Are you the person that all of your friends come to for travel advice? Have you been to countries far and wide and yearn to share your passion for travel with others? Then becoming a travel agent may be the right fit for you, but how do you get started? There are so many questions in determining how to become a travel agent, but let’s first define what a travel agent is.
You may think of a travel agent as a person who sits in a storefront booking flights and hotels for people. The travel agent of 20+ years ago, before the world wide web, fits this description. Once everyone had access to the airlines websites and later the big Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Travelocity, many of those storefront travel agencies shut down. Travel agents had to change with the times and reinvent themselves. Thus, the travel advisor was born. The official name in the industry is now travel advisor because the role of the travel agent has evolved to something all-encompassing. A travel advisor is a travel professional who handles all aspects of a trip, including transportation, accommodations, tours, day tours, dining reservations, special event tickets, and more. Although the official organization representing the industry is the American Society of Travel Advisors, for purposes of this article, we will use the word travel agent to keep things simple.
Some people ask why they should use a travel agent when they could do it themselves using an OTA. Sure, anybody can do it, but should they? Unless someone is an expert, one can not be sure that he or she is choosing the hotel that is best suited to his or her needs. Travel agents have relationships with vendors that those outside the industry may not know even exist or suppliers that only work directly with travel agents. These relationships also allow travel agents to arrange upgrades and perks for their clients with certain travel suppliers. A person booking his or her own flights may be paying more than necessary for flights. A travel agent has access to consolidator fares that could be cheaper than what one may see on an OTA site.
As you can see, travel agents are still very relevant and there are many reasons to use one, so how do you become one?
How To Become A Travel Agent? The Three Options
1) Buy A Travel Franchise.
This is the easiest, yet most expensive option. There is a sizable franchise fee needed to invest in this type of business structure. However, everything is turnkey and ready to go. The brand is established, and all of the booking and marketing systems are in place. In addition to the franchise fee, a monthly or annual fee is also required, but the travel agent is able to keep 100% of the commissions.
2) Create an independent travel agency as part of a host agency and develop a brand.
This business structure usually entails a commission split with the host agency, but does not require royalty/franchising fees. That is not to stay that it cost less. There is often an annual fee associated with this type of business structure. There may or may not be a monthly fee depending on the commission split chosen. Some host agencies even allow independent agencies under their umbrella to receive 100% of their commissions in return for a large monthly fee.
In addition to the fees paid to the host agency, there will be expenses associated with creating a brand. Expenses related to creating a website, a logo, and marketing materials add up quick. New travel agents need to be prepared for spending a good amount in the beginning, especially since the first paycheck will probably be months away.
Going this route can be a lot of fun for someone who is creative and has a desire to create a brand and develop a marketing plan, but may be harder for someone who just wants to book travel. Travel agents do not get paid for this creative process until bookings start coming in, so be prepared for a lot of work without pay for the first few months. For those who do not find joy in the creative process, additional money will need to be spent for website design and marketing guidance.
3) Become an independent contractor for an existing travel franchise or independent travel agency.
This is the most affordable option for those looking to break into the industry. Travel agents wanting to learn the business without a sizeable outlay of cash can link up with the owner of an existing travel agency and work as an Independent Contractor (IC). These ICs may have to pay a small fee to their agency and will have to split commissions with their agency, but they will not need to purchase a franchise or create a brand and marketing plan. Independent Contractors are trained by the agency they are affiliated with and in exchange, pay a portion of their commissions to cover the training and use of the established brand.
Technically, there is a fourth option of actually applying for accreditation and developing relationships with suppliers directly, but we are concentrating on how to become a travel agent and that option is not for a beginner.
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How Do Travel Agents Learn The Systems Used to Book Travel?
Whether travel agents purchase a travel franchise or pay yearly fees to be part of a host agency, they will receive the necessary information on accessing the systems needed to run their business. If a travel agent is brand new to the business, it would become overwhelming very quickly so choosing a travel agency with a training program is essential. The additional training will likely cost more, but it will also set the travel agent up for success and is worth the investment in his or her career.
How Do Travel Agents Get Paid?
The simple answer is commissions. However, sometimes the commissions are not big enough to cover the time travel agents spend developing a day by day itinerary including all modes of transportation and daily activities. Airlines do not pay a commission, so to cover the time spent searching for flights and for planning every detail of an itinerary, charging a fee is necessary for a viable business. Think of it as a professional fee since travel agents know more about travel than most people not working in the industry.
One of the reasons that the travel industry is hard to break into is because travel agents are not paid until a client’s travel has been completed. Since most people usually book months in advance, a travel agent may work months before the first paycheck. Thus, many travel agents start off working part-time while also working another job to pay the bills.
How to decide the best strategy for becoming a travel agent?
There are several online resources for learning about the industry before jumping in blindly. The website Host Agency Reviews allows travel agents to review host agencies and travel franchises, while also dishing out a wealth of knowledge about the industry.
Another helpful site is the Global Institute For Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE). GIFTE charges a monthly fee for access to a team that provides support for travel agents on their entrepreneurial journey. GIFTE has a public Facebook page that does not require membership. The GIFTE Facebook page hosts a Travel Entrepreneurship Week in May of each year that provides free information for those interested in learning about or already working in the travel industry.
GIFTE has a sister company that is actually a host agency called Gifted Travel Network (GTN). GTN also has a public Facebook page where they host a Travel Agent Startup Series every June. This is an invaluable resource for anybody looking to start a career in travel.
What Is A Travel Consortium?
A travel consortium is an organization comprised of travel agents and agencies who meet certain criteria in order to be part of the consortium. In return for membership, the consortium provides the support that would be difficult to obtain as an individual agent or agency. The consortium handles many of the negotiations with travel suppliers for the agencies. It also gives support with the marketing, training, and technology necessary for a thriving travel business.
It is important when selecting a future travel franchise or host agency that a travel agent chooses one that is a member of a reputable travel consortium. The level of service that a travel agent can give their clients is reliant on which travel consortium the franchise or agency is a part of.
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What are the Benefits of Becoming a Travel Agent?
Some might want to be a travel agent solely for the travel agent discounts. While they do exist, they are not necessarily enough to warrant changing a career. There are opportunities for discounted familiarization trips (FAMs), but these opportunities do not always allow for guests, so travel agents are traveling with other travel agents and not friends and family. Also, a travel agent should not expect to be invited on a FAM when it is not a type of travel their travel agency would typically sell. All of that being said, there are opportunities for discounts and for learning about destinations previously unknown. The world becomes bigger as a travel agent because new destinations are always popping up on the radar.
A home-based travel agent has a more flexible work schedule allowing for the ultimate laptop lifestyle, even traveling while working. Another advantage of a home-based agent is tax write-offs for home-based businesses, as well as write-offs for some travel expenses.
The biggest advantage to becoming a travel agent is for those with a true passion for travel, who are able to share that passion with others through a job that they truly love.
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