If you’re passionate about travel, enjoy working with people, and feel comfortable with a flexible work schedule, you have the right skills to become an independent travel agent. In fact, as more people look for jobs that will allow them to earn a living while working from home, the number of independent travel agents has risen, especially during the pandemic.
But is it still a lucrative niche? Do people use the services of travel agents and agencies when the information is easily available online?
The answer is a resounding yes! The internet can’t offer the expertise and knowledge of a well-seasoned agent. And even beginner ones can hook you up with a few promotions and discounts that are not available for online booking. So, yes, being a travel agent can be a promising career for anyone willing to go the extra mile.
Here’s how to get started and start your journey as an entrepreneur with the right foot forward.
Get formal training
Even though you don’t need a certification to start working as a travel agent (independent or employed), it’s still a good idea to get some formal training.
You also have a clear advantage if you’re college educated. This means you have some essential knowledge in business administration, marketing, tourism, and marketing. It won’t make you an expert, but it is a good start, especially for an entrepreneur who has to manage the business part as well.
Next, you’ll need experience and knowledge working with tourists, suppliers, other agents, possible customers, and so on. For this, you can work for a travel agency and learn on the job or pursue a travel agent certification.
Side note: A certification, like the Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) or the title of Certified Travel Associate (CTA) can help you stand out from the crowd of customers looking for someone with expertise in the field.
The great thing about pursuing a certification is that you learn about planning itineraries, world geography, new cultures, and how to work with people from all walks of life. This will be extremely useful throughout your entire career.
Find the right travel host agency
Most independent travel agents partner up with a host agency in order to gain access to more resources and a network of customers. The arrangement is based on an independent contractor agreement, so the agent continues to have full control over which clients they’ll take and which suppliers they’ll work with.
A host agency can be your rock and support, especially at the beginning, when it’s difficult to get customers on your own. However, you need to know what to look for in a travel host agency to make sure you find the right one for what you’re trying to achieve.
For instance, a home-based business may need access to a series of services such as managing clients, processing commissions, marketing, and more. Plus, the right host agency can add credibility when you’re trying to convince suppliers to give your business a chance.
Design a plan
If you’re transitioning from corporate to entrepreneurship without a proper plan in mind, you may soon learn you’ve bitten more than you can chew. Entrepreneurship and working from home in your PJs are alluring when you’re stuck in an office all day. However, when you’re the one in charge of everything, it can become overwhelming really fast.
So how do you make sure things will go in the right direction? Well, you can’t know for sure, but you can design a plan with the steps you need to take. Here are a few ideas:
- Register your business with the proper authorities
- Create a budget to account for future expenses
- Find a host travel agency
- Create a daily schedule for work
- Design a routine that will help you learn and grow every day
- Look for new customers
In general, your daily routine will be divided between working with clients (which may involve a few meetings), setting up travel plans based on clients’ preferences, doing research, marketing, learning, training, and finances (to name a few).
Quick tip: The best way to make sure your business is on the right track is to work hard on improving communication skills. Your customers want to work with a trustworthy, clever, and friendly agent who can give them the best possible deals and itineraries. So, if you want to attract high-paying customers, your communication must be flawless.
Find your niche
Most travel agents start with a niche they feel comfortable working with (like honeymoon vacations or cruises). So, if you have hands-on experience in organizing tours around Europe’s old capitals, this is a great starting point for your business.
Plus, when you’re working within a specific category, it’s easier to move ahead and make a name for yourself. And, as you gain more experience, you will be able to extend your portfolio and try new niches.
Overall, it’s a good idea to specialize in several travel categories to gain experience and engage with different types of customers. The travel industry is quite dynamic, and the only agents that make it big are the ones who can stay up to date with the latest trends.
Build a clientele
You can’t call yourself an independent travel agent until you’ve had the first satisfied customers. So make sure to invest the proper amount of effort, time, and money into promoting your services.
Luckily, nowadays, you have plenty of channels to use, such as social media, your own website, or travel websites where people leave reviews and find tips (Tripadvisor, Expedia, and others). You’ll need to devise a few marketing strategies that will help you bring in new customers, and this is where your host travel agency can help.
Also, let existing marketing campaigns inspire you, and always keep an eye on your competitors. There is a lot to learn from those who are several steps ahead, especially when it comes to marketing and communication.
Lastly, don’t forget about more traditional channels. For instance, some of your first customers can be friends and family. Also, you can print out flyers and spread them throughout the neighborhood. Your host agency may put you in touch with travel fairs, local companies willing to promote your services, and more.
Even if you’re a passionate traveler, building a career out of it is still a challenging task. But, if you take the necessary steps and are willing to work hard to attract customers, your chances of success will multiply.