Switching Host Agencies? Here’s 5 Things to Consider.
Is it time to break up with your host agency? It happens to the best of agents. Maybe your business outgrew your host agency. Maybe you chose a host agency during a time when you (frankly) didn’t know that other host agencies existed. Or perhaps you crunched numbers and learned that it made more cents (terrible pun intended) to switch hosts or go independent.
Before you let your host down gently, I highly encourage you listen to these four agents who’ve been in your shoes, and made the hard and necessary choice to switch host agencies.
Meet our Experts
Here's our gaggle of travel advisor experts. They are in different stages of their travel advisor career and left their first host agency for various reasons. But don't take my word from it! You can hear directly from them:
Any of that sound familiar? Well this wisdom is just the beginning! Take a deep dive into the article in order to hear more tips on what to do when switching host agencies . . . and learn even more from the wisdom of our expert travel agents. (Psst! We compressed their wisdom into a glimmering gem of an infographic that will speed you along on your process! Read on to download it.)
Switching Host Agencies? First, Let's Talk About Our Feelings
This is the cheesy, motivational-speaker portion of the article . . . aka MY FAVORITE PART! Chances are if you've been having deeply-rooted doubts about your current host agency, it's time to consider switching host agencies.
Sure, we'll go into depth about all the numbers to crunch and precautions to take. But I also want to assure you that once you determine that making a switch is a good choice for you, your business, and your clients, that you can do it (especially after reading this article, because let's face it, you'll be über prepared).
It's hard to balance on the tightrope between the internal emotional roller coaster of making these big decisions and the professional mask we need to wear outwardly to the travel community . . . especially if you've been with your host for awhile. And especially if you like many things about your current host! Yes. Break ups can be hard. Even business break ups.
"There’s a lot of inertia that kept me with them longer than I should have. It takes a lot of time to make the change, so you have to be prepared for that." — Sheri Doyle
While I'm putting the cart before the horse here a bit, the agents talked about how to best communicate their decision with the host agency. When talking about the eventual break up language Nikki recommended keeping it, “Short and sweet. You have to think of it as a business transaction. As much as we do have those personal relationships, you have to look at it from a business perspective. No one wants to blatantly hurt anyone’s feelings, but it’s a business transaction. Cut/ dry. Black/ white kind of thing."
Okay. Deep breath. You can do this.
1. Read Both Host Contracts Very Carefully
Not every host contract is the same. Not by a long shot. If you’re changing host agencies, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your current and new host agency contract. Here’s a few things to consider when scouring your contractual obligations with your current host agency:
- Is there a non-compete or exclusivity clause?
- Do you have to disclose working with a 2nd host agency if there will be overlap?
- If you give notice or if you’re working with a 2nd host agency, will your access be restricted?
- How much notice do you need to give your host agency before terminating a contract?
- How will your host agency handle commissions when/ if you leave?
You’ll want to consider these factors with your new host agency too—are there certain stipulations when it comes to dual affiliating (working with two hosts)? If you end up wanting to leave the new host agency, how will they handle your departure? How will they settle commissions?
You might even want to have a lawyer take a look at the contract, which is what Nikki suggested, "Don’t be afraid to ask for legal advice, or interpretation."
In addition to contractual logistics, you also want to consider the tone of a contract. This may seem odd (What?! Contracts have a tone?!), but this is an issue that Scott mentioned when comparing the language of his old and new host contracts:
"The feeling [of my former contract] was one of working for them or working at their pleasure. The feeling [of my current contract] is one of supporting me to be my best and create a successful business. Again, night and day." — Scott Stein
"Whenever [my former host] would refer to things, it would be in terms of their needs, wants, desires, rewards, benefits, etc. For instance, it was their commission and I got my share from them. With [my new host], they phrase everything in terms of me (ie. my commission). The feeling [of my first host contract] was one of working for them or working at their pleasure. The feeling [of my new contract] is one of supporting me to be my best and create a successful business. Again, night and day."
