This is the first in a series of columns about home-based travel agents by Stephanie Lee of Host Agency Reviews.
As the numbers of home-based agents increase and they gain visibility and clout within the industry, I think it is high time we retired the term “home-based travel agent.”
During my years as a host agency director for TravelQuest, I worked with hundreds of highly professional home-based agents. Yet, I can think of few instances where I believed it beneficial to use the term home-based agent to describe oneself to potential clients.
Yet as the home-based agent population expands – their numbers grew from 31,000 in 2006 to 40,000 in 2011, according to PhoCusWright – I hear agents use the term in their client relationships with growing frequency. It makes me cringe every time.
Internally, it’s fine
In the travel industry world, I’m all for using the term. It allows us to segment a population of agents that has different needs than traditional storefront agencies.
Just as we use the terms “cruise agent,” “corporate agent” and “leisure agent,” the term home-based agent helps our industry differentiate a subsector of travel agents.
But I see a problem when the term is used outside the industry – such as on LinkedIn, as an agent’s profession or title, or when an agent lists “home-based travel agent” as their occupation on their Facebook profile or business page.
Think about it
When I see the term home-based agent in these contexts, it makes me wonder: Have those agents thought of why they’re using that title? Did they weigh the positives and negatives of labeling themselves as home-based?
If the agent is using the term as part of a marketing strategy – for instance, if the agent’s main client base is parents who work from home – it could be advantageous to emphasize the shared lifestyle with your clientele.
However, if the agent uses the home-based label simply because she or he check the “home-based agent” box on industry surveys, well, it’s time to reexamine things.
What message are you sending?
Home-based businesses, travel or otherwise, often have a stigma attached. They may be seen as less professional than their storefront counterparts, maybe even less reputable.
Most of us know this isn’t true, but it’s not about what we think.
Put yourself in your prospective clients’ shoes. They know nothing about you or your business, beyond what you tell them. When you say you are home-based, you are emphasizing that component of your business.
Why not emphasize that you have 15 years in travel, or that you give back to the local community, rather than that you work from home?
Acceptable, but irrelevant
Whether an agent is home-based or works in a storefront location, their job is to be a resource for their client. If you’re doing your job and doing it well, your client doesn’t need to know your location.
It’s perfectly acceptable in the Information Age to be location-independent. Fortune 500 companies have work-from-home programs for their employees. But the physical location of those employees isn’t mentioned in their titles, so why mention it in yours?
Stephanie Lee is a former host agency director who now runs Host Agency Reviews, a website where agents can find peer reviews of host agencies, as well as tips for starting and growing a travel agency. Connect with Steph on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.