There’s more to being a travel agent than loving to travel — and every year, both the risks and the rewards seem to get bigger. We asked established travel advisors to share their best tips on how to get started in 2019. Here’s what they said:
Assess your skills and time
Before starting down the path, consider whether you have the skills to run your own business: attention to detail; willingness and energy to work hard; a customer-service mentality; computer skills; and communication, problem-solving and sales skills.
Be sure you have the funds and the time to invest until your business begins to pay off. Be prepared to not travel much in the early months of your career (but do travel as much as you can), and to spend three to five years before you really make a good living at it.
Try it out
Get the real scoop by talking to some agents, and then shadowing one for a day or two, to find out what it’s really like. Many agents suggested working in an office for a few hours a week; some suggested a real internship of two or three months. “Listen, help, file, field calls and just pick up what it takes,” says MaryAnn Fusco at MSW Travel in Miller Place, New York.
Research the opportunities
Do your due diligence. Research host agencies and franchises; interview the three that seem to be the best fit. (HostAgencyReviews.com has a lot of useful information.) Investigate the legal requirements in your state.
“A good host agency is one with: no or low fees, competitive commission splits (no more than 20 percent and options that are even less), supplier overrides, live and online training,” says Brian Blumhorst. “It also provides a community, with personal relationships with suppliers so you can give some extra flair and service to your clients, and a community of colleagues that give you that feeling of not being in this alone.”
Define a target audience, and determine how you will reach them. Find something you are passionate about to specialize in. Michelle Pharr, for example, started her travel agent career as a destination wedding specialist. “The quickest way to build a clientele is through groups, as they recommend others,” she says. “And I had just three go-to suppliers: I used Royal Caribbean, AMResorts and Pleasant Holidays.”
Get a formal education
“You will need training and lots of it,” says Cathy Udovch at Travelstore in California. “Look for schools or organizations that teach about the travel industry, or an agency that has a training program. Right now, start studying up on world geography, why someone would want to go to a country, what countries are nearby, and the top things to do there. Look at major cruise line and tour operator itineraries to get a feel for when it is a good time to go. If you can walk into an agency with that information in your head, that is one less thing you need someone to teach you.”
Consider joining an association like ASTA, which offers an online training course titled “How to Become a Travel Advisor.”
Conquer the devil in the details
Be sure you understand net versus commission, health insurance, E&O insurance, and tax and legal requirements in your state. Brush up on your business and sales skills. Write a business plan that lays out your costs, fees you plan to charge and commissions you will earn, so you see clearly how much you have to sell to make a living.
Think about branding and marketing
Research how to choose a name for your agency; it’s best to start out right rather than having to change midstream.
Start building a book of business
Start with friends and family with a mentor watching over you, suggests Denise Hangsleben, but don’t count on them. Get out there and meet potential customers. Join clubs, religious groups, the Chamber of Commerce, and talk travel everywhere you go. “People will talk to you if they see you regularly,” Hangsleben says.
Be ready for rejection
This is a sales job, and not everyone you speak with will buy. “Don’t cry in your coffee because clients booked themselves,” said one agent. “Make a voodoo doll and hope they miss their flight.”
A parting thought
One successful travel advisor had this to say: “Becoming a travel agent in 2019 is not a job, but rather starting your own business. The selling comes easy with time, experience and passion. But it will take time, strategy and perseverance. Most importantly, enjoy the fun and rewarding ride.”
Thanks to all the travel advisors whose thoughts are included here without direct attribution: Terrassa Asare, Tony Day, Mike Edic, David Tolman, Teri Hurley, W Will Medina, Lainie Melnick, Geoff Millar, Celeste Mitchell, Phyllis Samowitz, Ayasha Teague, Tracy Whipple, Paulie Wimbert and Susanne Griffing Yonts.