Maybe it seems like a downer to be asking your new questions on what they do if you hypothetically want to cut ties. But again, it's really just preparedness. Even if you are on cloud nine with your new host, knowing that there’s a peaceable exit strategy will just multiply those warm fuzzies feelings.
2. Make a Timeline
Switching hosts isn’t just a matter of waving a wand and Presto chango . . . You’re done! Depending on your contractual obligations, you may have some overlap between hosts. It will also take time to transition to a new host agency and learn their booking systems, marketing tools, and to familiarize yourself with their work culture.
Some host agencies may also require an on-boarding or training process, so you’ll want to factor that time in to. When Scott switched agencies, it was important to him that he didn't go with a new host that required a long educational period before selling travel since he was in the middle of booking trips. In his (way more fun) words, "I didn’t want to go through 6 months of shenanigans. I’ve already got somewhat of a business here."
When Sheri switched host agencies, her host flew her out for a few days to learn their tools and she was adjusting to navigating tools from her new consortium. She mentioned that, "You want to time it for a time of year when you’re not quite as busy. Planning and making a timeline that makes sense based on your bookings, contract obligations and time of year really helps."
Try to plan your transition during the slower season . . . because your own time management skills are the closest thing to a magical fairy that you're going to get. That is, unless you have an actual real-live fairy who helps with time management. If that case, we need to talk, because I could really use her services!
If your slow season is soooooo slow, that you've been spending quality time mastering Candy Crush (no judgement here, I'm on level 3 million), we have a few other ideas on how to ride out the slow season!
3. Be Prepared. Be Methodical. Crunch Numbers.
Chances are you backup your phone. But you probably don't get threatening message from about backing up your CRMs. But guess what? You'll need to. (Heck, you might even want to do this is you're not switching hosts!).
As Sheri mentioned above, there are measures to take before you give notice to your host agency. You can safeguard your business by ensuring you get ahead on these points:
- Have backups of your client contacts: You’ll want to read your contract(s) very carefully to see what their policies are on client ownership. If you received clients from a lead program, you’ll want to take that into consideration too. Just to be safe, make sure you have a backup of your client contact information. It’s possible you will not have access to your CRM if it belongs to the host.
- Speaking of clients . . . prepare them for your transition: Let your clients know what to expect. ESPECIALLY if you are transferring any bookings. If you're in the middle of booking for a client, assure them that everything will be the same (if that’s true) and that it won’t impact any upcoming or ongoing trips. Maybe the invoice will look different. Maybe your contact info will change. You also want to be sure they aren’t emailing your old address for future trips. Nikki mentioned that when she switched host agencies, She even walked one of her clients through on deleting her old email address that pre-populates into email programs. Thank your clients for supporting you on your professional journey! Chances are they won’t mind at all—so long as you get the jump on any surprises!
- Stay ahead of invoicing: Understand what commissions are still outstanding from your prior host and when you can expect to receive them. Make sure you're up to date on your invoicing too. The hope is that the transition will go according to contract and without a hitch, but you’ll just want to channel your inner bookkeeper in order to ensure a smooth transition.
- Know your data: How much do you sell of cruises? All-inclusives? This may not seem important at the time, but familiarizing yourself with business trends not only helps you with marketing, but can also help you feel more prepared when/if you apply to future FAM trips. Since you won't have access to this data, make sure you get what you need before you leave.
When you pull the data, look into your crystal ball. Anticipate what kind of info you'll want. Crunching numbers won't only help you pursue FAM trips, but it will also help you find a host that's a great fit for you. Which suppliers do you sell the most of? You can find that out! (Psst! Read up more on preferred suppliers here!)
If you will be dual affiliating, you'll want to think about how that will impact you financially (especially if you're transitioning during months when business is slim). How long will you will be with two agencies and how much will that set you back?
