10 Steps to Starting a Travel Agency from Home
If you're thinking of starting a travel agency from home, you're in luck. The start-up costs are relatively low and there are plenty of opportunities for someone with the passion to sell travel. We'll walk you through the steps you need to take to start a travel agency from home. Starting any business is no walk in a park, but it certainly helps if you have someone to advise you and lay out a path. And that's what we're here for! We're here to help support you and answer your questions as you start out on your new entrepreneurial journey!
One quick note: If you use a host agency, it will make the process of starting a travel agency waaaaay easier (especially if you're a total newbie!). We recommend it to probably 90% of our readers. When working with a host agency, there's very little risk, and the up-front costs are relatively low! For those new to the industry, we're a huge fan of the host agency route. 😊
10 Steps to Starting Your Travel Agency From Home
Here's a summary of the steps to start your travel agency from home. If you've already completed some of the steps, you can click on the link to shortcut which step is best for you!
- Find your travel agency niche: Finding a travel agency niche is a great way to hone in on what about travel you're most passionate about. If you develop a niche, you'll be building your travel agency business on a strong foundation of your strengths, interests, and personal networks. Not only that, it will help you give direction as you start (and grow) your agency!
- Choose your travel agency name: This is often a step advisors struggle with, but don't skip it! Travel vendors need a travel agency name for their records. Make sure you have one ready so you can start selling travel.
- Choose a Travel Agency Business Structure: Most new-to-industry advisors will be choosing between a sole proprietorship or a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). It's a matter of balancing host requirements (if you go with one), business protections, your agency model, and your budget. We'll walk you through it!
- Create a Travel Agency Business Plan: A travel agency business plan is a document that will help you cat herd all your amazing ideas for your business. It helps you define your mission and goals, helping you think through the process on how to get there. Best yet? We have a free 15-page travel agency business plan template you can use! Read more here on creating your business plan.
- Register Your Travel Agency with the State: This is a critical step so to legitimize your travel agency. You can register your LLC through the Small Business Administration (SBA) resource to find the steps to get registered with your specific state. This will enable you to do other fun steps like starting a business bank account.
- Get an FEIN: This is optional but recommended, here's why: It's free to get an FEIN, takes just a few minutes and if you move to a business structure that requires an FEIN in the future it will save you a few steps!
- Set Up Your Travel Agency Financials: Separating your business bank account from your personal account is required if you set up an LLC. But frankly, we recommend setting up business financials regardless of your agency model. Read why here.
- Choose Between a Host Agency, Travel Franchise, or Your Own Accreditation: There are a lot of choices in which direction to go with your travel agency. Do you have your own vendor relationships and want to get your own travel accreditation? Do you want to partner with a host agency under your own brand so you take advantage of their aggregate sales volume? Do you want a turnkey agency option with a franchise? This will help you choose.
- Check Out Host Agency Reviews' Resources Page: Our resources page gives you tips on how to optimize our site to help start your travel agency from home.
- Sign Up for 7 Day Setup Travel Agency Challenge: Within each of these steps, there are many many many other steps to starting a travel agency from home. (Yes, just like nesting dolls.) This resource will make sure you access our resources in the order you need them. Read more about it.
- Bonus: Read up on what you can expect in terms of income potential as well as time and financial investment.
I know. It can be totally overwhelming. But if you're starting a travel agency from home, these steps will help prepare you to feel 10,000% (no those extra zeros are NOT typos!) more confident. What are the preliminary steps you need to take when starting a travel agency? Funny you should ask . . .
Here are the steps to take to start your travel agency from home:
1. Find a Travel Agency Niche
A niche is your friend. When you start your home-based travel agency, a niche will help you establish your brand, create your travel agency name, and navigate the world of consortia when you get to that point. Starting a travel agency without a niche is like traveling without a compass (or, let's be honest, a smartphone). Are you going to be focusing on a destination? Maybe you'll be like Andres Zuleta, who specializes in Japan tours:
Or maybe you'll focus on a type of travel, like Deb Fogarty, who specializes in cruising:
Or maybe you're like Will Medina and have a love for destination weddings and honeymoons:
Or maybe you're more attracted to the corporate world and aim to book travel for corporations like Karen Hurlbut:
Whatever your niche, it's the first problem to solve when you're starting your travel agency! We have a free brainstorming exercise to help you find niches that you're passionate about.
