It takes a lot of guts and inner strength to start a business. But it seems since the pandemic there are more people than ever before taking this leap of faith.
BBC News reported this week a record year for business start-ups. In fact, 772,000 new companies were formed in 2020.
The first thing to understand is that there are many types of travel businesses you can start.
For example, you can open a shop, start a travel website or become a home-based personal travel consultant. Each of them comes with their own specific challenges. But there are also common things that every travel business has to do in order to succeed.
At The Travel Franchise, we’ll support you and help you to figure out whether this is A) right for you and B) how to make your dream a reality.
This guide will show you how to start a travel business, in 12 steps.
1) Choose the type of travel business you want to run
Open a shop
Contrary to popular opinion, a retail travel shop is still a fantastic business model. You just need to make sure you have the right travel options and trusted brand for customers that prefer to visit you in-store.
However, opening a store doesn’t come cheap. Beyond the rest of the steps below you’ll have to deal with landlords, rates and all the sundry fit-out costs. There are far more cost-effective ways to start a travel business before committing to this kind of expense.
Develop a travel website
Building an effective travel website is not for the faint-hearted. You could start with a blog and grow, but creating a live-bookable-site that customers can use themselves will take a huge investment of time (if you can code) or money (if you outsource).
That’s before considering the competition. Remember, travel websites are ten-a-penny and there are huge brands out there. If you plan to compete online for site visitors, you’ll need deep pockets to compete with businesses that can afford millions of pounds in TV, radio, outdoor and online ads.
There’s also the fact that many customers have been stung by sites with cheap offers who actually provided little to no recourse when airlines or operators go bust. Cheap offer sites in general now have a reputation problem.
Become a Personal Travel Consultant
This is one of the least-expensive and fastest routes to start a travel business.
More than that, the global pandemic has shown travellers now truly understand & appreciate the value of a Personal Travel Consultant. Someone who’s there to support them, versus the cheap, stack ’em high, faceless companies who’ve shown their true colours in customer service in recent months.
All of this means Personal Travel Consultants (and your new business) will be more important than ever to all the people out there excited to book holidays in the future.
2) Do the boring but necessary bits
To run any professional travel business, you’ll need to fulfill all the legal requirements and licenses required.
The good news is that you don’t need any experience or official qualifications to become a travel consultant, so in effect anyone could do it.
Of course, you’ll need to build up fantastic knowledge of the travel industry so that you can provide a great experience for your customers.
If you go it alone, it will greatly increase your chances of success if you join an association. You’ll be taken more seriously and it will build trust with customers;.
The most widely recognised trade association is the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). Although this is also the most expensive and therefore aimed less at start-ups.
Also, you must have Air Travel Organisers Licensing (ATOL) which allows you to sell airline tickets. Without it you’ll only be able to sell accommodation and ground transport, which isn’t much use for your customers.
To run any travel business in the UK means dealing with an increasingly regulated market.
It’s becoming even more stringent with the introduction of The New Package Travel Directive. This directive protects European travellers’ rights when booking package holidays. However, the regulations are purely in place to protect consumers, not to make business within the travel industry difficult.
If this seems overwhelming… The good news is, when you join The Travel Franchise, all this is handled for you. You’ll benefit from all our existing ATOL and ABTA licenses. Plus, our legal and travel-trade team’s know-how and experience will continue to support you.
This means that you don’t have to spend time figuring out how to navigate all the important stuff above and you can focus on what you love most: Creating special memories and organising amazing holidays.
3) Build your product base
It seems obvious, but it has to be said. You can’t run a travel business unless you have something to sell. You’ll need flights, hotels, transfers, attractions tickets, guided tours, across different destinations.
But where do you get all this from? Well, there are 2 paths up ahead.
You’ll need to make a list of companies you can approach and you’ll need to ask them permission to sell their packages. The well established operators will have lots of questions for you, as they’ll want to associate with professional businesses.
