The Hosted Travel Agent Income Report, 2021
Since 2016 Host Agency Reviews (HAR) has conducted an annual travel agent survey. The survey is the only one of its kind, documenting the latest travel agent income and fee trends.
This report (the second of eight) profiles hosted agents with 3+ years of experience—a segment of advisors that has been forging inroads towards increased visibility and industry impact over time.
It’s an understatement to say that the results of the Host Agency Reviews (HAR’s) 2021 Hosted Travel Agent Income Survey results are much less jubilant compared to the years of growth that preceded the coronavirus outbreak in 2020.
Average hosted agent income dropped 84% between 2019 and 2020.
There’s no way around it: the income numbers in this report are grim. The data shines a spotlight on what we already know: COVID had a devastating impact on hosted advisors’ income and business operations. Average hosted agent income dropped 84% between 2019 and 2020.
Even as the pandemic upended the travel industry, hosted advisors continued to grow in numbers.
While the hosted travel agent income data in this report will be presented objectively, we’re acutely aware that, behind each data point, is someone whose personal and professional lives were upended by the pandemic outbreak.
Here's a sneak peek hosted advisor traits in 2020:
But the narrative is more complicated than a singular story of the industry’s precipitous drop at a time when travel halted. Even as the pandemic upended the travel industry, hosted advisors continued to grow in numbers. ASTA’s (American Society of Travel Advisors) independent contractor membership doubled from 1,900 to 4,000 between 2019 and 2020.1.
Prospective and current advisors alike sustained a vested interest in starting or rebuilding their careers.
During that same timeframe, HAR saw a record number of site visitors in the summer of 2021, up 9% from year-over-year highs in 2019. This indicates that, despite the pandemic, prospective and current advisors alike sustained a vested interest in starting or rebuilding their careers.
This report is an opportunity to review COVID’s industry impact on hosted advisor income as the industry supports one another to work toward an enduring recovery.
Here’s what you can expect to read about:
⭐️ HAR Article Highlights: ⭐️
- The 2021 Hosted Travel Agent Infographic
- Summary of Hosted Travel Agent Income
- Hosted Travel Agent Income & Hours Worked
- Did Hosted Advisors Sell Travel as a Primary Source of Income?
- Hosted Travel Agent Income & Years of Experience
- Hosted Travel Agent Income & Niche
- What Products Do Hosted Agents Sell?
- Hosted Travel Agent Income Breakdown
- Industry Engagement and Hosted Travel Agent Income
- Hosted Travel Agent Income, by Region
- Key Takeaways:
The Hosted Travel Agent Report, Infographic
Here’s a visual preview of the data:
Summary of Hosted Travel Agent Income
Income for full-time hosted advisors dropped to a low of $11,052 during 2020. These pandemic numbers mark an 83% decrease from 2019.
Data indicated that income for full-time hosted advisors dropped to a low of $11,052 during 2020. These pandemic numbers mark an 83% decrease from 2019 when earnings for hosted agents hit an all-time high of $64,377.
Despite this precipitous decline, COVID did not shift trends in earning potential as work hours increased: Advisors who worked full time earned 35% more than hosted advisors overall who earned $8,174. Let’s take a closer look in the sections below.
Hosted Travel Agent Income & Hours Worked
COVID impacted hours worked among agents overall, and the hosted segment was no exception: Before the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, 63% of hosted advisors sold travel full time.
Before the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, 63% of hosted advisors sold travel full time.
COVID exacerbated the decrease of full-time hosted advisors. After the pandemic outbreak, the percentage of full-time advisors dropped 39 points to 24%. Here’s a visual:
During COVID, the majority of advisors transitioned from working full-time (FT) hours (30+ hours/week) to working part-time (PT) hours ≤30 hours/week). Hosted advisors were no exception to this trend. Read our recent 2021 Travel Agent COVID Report for a detailed look at how advisors adjusted hours during the pandemic.
2. FULL-TIME AND PART-TIME AGENTS, AN INCOME COMPARISON
Full-time agents earned over 3x more on average than their part-time (PT) counterparts, $11,052 compared to $3,618.
