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How to start a travel agency business

How to start a travel agency business

If you dream of running a business from home, love travel and enjoy helping people, starting your own travel agency is a great idea. Every year, millions of people travel to explore vibrant cities, idyllic islands and remote landscapes and you can help them achieve their goal and, at the same time, earn a lucrative income.

It may seem a daunting prospect to start a travel agency business, but it’s much less complicated than you’d think, especially if you join a travel franchise where all the necessary components are already established for you. 

This article will take you through the salient points to consider and set you on the path to travel agency success. 

Building a travel agency business 

What is the difference between a travel agent and tour operator?

Tour operators research and design their own holiday itineraries and packages that can consist of a flight, transport, a tour guide and hotel. Many tour operators sell their own packages but they do not sell other tour operators’ packages.  

Travel agents in theory don’t create their own packages, but in general sell a variety of holidays put together by many different tour operators. 

The travel agent is responsible for booking reservations, giving advice and helping the customer should something go wrong. 

Can you make money with a travel agency?

Absolutely you can!

When you sell any travel product to your customers, such as flights, hotels or cruises, you earn a percentage of that sale from the travel supplier. This is your commission. The amount varies depending on the product sold, and the company providing the product.

You can earn 10-20% of the holiday’s total cost with some tour operators which means selling a £5000 holiday could give you an income of £500-£1000. With this model, you can see your earning potential is based on how many holidays you sell and there is no upper limit to how much money you can make. 

How much does it cost to open a travel agency?

The costs involved in starting a travel agency can vary greatly depending on how you plan to run your business. Investing in brick-and-mortar premises will make your initial outlay a little daunting, but become a homeworking travel agent and those costs are reduced dramatically. 

Licences

In order to protect your customers, you are required to provide financial protection for holiday packages typically via ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence). Becoming ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) member can also offer protection for non-flight-based holidays. 

By joining these travel industry associations, you ensure that if an airline cancels a flight, or a hotel closes, your customers can still enjoy their holiday, get home safely and not be left out of pocket. The licence can also protect you against any financial loss in these circumstances. 

Your membership in these organisations brings credibility and authority to your business, demonstrating to customers that you’re reliable and that you are serious about delivering the best service possible to holiday providers. 

Website and software

Every online or homeworking travel agent will need a good website that’s user-friendly and accessible on different devices, such as laptops and smartphones. 

Whilst there are platforms that allow you to create your own website at a fraction of the cost of a professionally produced one, getting a site built by an IT expert is far preferable. Ensuring the user has a great online experience is paramount to them employing your services, and a specialist will make sure your site delivers.  While this will be costly, some travel franchises, however, provide customisable websites meaning that you won’t have to spend a penny.

Once you have decided upon a name for your business, you’ll need a recognisable logo to build brand awareness. A skilled graphic designer can use their talent to make certain that any potential customers think of you ahead of your competitors when planning a holiday. 

You also need to consider software. Industry software can help reduce the time spent on the administrative side of your business, streamlining complex processes, and ensuring everything runs smoothly. However, the software is expensive, so a travel franchise, where such systems are provided, can provide a cheaper alternative. 

Marketing 

Having an effective marketing strategy is critical to starting a travel agency and building it, and free advertising is a great way to start. Word-of-mouth costs nothing, and by selling holidays to friends and family, news will spread and referrals should begin to build your network of customers.

Social media can be a huge help. An online photo of that beautiful Caribbean island, an awe-inspiring heritage site or snow-capped mountains can help you gain a wider audience. Consider paying for a course in online marketing or research which travel franchises offer this, alongside fliers and business cards, for free. 

Associations and networking

In order to increase your knowledge and offer your customers the best service possible, it’s essential to attend a wide variety of travel industry trade fairs, events and webinars which can keep you up-to-date on the latest news and products. Consider paying to join AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators), ATTA (Adventure Travel Trade Association), and AWTE (Association of Women Travel Executives).

I want to be a travel agent, where do I start? 

Choose your travel niche

Focusing on a particular travel niche allows you to really develop knowledge around that type of experience, becoming a go-to agency when someone is seeking a specialist holiday. There are numerous ideas to consider, and if you have your own interests it is more likely that your passion will transfer to your customers which will mean that it will be easier to engage with them. If you love dogs or horse riding, pet-friendly and equestrian holidays are big business, but other ideas include:

  • Destination weddings 
  • Sports travel
  • Scuba holidays
  • Wine and food travel
  • Disney experiences
  • Special needs holidays
  • Safari holidays

Many travel agencies cater to the standard type of holiday whilst specialising in a particular niche. This allows them to cover all bases, maximising their income. 

Find your target market

When starting your own travel agency, it’s essential to research your target market – who is likely to use your business. Families, couples, and luxury travellers all want different things from their holidays, so it’s your job to provide them. Ask yourself how to connect to that audience, what would tempt them to buy one of your packages? Couples might be after a romantic beach break, or young travellers may want to explore European cities. 

Research by flicking through magazines dedicated to your audience – do any articles give clues to what type of holiday they’d pick? Social media, too, is another endless source of idea inspiration. 

Build relevant skills

Whilst there are no qualifications required to start a homeworking travel agent, a number of useful training courses are available. IATA run courses from entry-level upwards, leading to internationally recognised qualifications, Reed also has a series of accessible online courses, as does the Association of Learning.

Other relevant skills include:

  • A love of travel – a knowledge of geography and a passion for travel are essential. While you can take advantage of FAM (familiarisation) trips, you cannot visit every country, but you will have to enjoy researching destinations and attending travel trade fairs and exhibitions.
  • Customer service skills – this includes empathy, active listening, patience, and having a ‘customer-first’ attitude.
  • Excellent communication and attention to detail – you’ll need to explain everything clearly and concisely to your customer while understanding exactly what they want from a holiday.
  • The ability to sell products and services – there’s a fine line between being persuasive and too forceful, and it’s important to know the difference.
  • Administration skills – you’ll need to be organised, and have some level of IT skills.
  • A desire to help people – helping people achieve their dream holiday is the main reason many go into the travel industry 

Make a business plan

There are a couple of business options to consider when starting your travel agency. For example, you can start up your own fully independent agency, join a consortium or join a franchise. 

However, it’s worth considering that if you plan to start an independent travel agency, there can be huge start-up costs and a lack of support provided by a consortium or franchise. As a result, many independent businesses struggle and over half fail within their first two years. 

By investing in a franchise, you’ll join an established travel partnership network. You’ll also gain instant access to essential training and ongoing support, booking platforms, marketing materials, invaluable legal backing and guidance, and the use of an authoritative, trusted brand. 

How long does it take to start earning? 

Training to become a travel agent can appear daunting. Some companies expect you to pick it up instantly, before leaving you to head off into the unknown; others provide a much rounder training experience, including ongoing support and guidance. The latter method gives you the grounding you need to become a success story! 

Once you have completed your training and gained access to the booking tools, you can dive in and start selling holidays. However, remember you won’t receive any commission when the holiday is booked and will either have to wait for around eight weeks prior to travel or until the holiday has taken place. 

This is one of the reasons The Travel Franchise model works so well – you can continue in your current job, earning an income, while building up your travel agency. Once people start travelling, your income will increase as you collect your commission and it is at this point that you may choose to make it a full-time job. This also gives you time to grow your customer base and fine-tune your business plan. 

At The Travel Franchise, you’ll get training on how to grow your client base, as well as ongoing support by your own business development manager. You’ll also be able to start selling holidays in just one week after an intensive five-day training course. What better way to establish a quick yet solid foundation on which to build your travel agency?

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