If your travel business is just starting out, you are unlikely to be in a position to demand a great % to keep as your commission, which means generating income will be harder (as you’ll need to sell more holidays).
Equally it might be worth looking up negotiation skills and watching a few videos to get yourself prepared.
Once you have some suppliers/companies to work with, great. But it doesn’t end there. You’ll need to maintain those relationships and grow them. Which will require time, effort and plenty of patience.
Join another company which has all these existing supplier relationships in place.
Every company is different, but at The Travel Franchise we have over 450 suppliers and millions of options already in place, which you’ll gain immediate access to when you join.
This will dramatically accelerate your new business, and will mean you can hit the ground running, selling all kinds of travel. Your shop window will be full of exciting products to sell.
We’re also a major part of the Hays Independence Group. This is the largest independent travel agent in the UK, giving us around £2 billion in buying power. All of this means we get the best commercial terms (and commissions) around. So you can earn more, right from the start.
4) Find your niche
One of the mistakes some people make when it comes to starting a business is they want to sell everything to everyone. You may be thinking if I’m just starting out, why would I limit myself? But by not having a niche or a specialism you’ll be reducing your chances of success and you may well get lost amongst the noise online, in such a competitive industry.
Having a specialism, a niche, will help you to:
- Develop your expertise faster
- Differentiate yourself
- Stand out from the competition
- Develop a community in your niche
If you’re not sure where to start, try researching online at what others are doing, what are the trends, what are the emerging markets? Perhaps revisit what you love most about travelling, or look at your trips over the years. Is there a recurring theme? This could be your niche or a source of inspiration for it.
It’s up to you to become an expert in the space and differentiate your business from the rest.
It’s also important to stay ahead of current trends – such as Sustainable Travel.
Sustainable travel has been on the rise for years now. Not only is a global pandemic unlikely to change that—it could even make traveling sustainably seem more important than ever.”National Geographic
Get the best of both worlds
Because you get trained across all types of travel AND get taught how to niche-down, a Not Just Travel franchise enables you to sell any kind of travel for any budget.
We’ve seen people over the years specialise in certain types of travel, destinations and target niche audiences they love working with, alongside making more general bookings. David Walker specialises in luxury travel, Ben & Toni Rood sell tons of trips to Lapland and Liz & Ian capitalise on their knowledge of South Africa, just to mention a few.
You may say, “it’s too late”. “It’s already been done”. “There are no niches left”. This is simply not the case. There is no one in this world that can do what you do, that can say what you say and utilise your own skills and experience. You just have to have the faith to trust in YOURSELF and make it happen.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”Chinese Proverb
5) Decide on a name and create a brand
Branding is just a fancy name for creating an online ‘shop window’, a perception of your company and the products/services it sells, and ultimately who it’s for. Some areas of branding you’ll need to consider is deciding on a name, a logo and brand colours etc.
This can cost a lot of money, if you decide to work with a professional design agency.
If you decide to join The Travel Franchise, the good news is, this is all taken care of. The name of the brand, the logo, the lot. Almost all our franchisees operate under the already established ‘Not Just Travel’ brand, so that they benefit from all our experience and ongoing investment.
However, if this isn’t for you and you want to operate under your own brand name, no problem. We have David Walker from ‘The Travel Snob’ and Mark & Isobel McCardie who operate under ‘Rock My World’.
6) Create a marketing strategy
Marketing, particularly online, may well take a chunk of your initial investment to get your travel business off the ground. Your marketing strategy will be largely dependent on your niche, the target audience you are trying to reach, your budget and your resources.
What does a marketing strategy include?
Think of “marketing” as an umbrella term, and the areas below sit under that umbrella.
There’s a lot to do, and it can feel overwhelming.
These bullet points below are a good place to start your planning. There are both ‘types’ of marketing and the ‘different platforms’ to create a strategy for. This will get you off on the right foot.