A note on going independent
"I knew it was going to be expensive. But deep inside it didn’t really catch. I didn’t think about the minimum cost per month. I added the CRM, the Constant Contact. I went with a different email supplier and went with my own website. It’s only $20/mo here, or only $30/ mo there, but after awhile it starts to add up." — Jeanne Morris
In the case of Jeanne Morris there was more to consider since she left her host agency to go independent. If you're flying solo, you'll have additional budgetary factors to consider such as getting your own accreditation, changing your travel agency business structure (if you need to), and acquiring the marketing and CRM tools you need to go solo.
Jeanne discussed those additional costs, "My business structure changed only slightly, I'm now an LLC. My day to day operations has changed only in that I am now constantly aware of my bottom line (which isn't always pretty!) I knew it was going to be expensive. But deep inside it didn’t really catch. I didn’t think about the minimum cost per month. I added the CRM, the constant contact. I went with a different email supplier and went with my own website. It’s only $20/mo only $30/ mo but after awhile it starts to add up."
4. The Second Time’s the Charm . . . If You Do Your Research
Even with your 20/20 hindsight, you’ll still want to thoroughly research your options and keep your search organized as you leave your first host agency. As you develop your niche and expertise, your needs from a host agency will change. The research process can begin before you even thinking different hosts.
As soon as you get a creeping feeling that you may want to pursue other options, start laying the groundwork for what your "dream host agency" would look like.
Per Nikki's advice, "If you already have a host, start formulating the questions for if, or when, you want to leave. What are you going to miss about the old host if your new host doesn’t have those things? What are you looking for now that your current host doesn’t have? Do the new hosts you’re looking at offer those things? Really dig into those business questions. For a month or so be aware of what you are not getting from your current host. I would have those moments when I’d be working, 'if only I had blah blah blah,' write those blah blahs down so you know when you interview a future host, what your day to day needs are and if the new host going to fulfill those any better than your current one."
"I would have those moments when I’d be working 'if only I had blah blah blah,' write those blah blahs down so you know when you interview a future host, what your day to day needs are and if the new host going to fulfill those any better than your current one." — Nikki Miller
When you look for a host the second time around, chances are that your search will be a lot more specific. You have honed your niche. You've increased your expertise. You know just what you need.
5. Consider Consortium and BDM Relationships when Switching Host Agencies
For Sheri, switching to a host with a different consortium affiliation was a must for her growing luxury travel agency. For Nikki, who liked the tools offered by her former consortium, finding a new host that affiliated with the same consortium as her former host was a priority.
Consortia affiliation can be a major consideration when thinking about switching host agencies. If there are tools from the host agency that you can't live without (or don't want to relearn!), you can factor in which of those tool originate from the host's consortium. Switching to a host under a new consortium can make your learning curve even steeper (another factor that can impact your transition time).
As you narrow down your host list, you'll want to keep in mind which of those qualities are rooted in their consortium affiliation.
The BDM Factor
Switching host agencies will also impact your BDM relationships as well. Since many BDMs are assigned based on the region of your host agency (the origin of their IATA or accreditation number), switching to a host agency in a new area might mean you'll lose access to your current BDMs.
"The biggest change has been moving from West-Coast-Based BDMs to Southeast-based. Because almost all of the cruise lines and quite a few of the bigger tour operators are all based on where your IATA# is." — Sheri Doyle
Before you leave, be sure you can also access all your BDM contacts in addition to your client contacts. Your former BDMs can put you in touch with your new BDM. Kind of like passing notes in middle school, except with a lot more professionalism (and a lot less rejection)!
The move can also mean that you'll need to consider new ways to developing relationships with BDMs. If you lose access to on site trainings or BDM visits, you may need to think going to conferences or host-facilitated conventions in order to stay connected. This can also impact your bottom line in terms of budget.