Earning an average of $11,052 in a pandemic year, full-time hosted travel agents earned 35% more than the overall average income for hosted advisors ($8,174).
Additionally, full-time agents earned a 3x higher income average than their part-time (PT) counterparts, $11,052 compared to $3,618.
The graph below shows COVID’s impact on full-time and part-time income, comparing 2020 to 2019 hosted agent income averages side by side:
Part-time income decreased 67% from 2019 levels during the pandemic year, and full-time hosted income decreased over 82% from 2019 earnings.
Did Hosted Advisors Sell Travel as a Primary Source of Income?
In 2020, before COVID, 58% of hosted advisors sold travel as a primary source of income.
Before COVID, 58% of hosted advisors sold travel as a primary source of income. This is a 16-point drop from last year's survey's results when a record 74% of hosted agents reported selling travel as a primary source of income.
The pandemic exacerbated this decline with an additional 20 point drop. During COVID, only 38% of hosted agents reported selling travel as a primary source of income.
MOST HOSTED ADVISORS PLAN TO RETURN TO SELLING AS A PRIMARY SOURCE OF INCOME
73% of hosted advisors that stopped selling travel as their primary source of income during the pandemic plan to resume selling at a pre-covid volumes.
73% of hosted advisors that stopped selling travel as their primary source of income during the pandemic plan to resume selling at pre-covid volumes.
While a promising sign of resilience, this number is slightly lower than advisors overall (including franchisees and independently-accredited advisors), where 78% plan to return to selling as a primary source of income.
Hosted Travel Agent Income & Years of Experience
The median experience among hosted advisors profiled in this report was 8 years, significantly lower than 2019's 12-year median. The chart below details hosted agent earnings by experience:
Agents with the most experience, 15+ years, yielded the highest average earnings.
As with past years, experience seemed to have less of an impact on higher earnings among PT agents. Below is a graph that compares FT and PT income levels by years of experience:
Full-time hosted advisors with 6-8 years experience earned slightly more (6%) than those with 9-11 years experience. This is a slight aberration that has occurred in prior surveys. If you have any hypotheses as to why some full-time agents may earn less as they gain experience (burn out?) we’d love to hear them in the comments below. :)
Overall, the graph’s trend reflects data from past hosted agent surveys. This indicates that—while the pandemic significantly gouged 2020 incomes—it did not impact the trend of higher income as advisors gained experience.
Hosted Travel Agent Income & Niche
This year, 22% of hosted agents identified as "generalists" and 75% reported having a niche. 2
Excluding generalists, the top three niches in 2020 were:
- Ocean cruises: 17%
- Luxury: 11%
- Family Travel: 10%
Generalists ranked 5 points higher than the most common travel agent specialty, ocean cruises (22% and 17% respectively). Below the graph illustrates how agents responded when asked about their specialty:
This is a departure from last year’s survey when the top three specialties among hosted agents (aside from generalists) were luxury, ocean cruises, and weddings/honeymoons (respectively).
WHAT TRAVEL ADVISOR SPECIALTIES WERE HARDEST HIT BY COVID?
Below are the top three income-earning niches in 2020:
- Weddings and Honeymoons
- Luxury Travel
- River Cruises
As river cruises and luxury items are a higher ticket product, those that did travel in the first few months before the outbreak brought in more commission. Below you can see average income by niche: 3
What Products Did Hosted Agents Sell?
In our survey we ask, “which travel products do you sell the most of?” In 2020, all-inclusives were the most common product sold at 32%
In addition to all-inclusives, here are the top three travel products hosted agents reported selling in our 2021 survey:
- All-Inclusives (32%)
- Ocean Cruises (20%)
- FIT (11%)
The most notable shift from pre-pandemic data is that hosted agents had to pivot from selling ocean cruises. Before the pandemic, ocean cruises had remained the number one selling product since our survey’s inception in 2016.
Below you can find a complete list of travel products sold and the percentage of hosted agents who reported it was their top product4.