- Social media
- Organic posts
- Paid ads
- Content marketing
- Video, blog, case studies, testimonials, reviews
- YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest
- Search (Google, Bing)
- Organic ranking
- Paid ads
- Email campaigns
- To newsletter subscribers to convert them
- To existing customers to keep them engaged
- The imagery, layout, design
- The copy and call-to-actions
For some more inspiration in marketing strategy, and for a more detailed list on what to do, visit 10 positive actions to take when business gets quiet – it’s well worth a visit!
If you join us, you’ll benefit from a marketing strategy which has already been tried, tested and works time and time again. You’ll also get a website ready made, with your name on it. So, you don’t have to worry.
Your travel business will also be future proofed by having our marketing team at head office behind you. Especially as this is an ever moving target, with a fierce competition. The marketing strategy you create today will be out of date and behind the rest in 3-6 months time.
7) Become an expert in what you do
To become successful long-term, like in any business sector, you’ll need to become an expert in what you do. This isn’t just about being an expert in a certain type of travel, or destination, even though that is really beneficial.
You’ll need to become an expert at running a business. This means customer service, selling, communicating with customers, handling calls and much more. You’ll be running a business after all and that requires continuous upskilling and refining.
This might seem overwhelming, but everyone starts from 0. The guys at Google & Apple started in their garage after all. Have your expectations set that it will be hard and will require work & determination. But also know that it’s possible to enjoy the journey not just the destination.
Many travel business owners find things can be quiet to begin with. But, as they gain momentum, and learn their craft overtime, their success begins to compound.
Once you get one customer who loves what you do, they’ll tell their friends. You’ll learn about their interests, likes & dislikes and it’ll grow from there.
One of the things we’re most proud about is our commitment to ongoing Mentorship.
Our franchisees don’t just benefit from their initial 5 day training course, or their Personal Travel Coach. We hold weekly webinars that develop their business acumen, and build their skills with our Head of Sales & Training.
But it’s at our ongoing training events and luxury mentorship retreats where we see our franchisees take their business to a new level.
You’ll also get access to all our holiday suppliers training, to become knowledgeable about all kinds of destinations & resorts. All this support is designed to help you become an expert in what you do.
8) Start to build great customer relationships
Some of our franchisees admit that when they first started, they thought they would set-up a travel company and the business would just flood in. If only it was that easy…
Rather than waiting, you’ll need to put yourself out there. Don’t wait for customers to turn up at your door, because in all honest truth this won’t happen and you’ll feel like a failure, when really your business didn’t have the chance to get off the ground.
Before anyone starts their travel business with us, we help them to create a contact list. This list is to help you figure out everyone you know, (your “life’s address book” basically) and use this as a starting point.
The goal should be to meet as many people as possible that you can talk about travel with.
Rachel, one of our franchisees, set-up a raffle at the school fair to get herself out there and brought in a £70k booking.
Building great customer relationships is your best route to more sales. Happy customers will talk to their friends about their experience with your business and write glowing reviews about you. Outstanding customer service is what will create referrals.
Nicola Pugh talks about this very thing in her video below. Building a 1 million pound business whilst working part-time is down to the relationships she built with her customers, that see her more as a friend than a travel consultant.
9) Take on the mindset of a media company and produce helpful, entertaining content
In today’s market, you need to adopt the mindset of a media company. Don’t think of yourself just as a travel business, but as a media company too.
That means creating awesome content so that you stay at the front of someone’s mind without having to constantly pester them for their business.
If you can create useful, entertaining, inspirational and FREE content regularly, you’ll position yourself as an authority in the space. You’ll start to see enquiries come in from organic searches, and people will stumble across your travel business online, just from your awesome content. This is when it gets really exciting, as you won’t have to rely on paid advertising to generate new business.
“Content” can mean, writing blogs, creating videos, recording podcasts and uploading them on YouTube, Facebook, producing case studies, eGuides. The list goes on.