2. Choose Your Travel Agency's Name
Vendors will need a travel agency name for their records so have one ready before you can start selling travel.
Whether you go with a host agency or choose to go independent, you're going to need a name for our agency. The vendors (hotels, cruise lines, airlines, etc) will need a travel agency name for their records so have one ready before you can start selling travel. Having a niche already picked out can help you as you decide on your travel agency's name.
Starting your travel agency (from home or otherwise) is a lot of work. The last thing you want as your travel agency opens its doors is a letter saying you've infringed on someone else's trademark! We help you through the things you need to consider when choosing a name for your agency. Are their any competitor's with similar names that will make it harder for you to pull up at the top of the search engines? Are the URLs available? Are their any copyrights? We go through this and a whole lot more, so dig in!
3. Choose a Travel Agency Business Structure
You can change your business structure as your needs evolve.
A base step in starting your travel agency from home is deciding on a business structure. There's a lot that goes into what is the best fit for you. Do you have personal assets like a house or car that you want to make sure are protected? How much money do you want to spend?
We help you understand the different business structure options for your new travel agency: Sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, S Corp.
As you're starting your travel agency, you may feel like the low cost of a sole proprietor makes the most sense for you. It's important to know that you can change your business structure as your needs evolve.
As your business grows and you're making more bookings (which exposes you to more liability), you can always move to a structure that gives you more personal liability protection, like the LLC. While it's more expensive, and may not be feasible for everyone as they're starting their travel agency, the protection it offers to your personal assets is incredibly important as your business grows.
4. Create Your Travel Agency Business Plan
Next step in starting your travel agency? A business plan!
While a travel agency business plan isn't technically required, it is something I highly recommend. I didn't write a business plan when I started this site but I also knew online marketing and the travel industry front and back and had the industry connections to make it work. Most people starting a travel agency from home either don't have experience in starting a company or they don't have experience in travel. This is where a business plan can help.
What a business plan does for you is it forces you to think through each different area of your business and come up with a plan. Will you stick to that plan 100%? Probably not. But it gives you something to refer back to and helps you organize your thoughts. Plan to take a chunk of time to work on it as it's not something you want to do willy-nilly.
Not only that, but we made it really easy with our free 15-page travel agency business plan! All you need to do is download our template and adapt it to your agency.
While I didn't write a business plan for Host Agency Reviews, I did write a VERY detailed travel agency business plan for you. :) It's completely filled out with a fictitious travel agency. That's helpful because you can use some of the data and ideas in there on your travel agency's business plan.
Here's a peek of the business plan, but head on over to the companion travel agency business plan article to download the editable version and more details on how to fill it out.
That was good stuff, right? So let’s get started on the business plan for your travel agency. We’ll start by having you download the travel agency business plan template (an editable version of the one you just looked at above).
5. Register Your Travel Agency with the State
You're doing great! Starting a travel agency from home isn't as tough as you thought, is it? When you have a road map, it's easier much easier to navigate the start-up process.
Ok, now that you've nailed down your niche, come up with your name, and settled on a business structure, the next step is letting the state government know you've got a company. The Small Business Administration (SBA) website shows how to register your company's name by state. If you are an LLC, the SBA also has a state-by-state guide on how to register your LLC.
A word of warning: When doing a DBS, your businesses, even though they have different names are still legally considered the same entity.
Registering your company with the state is an important step because you will need this proof to open a business bank account and other random things (running FB business ads, getting a loan) as your business grows. Do yourself a favor and when those certificates come in, keep them handy in a file for your company's legal documents.