Bonus Track: Switching Host Agencies from a Host Agency Perspective
Phew! You've processed a lot of information. Is your brain swimming in info? Well, here's a little more water for you to tread! I reached out to a few host agencies to get their take on what to do when switching host agencies! Three hosts—KHM, Nexion and Travel Quest—emailed back with 3-5 things to consider when switching host agencies:
1. Check your contract, and be sure you understand it completely and are following the guidelines and timelines. Some contracts have a non-compete clause that does not allow you to act as a Travel Agent/Advisor for two or more years after breaking the contract.
2. Know your bookings and be sure you know if they are entered into the host's CRM. All bookings that are booked under the host agency's credentials belong to the host agency, but most importantly, host agencies know the bookings based on what is entered into their CRM. Some bookings can be transferred to the new agency if not paid in full.
3. Third, be open and honest with your host. Explain why you want to leave. Most host agencies are striving for the best customer service and experience. They want to be sure they are delivering what's best for you. Sometimes it may be a financial situation or maybe you just need to leave temporarily to deal with a health issue. The host should want to work with you to figure out a solution.
Things to consider when switching/leaving a host agency:
1. What happens to any outstanding commission? Do you get paid or does the host agency keep it?
2. What happens to future customer vacations already booked? Can you transfer the bookings to another agency? Will you still be able to access the travel arrangements?
3. Who owns the rights to your customer database? Each host is different, some own the rights to the customers.
4. Do you have a customer database and if so can you export data to new agency? What CRM does the new agency have?
5. Export any reports including income and sales statements as it may be difficult to get access at a later date.
Before you make the leap to a new host agency, sit down and carefully go over any paperwork from your current host. You must be aware of and understand the contractual terms that come with being part of your current host agency. For instance, if you are an IC your customers belong to you. But what about the bookings? Many times, bookings that have already been made need to stay with the original host agency. You need to read any contracts carefully to ensure you get paid what you are due.
- In addition to understanding contractual obligations, a travel advisor needs to know what setup their current host agency is under. If they are actually a franchised organization, you are likely going to be committed to them for a longer period of time. At Nexion Travel Group, we can guide travel advisors in transition, but our counsel will depend on what kind of agency the potential member is leaving.
- In addition to understanding your contractual agreements with your current host agency, it is important to take a look at your supplier partners. Sometimes a supplier might not allow a booking to transfer at all—and none will transfer a booking that is in final payment. A supplier might even require permission from the traveler before they allow a booking to be transferred (which means you may need to do some educating for your client). And of course, pay close attention to supplier credentials and logins. If there is overlapping time between host agencies, it is a travel advisor’s responsibility to make sure they are working with suppliers correctly.
- As an IC, you can and should do what is best for you, but be aware of the complexities of multiple affiliations, tracking bookings, etc. Try and avoid commoditization. Your clients must always come first, and you need to be prepared to service them, even if that means temporarily having multiple host agency affiliations. At the end of the day, your clients are the reason you are in business, and your transition from one host agency to another needs to be seamless for them.
Our Holiday Gift to You: An Infographic
Maybe you thought our information was exhaustive. But guess what, it's not! Here's a little nugget of all the wisdom from our travel advisor bundled into one little bite-sized morsel! It's like the topper to the Christmas tree! The Shamash of the menorah! The zawadi on the last day of Kwanzaa! (What can I say, I love holidays!)
Farewell and a Special Thank You to Our Contributors!
Phew! That's a wrap! If you were uncertain about what to do when switching host agencies, hopefully this provided you with a few (hundred?) pointers. Have you switched host agencies? Did we miss any steps to take? If so, weigh in in the comments down yonder!
Also, I want to extend a seriously major thank you to the travel advisors and host agencies reps that contributed such great info—Sheri Doyle, Jeanne Morris, Nikki Miller and Scott Stein representing the advisor perspective and to Jackie Friedman of Nexion Travel Group, Angie Harbiger of Travel Quest Network, and Bill Coyle of KHM Travel Group for shedding light on the host perspective!
Without their insights, there'd be more white space in this article than a snow blizzard in Minnesota! ❄ ❄ ❄