For a travel company that could be creating things with titles like:
- 10 ultimate honeymoon destinations
- 7 things I wish I knew before going to the Maldives.
- Why do customers use me to book holidays every year?
- Places that are a must-visit if you’re a real foodie like me
The list is endless.
Or get it done for you
Our marketing team gives you more than any other travel franchise company out there, helping produce content to attract your audiences for you. That includes blog posts, social media graphics, a magazine and even a podcast.
10) Advertise online
In the early days of your business as a Personal Travel Consultant, you really don’t need to spend much on marketing or advertising.
When and if you decide to give your business a paid-advertising boost, these days there are many opportunities to promote your business, especially online.
It’s not like the old days when you may pay a hefty fee to advertise your business in a magazine or a newspaper. It might look good but often you’d have no idea who saw it, whether anyone took action, or what business you got in return for your investment.
Below are a few options to advertise your business online:
- Launch Facebook Ads
- This is not a social post, but a campaign
- Boost Facebook posts
- You can start with as little as £10 per day
- Create Google Ads
- This is so you’ll be found when people search
A word of caution here. Facebook boosted posts are relatively safe, anyone can do it.
But spending money on Google Ads, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be like throwing money at the wall and expecting it to stick. Seek professional help here.
11) Set goals
Setting goals for yourself and your travel business is key. Not just in the beginning, but reviewing these goals regularly and your progress towards them.
A trap some people fall into is creating unrealistic goals and then feeling disappointed when they didn’t reach them. It’s important to push yourself and create goals which will require work to reach them, but you don’t want to be too ambitious. Especially when starting out.
Setting goals in your travel business is important for many reasons:
- They will provide focus and direction
- It’ll help you to measure progress
- They help you to keep motivated
- It’s a great exercise to figure out what you want
Our initial training covers setting goals, and their importance, our franchisees are also supported and guided towards creating their own business plans, based on their personal goals, lifestyle and why they started in the first place.
12) Form strategic partnerships
Connecting with new customers one by one can be time consuming. Growing your business by forming strategic partnerships can take things to a new level.
Creating strategic partnerships is not a new concept. Companies have built empires through it for decades. A great example of strategic partnerships is Starbucks and Spotify. Starbucks employees received a premium Spotify subscription. They used it to curate playlists featured on Spotify. Users then earned My Starbucks Reward points through the Spotify music app.
As a small business, one thing you can do to rapidly grow your brand is to seek out strategic partnerships with like-minded larger businesses. Particularly those that share commonalities and target markets, but which are not direct competitors.
Strategic partnerships can be a game changer for a small business. It’s all about creating a win-win. Ask yourself what’s in it for us? What’s in it for them? How can we add value to their customers and proposition?
Nicola Pugh formed a partnership with the best wedding planner in Cyprus. All the brides the wedding planner looks after then come over to Nicola. They book their wedding trip, all their friends’ flights and hotels and often the honeymoon too.
Or you could take the fast-track, by partnering with a company that will make the whole process faster & easier.
These 12 steps are a proven way to start a successful travel business. The question to ask yourself is… “Do I go it alone? Or do I partner with an established company?’
Both choices have pros and cons, and only you can decide which path is the right one for you to take.
The popularity of franchising, the option of joining another company, has grown exponentially in the UK in the last 20 years, according to the British Franchise Association.
But why? This fact summarises it pretty well.
Half of all independent new businesses fail within their first two years whilst 90% of franchise businesses become profitable in that same period of time.BFA
Here are some of the top reasons why some people decide to join our franchise, rather than go it alone:
- Access to a tried, tested and ready-made business model
- A complete travel product, with great commissions already negotiated
- The initial and ongoing support, not to mention the essential training
- When you invest you join a business, with a financial backbone
- Less worry as legal compliance, systems, procedures are taken care of
- Use of a trusted, known brand in the market, with authority you can benefit from