Becoming an Independent Travel Agent

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Becoming an independent travel agent can be a profitable undertaking if you do your homework. According to ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), and NACTA ((National Association of Career Travel Agents) independent travel agents have seen their fortunes improve year after year.

Key Findings From an ASTA and NACTA Study

  • Seventy-five percent of the study participants have a cruise niche and earn an average of 14% commission.
  • Most agents averaged 33 hours per work week and one third said that was their primary source of income.
  • 91% of the agents split commissions with a host agency.
  • 67% of the independent agents do not use a GDS or Global Distribution system.
  • The Caribbean and Mexico were the top selling destinations.
  • Most home-based agents have between 10 and 19 years of travel experience.

The study also highlights the fact that successful independent travel agents don't necessarily need specific experience. However, the more experience an agent has, the more confident consumers are in relying on the agent for travel advice.

Developing a niche specialty of travel, such as cruise sales, can be one of the most important factors in developing a travel business. A successful agent needs to develop knowledge and experience about some aspect of travel. That's probably one of the key features of the successful agent. If you're thinking of becoming an independent agent, think carefully about a niche that appeals to you. 

Some Essential Characteristics to Look for in a Host Agency

  • Does the company offer agent support, including accounting, technical, marketing and commission tracking?
  • Look for high vendor commissions. Host travel agencies earn commissions from vendors based upon the number of annual sales and other negotiated factors.
  • High agent/host agency commission ratio. Host agencies divide commissions with agents, but some also charge monthly fees or other agent charges.
  • Check to see what training programs are offered by the host agency.
  • Which GDS booking systems does the host agency use? Is it a system the agent is already familiar with or is GDS training provided as well?
  • Are marketing opportunities offered?
  • Check which consortia the agency is partnered with. Many agencies have preferred vendors that have higher negotiated commissions that also have an above average reputation.
  • Does the agency belong to ASTA, CLIA, IATA (International Air Transport Association) or NACTA?
  • Does the agency give agents referrals to potential clients?
  • Who keeps track of sales and commissions? Does the agency give an agent a sales report?
  • How often does the host agency pay the agents?
  • What type of invoicing and record keeping is the agent required to do?
  • Is the agent required to pay for error and omission insurance or bonding?
  • Which office equipment is required by the host agency?

Advantages and benefits of becoming an independent travel agent:

  • Earn travel discounts for a hotel stay, car rentals, cruises, and tours.
  • Be your own boss and work on your own schedule. Although this sounds pretty dreamy, many clients think that if an agent works from home, that makes them available any day at any hour. Hours should be set and adhered to as much as possible unless unrestricted work hours are offered as an extra benefit the agent presents to their clients.
  • Learn more about world geography and cultures.
  • Home-based agents are often eligible for some travel expense and home tax deductions.
  • Possibility to make a profitable career doing a job you enjoy.
  • Ability to network with others in the travel workforce.

Since individuals do not require travel agency experience to be an independent travel agent, there are hundreds of companies that offer to be host agencies for beginners. Before signing on with a company that presents an enticing website or tries to sell a package to become a travel agent, ask a lot of questions and see in writing what benefits will be received as an agent, and what expenses the agent will be responsible for. Check with reputable local travel agencies to see what they require to begin as an independent travel agent.

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