How to Start a Travel Agency

An Introductory Guide

Starting a travel agency can be a fun, fulfilling and profitable career. There is no doubt travel agencies have evolved over time, but even with the rise of online booking sites, travel agents are continuing to see a growth in sales as travelers seek a higher level of service to plan custom-tailored trips.

With the number of resources available today, anyone with a passion for travel can start a travel agency, even if you don’t have prior professional travel experience. The following guide will show you how you can start a travel agency and earn money in a career you love.

Why start a travel agency?

When you think about a traditional travel agency, you may picture a bifocaled woman sitting behind a desk at a strip mall office, surrounded by stacks of brochures. The modern travel agent, though, looks a lot different. Many of today’s travel agents are home-based or work remotely which greatly reduces overhead costs and makes starting a travel agency more accessible.

Despite the rise of online travel booking sites, many travelers desire a more personalized experience. As such, travel agents have not only stayed relevant, they have continued to thrive.

Take a look at some of the numbers below to see why now is a great time to start a travel agency.

By the Numbers- Now is the right time to start a travel agency

  • By 2020, it is estimated the travel agency industry in the United States will generate $17.3 billion in revenue, a 42% increase from 2010.
  • 50% more people have used a travel agent over the last 5 years and 75% of Americans would consider using a travel agent to help plan their vacation.
  • Despite their perceived preference for all things tech, 34% of Millennials used an offline travel agent in 2015.
  • The majority of cruises continue to be booked by travel agents. In all, 67% of all cruises are booked through travel agents.
  • Tours and packaged vacations are also overwhelmingly booked through travel agents. In total, 68% of all tours and packages are sold by travel agents.
  • Sales don’t show signs of slowing down. More than 80% of CLIA-Certified travel agents expect sales to increase in next year.

$17.3 b

Total travel industry revenue in 2020

50%

More people have used a travel agent in the last 5 years

34%

Of millenials used an offline travel agent in 2015

67%

Of all cruises are booked by travel agents

68%

Of all tours and packages are sold by travel agents

8/10

Travel agents expect their sales to increase next year

Starting a travel agency with a franchise or host

Whether you are a seasoned pro or you are new to the industry, starting a travel agency with a franchise or host agency can make things a lot easier and minimize risk. By aligning yourself with one of these larger entities, you can tap into an established vendor network and gain access to enhanced buying power.

With a franchise, you own and operate your own travel agency business while leveraging the power of an established brand. The franchisor will provide you the systems, training, marketing and infrastructure to start and grow your travel agency.

A host is simply a membership organization. The collective buying power of the group allows members access to better rates from travel providers compared to an independent operator. As a member of the host, you may have access to limited training, marketing and support, but it will not be nearly as robust as what you would receive from a franchise.

When deciding if a franchise or host is right for you when starting your travel agency, there are a few things to consider:

  • Tools & Support: With a franchise, you will get robust technology tools, marketing programs and ongoing training and business development coaching to help you start and grow your travel agency. With a host agency, technology, marketing and personalized training are limited, if they are provided at all. You may have to seek outside sources and programs for training and back-end support.
  • Cost: A franchise will typically have a higher upfront cost than a host, but that includes all the tools and support mentioned above. Although you may pay less upfront with a host, over time, the cost of paying for the tools and support you need can add up.
  • Commissions: With most franchises, you will pay a royalty. This is a small percentage of your total sales. Host agencies typically utilize commission splits, with the amount varying from host to host.
  • Brand Recognition: A franchise typically has an established and recognizable brand, which helps bring you instant credibility when starting a travel agency. A host does not provide a recognizable brand and you will be required to build brand awareness on your own.

[Watch]  What advice would you give to a new travel agent?

Andy started his travel agency in 2013 and grew his business incrementally with the help of a franchise. See what advice he gives to new travel agents who are just starting out.

Is a franchise worth it? Find out.

Get the Guide

Start learning the products you’ll be selling as a travel agent

The travel world is huge, and you’re never going to know everything, but if clients are going to be entrusting you with their hard-earned dollars, you should probably know what you’re talking about, or at least know where to turn if there is something you don’t know. Fortunately, there are lots of resources available to help you learn about the many travel options, so you can help your client find the trip that is perfect for them.