When you start your travel agency, you may have registered it as Margarita Travel. But over time, that might change. Let's say you fell into becoming the local destination wedding expert that everyone turned to. Margarita Travel works, but you want to have a more romantic name for those clients and different branding. So you create a new brand, Beach Romance, that specializes in destination weddings. Do you need to let the state know about this new company, even though it's really your same company? Yuppers.
You'll need to file a DBA with the state. DBA is an acronym for "Doing Business As." It's also sometimes referred to as a fictitious name, trade name, or assumed name. Your DBA is essentially saying, 'My formal company is Margarita Travel, but I also go by Beach Romance.'
To help you get a feel for the pros/cons of a dual-brand, listen to Andrey Zakahrenko's story of how his agency evolved into two brands: (This was our first ever podcast so please forgive the horrible sound quality!)
The one thing to know about DBAs is that they don't create a separate entity, it allows you to legally operate under different names. A word of warning: When doing a DBS, your businesses, even though they have different names are still legally considered the same entity. That means if someone sues Beach Romance for a honeymoon gone wrong, Margarita Travel is also being sued since it's the same company.
6. Get an FEIN (Optional, but Recommended)
A Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) is like a social security number for your company. It's a number to identify your business. Technically, you do not need an FEIN if you're a sole proprietor or a single-member LLC with no employees since you can use your social security number to file taxes.
However, I personally prefer not to give out my social security number if I don't have to. I also like to get my pencils lined up from the get-go. It's free to get an FEIN, takes just a few minutes and, if you move to a business structure that requires an FEIN, you won't have to worry about changing out your SS# for an FEIN on legal documents or other places that require a business identification number.
In general, I would recommend getting an EIN when starting a travel agency. Also, make sure to check in with your tax professional when it's tax filing time—for certain business structures, you may still file under your SS# even though you have an FEIN. Confusing, I know. That's why you go to the professionals! 😊
7. Set Up Your Travel Agency Financials
Like the FEIN, when starting a travel agency, you don't need a separate business bank account or credit card if you're a sole proprietor, but you'll have wished you'd had set one up come tax time! Separating your personal bank account from the business account from the start makes accounting easier and will help you keep track of business expense write-offs.
Wondering what travel expenses you can write off as a travel advisor? We've got a resource for that too. :)
Important to note: If you choose a business structure that offers personal liability protection, like an LLC, you need to keep your business and personal money separate. If you are mixing finances and paying personal bills out of your business account, or vice versa, that opens you up to personal liability.
The argument is that, yes, when you started your travel agency you chose an LLC structure, which protects your personal assets. BUT, clearly, the business and the owner are not separate entities because the owner is making business payments out of their personal bank account (or vice versa). And if you're one and the same, then your personal assets are also the business's assets.
There's a lot to consider when it comes to travel agency financials and getting the foundations laid. Don't worry, we walk you through all things having to do with your travel agency's financials: what to consider when choosing your bank, the documents you need to have ready for the bank, what business credit cards are best, and the most common software travel agencies use for their bookkeeping, and how to find a bookkeeper for your agency.
8. Decide if a Host Agency Is for Your Travel Agency
We mentioned host agencies at the very beginning of the article. And maybe you noticed the name of our site. We're big fans of host agencies for people starting a travel agency . . .but it's not for every agency out there.
Your next step is going to be one of the hardest and takes a lot of research. You need to decide if you want to go with a host agency, franchise, or go independent.
How do you know if you should go with a host agency, travel agency franchise, or if you should be independent and get your own accreditation? How do you decide which travel consortia to join if you are independent? How do you choose a host agency when there are 100+ listed on the site?
Don't you worry, little bird, it's easy to feel overwhelmed, but we have answers to all these questions.
To start, check out our article, "The Top 10 Benefits of Using a Host Agency." If you read that and decide a host agency is a good fit for you, you'll move on to our article on choosing a host agency and take a look at our best host agencies of 2023.
