Travel Agent Income Report, 2017

Travel agent income is a hot topic in our neck of the woods. But it’s tough finding data out there that focuses on independent agents: In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual wage for a travel agent was $36,460 annually and $17.53 hourly. 1 This is all fine and dandy, until I read on to see that the BLS also reported that only 10% of respondents were self-employed. What about the income of independent agents (self-employed travel agents)? That’s what we were determined to find out!  

The Host Agency Reviews crew gathered some serious data that more accurately reflects you and your agency model. In May we issued a Travel Agent Income Survey, and it returned results that encompass the range and complexity of independent agents. And by golly, do we have a lot of information to share with you.

Who Took This Survey?

Over 700 agents responded to our survey . . . is your jaw on the floor too?! The responding travel agents really hit this one out of the park. How did we reach that many agents? Spoiler alert—it wasn’t a phone a tree. We connected through social media channels, reached out to travel media publications, and (of course!) to the 130+ host agencies listed on our site.

This means that our data is really fragmented. While there’s no “average” travel agent (yes, you are a special snowflake), the survey did offer a pretty good picture of who participated. Of those completed the survey:

  • 97% are hosted (seriously, I can hear the Rocky theme song in my head right now)

 

  • 96.6% of agents are home based

 

  • The average amount of experience reported was 7.5 years.

 

  • 37.5% reported that selling travel was their primary source of income.

 

  • Ocean Cruises was the most popular specialty/ niche selected, and the product most frequently sold

 

  • 80% of respondents identify as female.

 

  • The average age was 50 years old (you young guns!)

That’s just a teaser. We don’t want you to drown in information. We really don’t. So for this article, we’re going to focus on factors that impact travel agent income. But if you’re starving for data, and you want to read up on more deets on income and demographics, you gotta check this article out!

What Did We Ask? 

The survey was broken down into six parts:

  • Time investment: How many hours worked per weekly, amount of time spent per booking, etc.

 

  • Affiliations: In terms of host, franchise, consortia, accreditation and/or membership groups.

 

  • Income: How much earned in terms of commissions, service fees and consultation fees, earning growth, etc.

 

  • Certification/ Education: General education and travel-industry-specific education.

 

  • Demographics: A pulse on who is the “average” travel agent.

 

  • Job Satisfaction:  Are travel agents full of unbridled joy? Remorse?

Yes. We covered A LOT of ground. So thank you for sticking with our survey if you took it! We appreciate your feedback more than you’ll ever know.

If you want to check out the survey, you can take a look here. Your response won’t be included in the data (sad face), but we’ll be doing this survey annually! So stay on the lookout! We’re really excited to continue this survey and look at how the trends change from year to year!

Travel Agent Income, Overall 

The hosted agent is not a clock-in, clock-out nine-to-fiver office job (*sighs with relief*). So one of the challenges of attempting to find a cohesive narrative in terms of hosted agent income is that there are soooooooooo many factors that come into play.

In the Travel Agent Income Survey, we explored many of these factors that influence income including years of experience, time investment, size of client base, total annual bookings, and so much more. For example, less than half the respondents (47.3%) reported they work full time (30+ weekly).

But for a massive, bird’s eye view of things, we didn’t factor in any of these considerations. We also recognize that entrepreneurship is no walk in the park, and it can take a few years to establish your business. So, those factors aside (for now), of established travel agents (with 3+ years of experience), the average gross annual earnings reported was $30,464.

How did you measure this? We estimated gross income by combining annual income from commissions, service fees and consultation fees. We removed major money-raking outliers that would skew the stats, so we think the number is pretty realistic. Boom! Magic.

Why did you report gross income, before expenses? Funny you should ask. The range of percentage of gross income that agents would write off was a vast, uncrossable chasm. Some agents reported writing off zilch (ahem, HAR does NOT endorse that! Talk to your accountant and read this article!!!), and others reported writing off over 100% of their gross income. So that came up with some pretty funky numbers that won’t really help anyone.

Operating at Zero or at a Loss

23% of agents reported earning zero or negative income. Dang. This surprised us. So of course we wanted to investigate.

So allow me to provide you a little context. 79.2% of agents who reported zero income had been operating their own agency for 2 years or fewer.

We love all travel agents obviously. But newbie travel agents tend to give HAR a lot of extra love. So we’re not surprised that the survey attracted so many travel agents that are newer to running an agency. We’re also just so dang excited that the travel industry is growing.