Hosted ADvisor income by product during COVID
The top three average incomes by product were:
- River Cruises, $12,072
- All-Inclusives, $10,360
- Airlines, $10,360
As with niche, higher-ticket products were most likely to earn advisors more income in the months before the COVID outbreak. Below is a fuller look at hosted travel agent income according to product in 2020:
Hosted Travel Agent Income Breakdown
We combined four income streams to tally overall income. Here's our secret sauce: Overall Travel Agent Income = Commissions + Service Fees + Consultation Fees + Other Industry Related Income (e.g. coaching or speaking).
COVID eroded the typical landscape of earning potential, with advisors reporting that fees and other income comprised a much higher percentage of overall earnings compared to commissions. (We will explore this distribution more in our fee surveys, so stay tuned!)
Below the chart looks at average income from these four revenue streams and how they compared to 2019 levels:
Consultation fees suffered a smaller decline than service fees. While we're not sure why consultation fees would be more resilient to COVID, we're open to theories! Pop in the comments below to start the dialogue.
Overall, commissions and fees significantly decreased while “other” income jumped significantly. Departing from other revenue streams, “other” income saw a significant increase with a 104% revenue bump. However, only 3% of hosted advisors reported earning “other” income in 2020.
In a typical year, we consider “other” income as related income peripheral to selling travel, such as coaching fees, presentation fees, and supplier bonuses. However, in our 2021 survey, some of those with other income reported it derived from sources listed above but also included outside travel-related employment and income from assistance programs. This could be why the average “other” income is higher compared to previous years.
Hosted advisors are less likely to charge consultation fees than franchise owners and independently-accredited advisors even though it’s the most reliable income stream. One takeaway is that advisors might consider diversifying their fee structure to include consultation fees if they do not already charge them.
BOOKING VOLUME FROM WEBSITE BOOKING ENGINES.
20% of hosted advisors include a booking engine on their website. Year after year, what we find is bookings from online booking engines are negligible and this year was no different.
Among agents who reported having a booking engine on their site, 72% reported they yielded no bookings via this channel. 20% received 1-5 bookings.
Have questions about setting up (or spiffing up) your website? HAR shows you how to create a professional-looking website in 7min. flat.
Industry Engagement and Hosted Travel Agent Income
78% of hosted advisors reported belonging to at least one association. This is 7 points higher than 2019 when 71% of hosted advisors reported membership to at least one travel association. This increase indicates continued momentum toward professional development, despite COVID.
Here’s the complete breakdown:
The majority of advisors belong to CLIA (60%) or ASTA and/or ASTA-SBN (64%).
CERTIFICATION RATES AMONG HOSTED AGENTS
Certification rates among hosted advisors also hit a high despite the pandemic. 71% of hosted advisors had at least one certification, 5 points higher than 2019 when 66% reported having a certification.
This echoes the narrative of continued career engagement among hosted advisors during the pandemic. Below is the breakdown of which certification hosted advisors received in 2020.
As in previous years, certification had little impact on the average income for hosted advisors in 2020. Certification also did not tip the scale in terms of assistance program application rates. 65% of hosted advisors with at least one certification applied for an assistance program, compared to 63% of hosted advisors overall.
Hosted Travel Agent Income, by Region
Since our survey’s inception, location has never clearly correlated with earning potential.
2021 was no different: One of the unique things about working as a travel agent is the cost of living of an agent's region isn't necessarily reflective of their earning potential since commission levels depend on supplier contracts and sales volume.
While commissions are influenced by different factors, regionality isn't one of them: An agent who sells Disney in MN is going to get the same commission as the agent who sells Disney from NY (even if rent is 3x the cost).
In our 2021 survey, the top-earning income averages came from:
- Heartland ($15,952)
- Appalachia ($11,033)
- Southwest ($8,712)
Here’s the complete breakdown of income by region:
Regional income has not been consistent from year to year. Do the regional findings seem accurate in comparison to your income? If these numbers aren’t reflective of what you earned, we’d love for you to participate in next year’s survey!