Oh, and we've got a great tool for you to help narrow down your list of host agencies and/or travel franchises. Here's a (free) nifty spreadsheet to help you narrow down your top picks! 😊 (Pssst, if you don't see the download below, try refreshing your browser):
9. Read our Home-Based Travel Agent Resources Page
I put together a page with loads of links so you don't have to scour the web. Here she be, the Home-Based Travel Agent Resources page. 😊
Not only that, connecting with host agencies, travel franchises and consortia couldn't be easier! You can go directly to their profile to write them via Host Agency Reviews' Q&A feature. The beauty of this is that tons of agents will also get to learn from your question too!
Did I mention that EVERY question you ask enters you into our monthly giveaway? Yup. Ask away!
PS: Since you've stuck around so long . . . here's a special hint. We don't get that many entries so it's definitely worth your time to ask those questions!
10. Sign up for HAR's Complete Guide to Starting a Travel Agency From Home
Phew. That was list was a little overwhelming, wasn't it? The fact is that there's a lot of groundwork that needs to take place in order to start a travel agency. Wouldn't it be nice if someone with tons of experience who's helped over 10,000 agency startups could walk you through the setup, step by step at your own pace with video tutorials?
Check out HAR's course, The Complete Guide to Starting a Travel Agency. The course is written and taught by HAR Founder, Steph Lee, and professional Educator, Bridget Lee. It includes nine chapters with 70+ instructional videos, course quizzes, peer accountability, and monthly meet-ups with HAR members and industry experts. Check it out!
As you can see, there are lots of things to do as you start a travel agency from home. But we're here to offer you a TON of resources and support. So take a deep breath and we'll do it step-by-step together! Once you start your travel agency from home, you'll have lots of other things that will demand your attention so laying the proper groundwork as soon as you can is smart business.
Starting a Travel Agency from Home: What to Expect Time-Wise
In general, it will take a few years to get your agency off the ground. This is the case with any entrepreneurial endeavor. We've found that it can take 3-4 years to really start generating a sustainable income.
Here's the reason it can take a while to get going (especially when you're starting a travel agency from home)
- It takes a while to build a client base and develop your brand
- Even when you do make your first bookings, you're not paid commission until after your client completes their travel (or after final payment for some vendors). So, if you make seven bookings in January but the clients aren't traveling until November, you can see how your first-year money might be tight. Let's just say, if you're wanting to walk off your current job, and are thinking that the big bucks will roll in the next month, you might want to reconsider your strategy. 😉
- Travel is something most people only do 1-2 times a year. Even with referrals and repeat clients, it can take a lot longer to build a steady business compared to a new restaurant or other service industries.
Starting a Travel Agency from Home: What to Expect Money-Wise
And money. You probably want to know what you can expect when it comes to money, huh?! 😊I hate to admit it but there is no one set answer. It depends on soooo many factors. The good news is that we were so curious to answer this question that we asked a few hundred new travel agents about their income in the first years of starting a travel agency.
It just so happens we have some hard data on travel agent income and start up costs in first 5 years of business!
That data on starting a travel agency is great. But our data doesn't stop there. We have a huge variety of data that looks at a travel agent's income—from every angle.
Even more travel agent income data
Want to dig into travel agent income data even more? Here's a great reading list that will give you an idea of what you might expect to earn when starting a travel agency:
The travel industry opens possibilities of traveling to beautiful places to help you do your job better. It's important to understand that you still have to (*ahem*) work in the travel industry (boo)—you just get to have a lot more fun doing it than most people (yay)!
Questions? Ask Away.
I grew up in the travel industry and have I've worked with thousands of agents looking to start a travel agency. It's totally my jam. And it's not just my jam. The entire HAR team is here to help you start (and grow) a successful travel agency. Ask us questions in the comments, drop us a line via email, or reach out to us on social. We love helping bring new people into our amazing industry! 🤗
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in July 2021! We updated this resource and republished it on publish date above.