How to Start a Travel Business
If you're seeking an article that merely suggests building a website, designing a logo, and purchasing paid ads, this isn't the piece for you. However, if you're interested in practical advice on maximizing commissions as you embark on your travel business journey, read on. This career isn't difficult to excel in, but it does require dedication and strong social skills. The industry is outdated, with even the most "reputable" sources advising agents to adopt old-school practices like charging fees and creating lengthy PDF itineraries. Our agents earn significantly more than the average travel agent. Here's how to launch a profitable travel business.
Firstly, Choose the Right Host Agency
We've written extensively about this topic. In summary, your host agency can either make or break your success. Our agency offers free training, comprehensive support, continued education, covers your errors and omissions insurance and licensing costs, competitive commission splits, and most importantly, we do all of this without charging for training or asking for monthly or quarterly memberships. Not all hosts offer these benefits. We know because we were once part of a host agency that simply allowed us to use their IATA and then sent out commission reports in PDFs which took hours to reconcile. We believe we are the best host agency around, having designed ourselves to be so. But don't just take our word for it. Check out our article on How to Select the Best Host Travel Agency and conduct your own independent research.
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Remember, even when you join a host, you must maintain the perspective that you are still responsible for your own travel business. Need tax write-offs? Consider forming a business entity like an LLC. Don't rely on your host to handle everything for you. Starting a travel business will require you to invest time in building the business, regardless of your host.
Secondly, Learn About the Industry
Travel knowledge won't magically seep into your mind. Even with travel agent training, you'll need to continually learn and update your knowledge. If you don't know the best luxury hotels in Paris off the top of your head, start by checking out resources like the Forbes Travel Guide. If you're selling mostly all-inclusives, you'll need to dig deep to discern which ones are genuinely nice and which ones might leave your client with a terrible hangover or food poisoning.
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The more you know, the better you'll be at positioning yourself as a travel expert, attracting more clients. We have a group chat with all agents that is a 24/7/365 conversation. Our agents sign contracts stating they cannot poach another LuxRally Travel Agent's client, fostering a supportive environment where agents help each other out, especially with tricky markets.
Thirdly, Leverage Your Network
This may sound simple, but many people overlook it. People often misunderstand what a travel agent does, viewing it as an obsolete profession with no value. Changing their perception can be both fun and profitable. It's much easier to change someone's mind when they know you or know of you. So, the first step to gaining clients? Categorize the people you know into groups based on their travel preferences. This could range from school teachers who travel over the summer and stay in all-inclusives or take cruises, to high-earning surgeons who embark on luxury trips a few times a year. Once you've outlined these groups, consider which travel products would appeal to them.
Fourthly, Understand Your Value Proposition
Your value proposition is how you provide value to your clients. If you don't understand your value proposition, you will struggle. For example, I once met a travel agent couple on a Virgin Voyages cruise who had invested almost $10,000 in training, travel, and other start-up costs with their host, but hadn't made a sale. When asked about their value proposition, they couldn't articulate it. We were at a bar with a gentleman who took cruises every other month and he asked them to sell him on why he should book his cruises with them. They said "Because we will do all of the work for you." He was unimpressed. I then interjected, "If you book with a travel agent on Virgin Voyages, they can get you things like a $500 bar credit, which it seems you might be able to use." Instantly, he was sold.
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Not knowing your value proposition, or why a client should book through you, will leave you looking unprepared. We train our agents on understanding their value proposition and using it as the foundation for all of their self-promotion. A significant part of our value proposition philosophy is that we are free and better. We prohibit charging fees at our agency, so to our clients, the services are always free. If you feel strongly about charging fees, join another host agency, and continue making it easy for our agents to attract clients.
When starting out, your personal network is where you'll find your initial clients. Many people don't understand what a travel agent does, so they're not actively looking for one. However, your name might mean something to them. Promoting yourself on your personal social media channels will give you maximum exposure to a group of people who already trust you. Don't make this harder than it has to be. Use your name and add credibility through your host's name. Promotion needs to extend beyond digital channels. Everyone travels, so any conversation could potentially lead to a new client. If you know your value proposition, have cultivated a wealth of travel knowledge, and communicate tactfully, people will realize that booking with you is better than using Expedia, American Express, or even booking directly.