How about that, we take the notes for you! Here are some of the highlights from our 2021 Hosted Travel Agent Report:
- The average hosted advisor income hit a low of $11,052 during the pandemic in 2020. This is an 83% decrease from 2019.
- Before the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, 63% of hosted advisors sold travel full time. This is 11 points lower than 2019 numbers.
- 73% of hosted advisors who stopped selling travel as their primary source of income during the pandemic plan to resume selling at a pre-covid volume.
- Full-time agents earned over 3x more on average than their part-time (PT) counterparts, $11,052 compared to $3,618.
- 22% of hosted agents reported they were generalists, booking whatever their clients want and 75% reported having a specialty.
- The top products hosted advisors sold in 2020 were:
- All-Inclusives (32%)
- Cruises (20%)
- FIT (11%)
- 78% of hosted advisors reported belonging to at least one association. This is 7 points higher than 2019, which indicates the hosted segment continued to focus on professional development during the pandemic.
Data Is the Gift that Keeps on Giving . . . Stay Tuned
Um. Wow. That was pretty thrilling. If you're as excited by this data as the HAR crew, then you're definitely in the right industry!!!! We are cooking up other great information including a report on independent agents, new-to-industry agents, a demographic report, and travel agency employees!
A Huge THANK YOU
Not gonna lie. The thank-you section of this report could be longer than the report itself (31 pages up to this point, but who’s counting? 🙋🏻♀️)
Thank you so much to the HAR crew who mind-meld, collaborate, and talk me off ledges as I panic over deadlines and data. Not to wax sentimental, but y’all are my chosen family when it comes to colleagues . . . I’m looking at you, April Oliveira (marketing queen and creators of all graphs and images), Dr. Maga Gei (who I fondly refer to as our “data whisperer”), Steph Lee (does she even need an intro?), and Maureen Bourcy (who’s patience and insights bring my blood pressure down in ten seconds flat . . . even on video chat).
A colossal thank you to these travel organizations: American Society of Travel Advisors, Association of Black Travel Professionals, CCRA, Destination Wedding Honeymoon Specialist Association, Ensemble Travel Group, Gifted Travel Network, Nexion Travel Group, Outside Agents, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Travel Quest Network, Travel Leaders Network, Travel Pulse, and Travel Research Online.
The Method to Our Madness
Overall, 1,098 advisors responded to our 2021 Travel Agent Survey.
This report profiles hosted advisors with 3+ years of selling travel. 624 respondents met our criteria to be included in this particular report.
Is the concept of a host agency new to you? I highly recommend you check out this article, "What Is a Host Agency," which will give you a foundation on what HAR is all about.
THE NITTY GRITTY
We know some of you may be seriously loving our data and looking for a few more details on the process.
Here's an overview of how we arrived at our numbers:
- Respondent data is from 2020: HAR’s travel agent survey was conducted between June 1st and July 31st of 2021. Advisors used their annual 2020 income numbers to complete our survey.
- Outliers were removed. In a typical year, we only include advisors who earn a minimum of $500 in income. However, as 2020 was an exceptional year, this report also includes those who earn $0-$500, with a few extreme outliers removed. (If you made $80,000,000 during a pandemic then #$%&! Go you! But for report purposes, we’ll go ahead and assume that’s an error.)
- We round to the nearest percent or dollar. What can I say? It's easier on the eyes when you're wading through so much data. (Sorry, decimal points. We still love you.)
- Source: Jackie Friedman, ASTA Vice Chairman and Secretary, at ASTA’s press conference at ASTA’s Global Convention ↩
- The numbers do not add up to 100% because some respondents were not selling advisors. ↩
- The chart only includes niches that had a high enough response rate to discern a reliable average. Niches with a low response rate were Wellness Travel, Medical Tourism, Accessible Travel, Heritage Travel, LGBTQ+ travel, Adventure Travel, FIT, Corporate Travel, and MICE. The chart also does not include other or write-ins since an income average would be too variable for disparate types of travel sold. ↩
- The “other” category includes write-ins ↩