Enroll in travel supplier training courses

Almost all the major travel supply companies, from cruise lines to all inclusive resorts, offer travel agent training programs at no cost. Simply put, the travel providers want you, as a travel agent, to sell more of their products. The more you know about their products, the better you can sell them.

These trainings are often online, so you can complete them at your own pace. When you’re just starting your travel agency, it’s a great idea to enroll in a few of the major company’s training courses. Having a base knowledge of the of the most popular products available and how they compare will be highly beneficial. As you define your niche (more on that to come) you can be more selective about the trainings that are most relevant to you.

Talk to your BDM

In addition to training courses, almost all major travel suppliers also have Business Development Managers (BDMs). One of the main jobs of a BDM is to establish and grow travel agency business. Remember, travel companies want you to sell their products! That means BDMs are there to help you learn about the travel offerings they provide and help you with any questions that may arise when you are working with a client.

Most BDMs cover regional territories. It is a great idea to figure out who your BDM is for any travel provider you plan on selling and reach out to them personally. Establishing that relationship early on can go a long way in helping you gain valuable knowledge and can pay dividends down the road.

"Show initiative," said Dan Jemez, BDM for Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana for AIC Hotel Group (Hard Rock Hotels) at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld. "If I see that you're trying, that's the kind of person I'm going to invite on a [familiarization trip], that's the kind of person I want to help grow their business."

Start traveling!

It’s one thing to take an online course or talk to a BDM about a river cruise down the Danube. But when you think about it, there’s no better way to gain knowledge about a product or destination than to travel there and experience it yourself.

One of the great perks of being a travel agent is you can travel at greatly reduced rates or even for free. Many travel suppliers offer exclusive travel agent rates and familiarization (FAM) trips. FAMs are free or deeply discounted trips offered exclusively to travel agents (and sometimes your guests) so you can experience a product or destination firsthand. Have we mentioned yet that travel suppliers want you to sell their product?

It may sound too good to be true, but traveling is one of the best things you can do when opening a travel agency.

Establish an online presence for your travel agency

As with any new business, when starting a travel agency, it is important to establish an online presence. Ultimately, this is will play a key part in your marketing efforts and influence how clients find you. Before you can start marketing though, you need to establish a few online basics.

Set up your website

In today’s digital age, a website is the lifeblood of nearly every business. If you are working with a franchise or host, they will likely help you set up and maintain your website. If you’re doing it on your own, there are plenty of great resources available to help you design a website, or you can hire a web development company. There are a few key things to consider when setting up your website

  • Pick a short, easy to remember and easy to spell URL
  • Make your site easy to use and easy to navigate
  • Make sure your site is mobile friendly
  • Make your site informative and provide value to anyone who visits

Create a Google My Business account

With a Google My Business account, you can create a free business listing that includes pictures, information about your business, links to your website and a link to call you directly. Your business profile will be visible in Google searches that match certain terms. This is an easy and free way to drive more traffic to your business.

Set up social media profiles

Your customers probably don’t want to know about your cat’s new sweater, but they do want to know about a sale on cruises to the Western Caribbean. When starting a travel agency, it’s a good idea to create social media profiles for your business that are separate from your personal profiles. Most platforms, like Facebook, allow you to create a business profile so you can include information about your business and links to your website.

Social media continues to be one of the leading ways to connect with customers, but it can be overwhelming. Rather than spreading yourself thin posting to five or six different platforms, start by focusing on just one or two sites. It’s a good idea to pick the social platforms your customers are most likely to use.

Make a Yelp business listing

Reviews play a huge role in the consumer decision making process, and Yelp continues to be a leading site for reviews. By creating a business profile with Yelp, you will make your business more visible to potential customers searching for travel agent services. Like with a Google business profile, a Yelp business page allows you to include photos, links to your website, and other important information about your business. Yelp business listings are free to create with the option to pay for enhanced advertising options.

Finding clients when starting a travel agency

Perhaps the most important step when opening a travel agency is finding clients. Without clients, you don’t have a business. But how do you go about finding customers?

Start with family and friends

The best place to find clients is closer than you may realize. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have neighbors that recently went on vacation?
  • How about friends that love travel?
  • Have I ever gone on a trip with family?