Still feeling a little bummed? Would it make you feel better knowing that only 9.8% of respondents reported a decrease in overall travel sales from the previous year. 2 PHEW!!! Obviously, we are happy about this upward trend. Well done, agents.

So don’t despair! We’re going to look at where the income comes from and examine correlations between experience, time investment and travel agent education/training and earnings. Tallyho!

Income in Correlation to Time Investment

Overall, agents were all across the map regarding the number of hours they reported working weekly (helloooooooo flexibility!). But in general, 47.3% of responding agents reported they work full time (30+ hours per week), while the rest reported working part time.

The average income for all full time agents registered at $35,524, and $44,122 for established agents only3. For agents reporting part time work, their income average was $23,827 in general, and $30,464 for established agents only. 

This chart reflects the amount of time spent working per week for all agents: 

 

It’s also probably no surprise that folks working full time are more likely to consider selling travel their primary source of income. Of agents who reported selling travel was their primary source of income, 84.6% considered themselves full time employees.

I mention this because income among agents who consider selling travel as their “primary income,” was exceedingly higher than agents who reported it was not. Seriously, hold onto your pants . . . earnings were an average of 397% higher among travel agents who reported that selling travel was not their primary income.

We also tallied average time spent per booking, but found that there was no significant relationship between years of experience of how much time agents spent on bookings. That said, years of experience most definitely influenced income level!

Read on, it’s just getting to the good part 🙂

Income in Correlation to Experience

My little sneak preview indicated an upward trend of income in relationship to experience. By experience, we don’t necessarily mean “years in the industry.” Some agents have previously worked as an employee and are venturing on their own, or are re-entering the industry after a hiatus. For the purposes of our survey, we consider experience in terms of how long the agent has owned or worked for the travel agency under which they’re currently reporting.

With one exception4, as agents reported more experience, income trended upward among those for whom selling travel is a primary source of income. Hurray! More good news!

A Breakdown of Travel Agent Income

To determine Annual Gross Income (AGI), we tallied the sum of commissions, service fees and consultation fees. (Are we missing an income stream? Give me a holler!!!) It’s probably no surprise that commissions account for the lion’s share of gross income—in fact, 71.58% of responding agents reported that commissions make up 100% of their income.  Wowzers. 

 

Of those that reported income from service/consultation fees, the average annual service fee income registered at $5,650 and the annual consultation fee income was $2,777. Are you interested in charging service? Do you already charge service fees and and want to see how your fees compare to other agents? Check out our 2017 Travel Agent Service Fee Survey results here!

Travel Agent Income, the Big Picture

This infographic is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ahhhh, soak in all that data!!! It’s like a tanning booth for your brain. Behold:

 


One of the major takeaways from the survey is that there’s some ramp-up time to get a travel agency running to a point where it can earn a more sustainable income. It’s no walk in the park to build a client base and to begin to get returns on a marketing and social media presence. But once that groundwork is established, you can spend more time booking clients than finding them.

I’m not trying to feed you a Cinderella story, but agents who are in it for the long haul will likely be rewarded with more income stability.

Moral of the story? Newbies, you got this! Seasoned agents? Keep up the great work!

Still want more? Well, we do have loads of demographic information, plus a little more detail on income in relationship to education, region, gender and pet preferences. And it’s all right here. 

Questions to ask? Comments to share? Surprises to reveal? Grievances to air? Well, drop us a line in the comments below!!


Howdy! Mary BioHave we met? This is your fellow wanderer, Mary Stein. I’m a writer by trade, and a traveler in my heart and soul. I joined the Host Agency Reviews crew as Content Editor in 2015. This means that I’m learning along with you. You can learn a little more about me (and my pup) here. >>>

But enough about me! I want to hear about you and your journey into the industry! Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or if you just want to say hello!


Comments

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Travel Agents, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/travel-agents.htm (visited June 01, 2017)
  2. Data only includes respondents who replied “yes” or “no” to the question, “Did your agency’s 2016 annual travel sales increase from the prior year?” Respondents who replied “N/A or Unknown” were excluded from this data.
  3. established agents are respondents who have 3+ years of experience
  4. For agents who reported selling travel was their primary source of income, there was a 9.2% decrease in earnings reported between experience range of 9-11 to 12-14 years.

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