What's Involved with Switching Hosts
The ideal situation for any travel professional is to find a host agency that works both when they are starting their business, and that will meet their needs as they grow so they never have to change. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes your business changes and your host agency is no longer a good fit. Sometimes your host agency is the one changing and it’s no longer a fit for you. And in some cases, people just find a better option.
The reality is that travel agents switch host agencies every day.
You just need to know the best way to navigate the transition.
Before we get into too much detail, I want to emphasize that how a transition happens is determined in large part by the contract you have with your current host agency. That contract should spell out what happens if you decide to leave them. If you are considering changing hosts, you should certainly give that document a good read to make sure you know what your options are.
Regardless of the reason, people change host agencies all the time. Unfortunately, it isn’t like turning off a light in one room and turning on one in another room. For most agents there is a period of time when you will be dual-hosted. That means you have two hosts: one for those bookings that you have already made that you haven’t been paid for, and another for all future bookings.
Many agents think it isn’t possible to be dual hosted. Unless you are a franchisee (which is a completely different kettle of fish), your host agency cannot prevent you from being dual hosted. You are an independent contractor. You have the right to do business with the companies that make sense for you. This is a cornerstone of what makes someone an independent contractor (which is an IRS designation) and not an employee.
What concerns most people – and rightfully so – is how you will be paid the commissions from bookings already made. Most often we see that agents continue their affiliation with their original host until commission is paid on all of their bookings. For some agents that can mean being dual-affiliated for a year or more. All of your new bookings go through your new host and you don’t put anything new through your old host. So, you’re just staying until you get paid.
Many people think that if they change host agencies they can take their bookings with them. That’s rarely true. Most likely if you walk away and sever your relationship completely (rather than dual host) you forfeit your rights to the commission you are owed in the future. That’s not true with all hosts, so check your contract.
And keep in mind that you probably don’t have to notify your current host that you are working with another one. Whether or not you decide to tell your current host that you are changing, you may want to make a change to the hosting plan you are on if there is a monthly charge. It varies from agency to agency, but in many when you change your commission plan it only applies to future bookings. Since you aren’t going to put any future bookings through the original host, it makes sense to change to the cheapest plan. This does not usually affect bookings made in the past, but again, read the contract.
Here’s another option to consider: You may not have to change hosts. If you love everything about your host except the commission split, talk to the owners or managers and see what you can negotiate. If you are a productive agent and a valued member of their community, they will probably want to do what they can to keep you.
The bottom line is this: If you aren’t happy with your host agency and have decided it is in your best interest to change hosts, it doesn’t get any easier to wait. In many cases it makes it worse because frustration and resentment build. That negative energy doesn’t serve you or your business.
Questions to Ask the New Host Agencies You are Considering Affiliating With:
- What is their commission rate for the vendors you book a lot? (Have a list of your top 10 handy)
- Are there restrictions on commission pay out for non-preferred vendors?
- How do they handle service/professional fees you charge clients?
- Can you change your commission plan when you want to?
- Are there extra changes, fees, or deductions you need to be aware of?
- Co-op: Can you request co-op from vendors?
- Consortia: Is it a match with your specialty?
- To best judge the vibe, talk to people who are members (ideally more than one)
- Are there opportunities to get together?
- How many members do they have?
- What type of non-vendor training do they provide?
- How do they handle FAMs (by application? Only for top producers? By time with the agency?)
Branding & Clients
- Can I operate under my own brand or do I have to use your branding?
- Do you market to my clients?
- If I leave what happens to clients I brought with me? Those I added while I was affiliated with you?
New to Industry
- If you are new to the industry, you need much more than a host agency, you need a training program.
- What do you offer for agents who are new to the industry? Is your training created by you or is it third-party content?
- Do you offer mentorship? Who are the mentors? (Ideally they have full-time mentors or at least a few key people designated to be mentors so you aren’t bothering selling agents.)
- Do you provide training on building a travel business, not just on travel products?
Here are 2 things that a lot of host agencies offer, that you shouldn’t give much weight to:
Since the closure rate on most leads programs is less than 10%, that means 90% of the time you are wasting time. Don’t pick a host just because of a leads program! If they have one and you want to participate, ask:
- What is your average closure rate for leads?
- What are the requirements to join the leads program and to remain in it?
- What are the fees/commission deductions on leads bookings?
- How are future bookings with that client handled?
Templated websites don’t usually give you the personalization options you need to set yourself apart
- How much customization can be done to the site? Can you share examples of customized sites?
- Do I have any control over the vendor offers that are included?
- Am I required to use your website or can I create my own?