franchisee (agency) pays a royalty or a monthly/annual fee to their franchisor. A consortium is a collection of host agencies, travel agencies, and/or travel agents that act on behalf of its agency members including buying potential, benefits, and commission levels.
If you decide on a consortia, be aware that you will be responsible for your own accreditation number to be recognized by suppliers as a travel agency (for example, ARC, CLIA, IATA, and IATAN). Research which business model and organization is right for you. Check out FindAHostAgency.com and HostAgencyReviews.com.
Expedition cruising is one of the fastest-growing niches for travel advisors. Photo: Tetyana Dotsenko/Shutterstock.com.
5. Develop and market your brand.
The first step to building a loyal clientele is to choose a brand that differentiates you. From your website to social media accounts, create an online presence that reflects your unique personality and expertise. Check this during your research to be sure that your brand is available and will be consistent across as many channels as possible. Then, promote yourself through family, friends, and in your community. Join clubs, volunteer, go to local events -- you want to be the first person that everyone thinks of when they want to go on a vacation.
6.Become an ACTA or ASTA member.
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) are your advocates, leveraging their strength as national associations before their respective government agencies. Their efforts on behalf of the advisor community have been integral to securing advisors with much-needed relief during the coronavirus pandemic. They also signal to the traveling public that travel advisors are an instrumental conduit in the industry.
7. Subscribe to Travel Market Report
As the voice of the travel advisor, Travel Market Report brings you the news that directly affects you. Our daily newsletters provide in-depth coverage and analysis of news and trends affecting leisure travel agents, along with practical business advice and insights into key growth markets. We host bi-weekly webinars, covering topics like Terms and Conditions, Managing Time and Boundaries with Clients, Generating New Leads, and more.