Starting a Travel Agency from Home

January 7, 2021

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. 😊 

Travel Learning Summit

Getting Ready to Start Your Travel Agency From Home?

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's 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 going to passionate about.

2. Choose your travel agency's name: 

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 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 Business Structure: 

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.

How do you decide on a business structure? We'll walk you through it here.

4. Creating your Travel Agency Business Plan: 

Next step in starting your travel agency? A business plan!

If you're looking for a bank loan, they may require a business plan. However, while it's not technically a necessity, it is something I would 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.

There are plenty of free business plans out there you can download but a successful business plan thinks through the intricacies and zeros in on things that are industry-specific. That's tough to do if you're just starting your travel agency and don't know the travel industry and/or have never been an entrepreneur before. That's why we created a (free) 15-page travel agency business plan for you!

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:

5. Register your company 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.

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 overtime, 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 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 being 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 in 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 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.

Looking for a step by step guide to getting your financials in order? Fancy that! We have one here!!!!

8. DEcide if a host AGency is for you

We mentioned host agencies in 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 onto our article on choosing a host agency and take a look at our best host agencies of 2021.

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!

How to ask a host agency a question

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!

Just starting to narrow down hosts? Start by asking them each the same question in the Q&A section of their profile.

HAR's Free 7-Day Setup: A Step-By-Step Guide to Start 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 would just email you a step by step guide with a list of things you need to do to start a travel agency from home? Wouldn't it be even better if it were totally free?

Funny you should mention that! Host Agency Reviews' FREE 7-Day Setup walks you through starting your travel agency step-by-step . . . for free. 😊

When you opt in, you'll receive a daily email for a week, which will cover information such as finding a name and niche, registering your business, setting up your travel agency financials and so much more. Here's a snapshot of one of the emails below 👇👇

Example of 7 Day Set Up email

Isn't it pretty? It's like hiring us as consultants to help you start your travel agency from home! Except it's free. (Score!)

Every day you'll wake up to an email that will clearly outline what you need to do. If you super type A, we even give you an estimate of how long each step will take (just in case you're trying to squeeze it into your lunch break).

It's not just for agents looking for a host agency either! The setup will walk you through all your options, whether you want to go with a host, find a franchise, or research consortia and accreditation so you can go independent.

If working with a host agency is the route you decide to go, choosing a host will come toward the end of the challenge. By the time you get there, you'll know exactly what you're looking for in a host (trust me). When you speak to hosts or a franchise or consortia, they'll be über-impressed with all the research you've already done. 

Can't wait to sign up? I don't blame you. Go ahead and sign up now, we'll still be here when you get back😉 

7-day Setup
Click here to sign up, pronto!

Yup. Still here.

As you can see, there's 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 awhile to get going (especially when you're starting a travel agency from home)

  1. It takes awhile to build a client base and develop your brand
  2. 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. 😉
  3. 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 steady business compared to a new restaurant or other service industries like a hair stylist. 

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!

Curious about what to expect when starting a travel agency from home? Read "Travel Agency Start Up Costs and Earnings: What to Expect."

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 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: 

1. Travel Agent Income Report Archive: Not to oversell it, but these are totally the articles to read to figure out how much travel agents make.
2. How do Travel Agents Make Money: Where does the money come from? This is exactly what the article explores. 😊
3. Travel Agent Commission: Our income report answers the "how much," but how in the world do travel agent commissions work? This article gives a general break down of how travel agents are paid. 
3. A Travel Agent's Salary: This gives a picture of what different types of travel agents earn (employees, home-based, corporate, leisure, etc.). 

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! 🤗

About the Author
Steph Lee - Host Agency Reviews

Steph Lee

Steph grew up in the travel industry. She worked with thousands of agents in her role as a former host agency director before leaving in 2012 to start HAR. She's insatiably curious, loves her pups Rygy and Fennec, and -- in case you haven't noticed -- is kinda quirky.

If you’re looking for Steph, she leaves a trace where ever she goes! You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest as 'iamstephly'. 🙂