Sixthly, Prioritize Service Over Sales
We train our agents to make it easier for their clients to say "yes" than "no". When someone feels they're being sold something, they may instinctively want to say "no" to conserve energy. However, when you explain your services and how you can take work off their plate, maximize their travel investment, and handle issues during travel, suddenly it takes more energy to say "no" than "yes". This approach is closely tied to your value proposition and travel knowledge. You must listen to your clients, identify their pain points, and alleviate those pain points. For example, if a client is traveling with a dog, you could offer to make all arrangements and recommend dog-friendly brands that provide dog beds, bowls, and other pet accessories so they don't have to pack these bulky items. This is just one example of how you can service your clients to the "yes" versus approaching them with a hard-sell strategy.
Seventhly, Adopt an Iterative Process
Your approach to growing your business should continually evolve as new data and experiences emerge. When promoting your travel business or refining your value proposition, don't expect things to be perfect or static. Instead, experiment and refine your strategies in small increments over time. For instance, if you want to start gaining leads through Facebook Groups and you've found a dozen groups you want to try, don't post the same message in all the groups at once. Post it in one group first and see how it performs. See if there are any comments or call-outs that you missed in your first draft, then edit it slightly and post in a couple more groups. Each time you post, you're gathering data which can help you improve. By the time you get to the last group, your post will likely perform better, as long as you're able to discern which messaging works best after experimenting with a few approaches.
Eighthly, Be Available 24/7/365
To maximize your earnings, you need to be available when people are ready to book trips. Get a message from a client in the middle of the night? It may be worth your while to wake up and respond. In a movie and have a VIP client ask you to call them? Step out and handle it. Your clients expect good service, and this means responsive communication. We've seen agents in forums complain about clients messaging them late on a Sunday evening, deeming it rude and telling their client they'll be available to chat on Tuesday. We love seeing this because it shows our competition is weak. Do you really think your client is going to wait a few days to book a trip they're excited about? They might, but in the meantime, they'll likely explore more options or even talk themselves out of the trip. More importantly, if you have a client traveling overseas, you need to be prepared to assist them at odd hours, especially in an emergency. Procrastination takes more time than just getting things done, so addressing your clients' needs immediately translates into a higher hourly wage for yourself and a better experience for them.
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Ninthly, Understand Money
This one is easy for some, harder for others. We train our agents to understand the flow of money in this industry, from their own commissions to how our travel partners make a living. From understanding group contracts to sending wealthy clients on journeys to whet their luxury travel appetites, all these components of a travel business are critical to understand in order to maximize earnings.
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Let's say someone wants to book a group trip for their corporate incentive trip. Your commission from this booking could be close to six figures, and all you need to do is help negotiate the contract. Would it make sense to also charge this company thousands of dollars in fees? No, it doesn't, but our competitors seem to think so. Hence, our group travel business is booming. People are switching to us and sharing horror stories from their previous travel agents. Not only have many of our group clients had agents who charged exorbitant fees on lucrative bookings, but many agents also do not negotiate aggressively because they view it as losing money on their commission. Agents who think this way do not understand money and end up earning less over time. If you don't understand how the hotel makes money, you won't be good at negotiating the contract. If you don't understand how the client views their investment, then you won't retain them long-term and risk losing them to a competent travel agent who acts almost like a fiduciary to their client. Lastly, if you don't understand how you make money long-term, you may become greedy and short-sighted and find yourself constantly needing to find new clients to replace the lost ones.
Conclusion: We Don't Sugarcoat Success
If you disliked this article, our host agency is not for you. Our founder, as far as we know, is the highest-earning single agent in the world, and his tactics have helped others earn multiples of the average agent's income. This job requires dedication to compete at a high level. We do not promise overnight success, nor do we promote strategies broadly accepted in the industry. The industry is dying in many sectors but growing exponentially for us. We are paying attention to the modernization of the sector while many other host agencies are living in an old-school fantasy land. Fees, time-consuming PDF itineraries, not getting back to your clients quickly, and many other detrimental business practices will kill your earning potential.
We are here with a singular purpose: to generate profit. If your goals align with ours and you're committed to providing exceptional service to your clients, we believe we could be an excellent fit for you. How can you be certain that we're genuinely invested in helping your travel business thrive? The answer is straightforward: our earnings are directly tied to yours. We offer free travel agent training, have dedicated support staff who assist our agents at no additional cost, and cover expenses such as errors and omissions insurance and licensing costs. We don't burden our agents with quarterly or monthly fees. Our revenue comes solely from commission splits with our agents, which means if our agents aren't successful, neither are we. So, if you're seeking travel agent mentors who provide candid advice, aren't afraid to challenge poor business practices, and are fully motivated to help you secure clients, we invite you to learn more about becoming a travel agent with our team.