How to Become an Independent Travel Agent

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Becoming an independent travel agent can be a profitable undertaking if you do your homework. Unlike many careers in the 21st century, you won't need to commit four years to getting a degree, either, because the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) provide training resources online.

Benefits of Becoming an Independent Travel Agent

Perhaps the top benefit of being a travel agent is that you'll earn discounts for your own hotel stays, car rentals, cruises, and tours, allowing you to explore new places and experience new cultures as part of your job.

You'll be able to be your own boss and set your own hours, which will probably turn out to revolve around your clients' hours, but, in any case, it provides more freedom than the average office job. Home-based agents (who typically have at least a decade of experience) are often eligible for some travel expense and home tax deductions, too.

What the Job Entails

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, according to the ASTA and NACTA. In fact, 75 percent of independent travel agents specialize in cruises and earn an average of 14 percent commission from their sales.

A successful agent needs to develop knowledge and experience about some aspect of travel. If you're thinking of becoming an independent agent yourself, then consider which niche appeals to you. 

Choosing a Host Agency

Because 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. Ninety-one percent of independent travel agents say they split commissions with a host agency, according to the ASTA and NACTA.

Before signing on with a company that presents an enticing website or tries to sell a package to become a travel agent, ask questions and request a written statement of benefits and expenses.

  • Does the company offer agent support, including accounting, technical, marketing, and commission tracking?
  • What about commissions? You'll want to join a company with high vendor commissions and a high agent/host agency commission ratio. Host agencies split commissions with agents, but some also charge monthly fees or other agent charges.
  • What training programs are offered by the host agency?
  • Which global distribution system (GDS) does the host agency use? Is it a system the agent is already familiar with or is GDS training provided?
  • Are marketing opportunities offered?
  • Which consortia is the agency is partnered with? Many have preferred vendors that have higher negotiated commissions and an above-average reputation.
  • Does the agency belong to ASTA, NACTA, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), or International Air Transport Association (IATA)?
  • 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?

Some well known host agencies include Nexion Travel Group, Outside Agents, Oasis Travel Network, Uniglobe Travel Center, and Cruise Planners.

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