Your family and friends are already traveling. Why not get them to book their travel through you? Starting with family and friends not only lets you get your feet wet with a more forgiving audience, it helps you establish credibility and start building a referral network. Word of mouth continues to be one of the best ways to expand any business. By providing exceptional service to your family and friends, they are like to refer you to other people.

Focus on a niche

The travel world is enormous and knowing every detail about every resort and cruise ship is impossible. By focusing on a specific niche, you can become an expert in a particular area and build a loyal group of customers interested in your niche. It is ideal if you can find a niche you are passionate about or already involved with. This allows you to build meaningful relationships with potential clients and expand your customer base through an already established network. There are all sorts of niches you can focus on:

  • Family travel
  • Luxury river cruising
  • Adventure travel
  • There are even crocheting travel groups

Tap into your local community

Tapping into your local community is another great way to find clients. Customers still like supporting local businesses owned by people they know and trust. Joining the local chamber of commerce, getting involved with parent teacher associations, participating in local Business Network International (BNI) chapters or sponsoring a youth sports team can go a long way in establishing your presence in the community and growing a strong network of potential clients.

[Watch]  How a new travel agency owner grew her business

Laura used to work in finance for a multinational construction company before starting her own travel agency. Her first client was a former colleague who was thrilled with the service he received. Watch how Laura’s business quickly grew through her personal network from there.

Marketing your new travel agency

Marketing is key to getting your name out there when starting a travel agency. It helps build brand awareness and provide information about the services you offer. You don’t have to be a marketing expert though. Sometimes, simple things can go a long way, especially when you’re just starting out.

Let you family and friends know

One of the best things to do when you first open your travel agency is to announce it to your family and friends. Create a post on your personal Facebook or LinkedIn page or send an email to your personal contacts explaining your new travel agency business. As we stressed earlier, your personal network is one of the best ways to grow your business.

Think local

Unfortunately, you probably won’t have a marketing budget the size of Apple’s to create international campaigns. That’s ok. As we talked about above, tapping into your local community can go a long way in building brand awareness.

Focus on finding interesting local events and having a presence there. Set up a booth at a local farmers market or sponsor a holiday parade. Getting your name in front of the people in your immediate community builds trust and familiarity with potential clients.

Run a contest

Contests are a great way to engage potential customers and capture valuable information when building up your database. One idea is a photo contest. Ask people to submit their best travel photos for a chance to win a $100 travel gift certificate (or whatever value you feel comfortable with).

To enter, they must provide their name, email, and phone number. Not only are you engaging your potential customers in a fun way, you are also collecting valuable information you can use to market to them in the future. Beyond just their contact info, you can also see what type of travel they like based on the pictures they submit.

Stay top of mind with email

As you start to grow your database, it’s important to stay top of mind with your customers. Email is a great way to do this. Try sending a weekly email newsletter promoting different specials and promotions. As you start to segment your contacts, you can even have multiple newsletters based on specific types of travel, so you are sending the right deals to the right people.

When you are just starting your travel agency, it can be tempting to spread your dollars thin on a variety of marketing efforts. Try focusing on a few things to start. Once you start growing your database a little bit, you can begin expanding your efforts.

Start a travel agency with Cruise Planners

Starting a travel agency can be a fun, fulfilling and profitable career, and with the number of resources available today, anyone with a passion for travel can start a travel agency. That said, as with any new business, there is a substantial amount of work needed to get your travel agency off the ground.

Cruise Planners is the largest home-based travel agency franchise company in the nation, and we have been helping people from all backgrounds start and grow successful travel agencies for over 25 years. We provide proven systems and processes which require less start-up capital and reduce the risk of failure compared to a traditional new business.

With Cruise Planners, you’ll receive comprehensive training and ongoing business development coaching to help you grow your business. Our award-winning marketing will help you get your name in front of potential customers, and our industry-leading technology lets you work seamlessly from anywhere in the world.

Cruise Planners is a recognized name in the travel industry, and with our American Express Travel affiliation, you will gain instant credibility and trust.

Take the first step to being your own boss, working from anywhere and traveling the world. Watch our video walkthrough to see how you can start a travel agency with Cruise Planners.

New call-to-action