Which Travel Agent Specialties Generate the Most Income? (2018)

Choosing a travel agent specialty is one of the biggest decisions a travel agent will make on their journey into the profession. It can lead to sleepless nights, analysis paralysis, and a resurgence of a nail-biting habit. The good news is that we have a ton of resources on choosing a specialty in our 7-Day Setup and in this article on finding a travel agency niche.

But here we'll take a look at travel agent specialties in action, determining which specialties correlated to higher income for travel agents. While we had a few suspicions and speculations, our 2018 travel agent income survey provided the final (data-driven) reveal. No longer do you have wait with bated breath.

Read on to discover:

  1. What specialties were the most popular among agents in 2018?
  2. Which travel agent specialties generated the most income?
  3. What are the top 3 travel products sold in 2018 (and what does that have to do with specialty)? 
  4. What correlation exists between specialty and the service fees?
  5. Is there a relationship between specialty and travel agent satisfaction? 
  6. B Sides: Resources according to travel agent specialty 

For the visual learners and processors out there, here's our info in a nutshell. I don't want to objectify our infographic, so instead of going on about how beautiful it is like I usually do, I'll point its other virtues—intelligent, thorough, and detail-oriented: 


And of course, this infographic has siblings on the site. They all get along, and together you can get a sense of the their entire data-family dynamic:

  1. Travel Agent Income Survey Report, 2018
  2. Who is the Hosted Travel Agent in 2018?
  3. Travel Agency Startup Costs and Earnings: What to Expect

Most Popular Travel Agent Specialties in 2018

We are huge fans of finding a travel agent specialty. In fact, our insistence on choosing a focus for your travel agency is about as close to rule-making as we get. In order to aid you with that process, we did our data magic to discover which specialties were most popular in 2018. 

Travel agents could select multiple focuses (and most travel agents did). It'd be interesting to make a Venn Diagram of all the crossover, but it would be an incomprehensible mess (think bubblebath). The results below include all agents who selected that specialty as a part of their focus: 

  1. Family: 51.2% 
  2. Ocean Cruise: 43.6%
  3. Destination Specialist: 26.6%
  4. Groups: 25.5%
  5. Weddings/Honeymoons: 25.1%
  6. Luxury: 20.5% 
  7. Disney: 19.8%
  8. River Cruise: 19% 
  9. Adventure: 12.6% 
  10. Accessible: 7.0%
  11. Corporate: 3.8%
  12. LGBT: 3.2%
  13. Golf: 2.3%

Did we include paranormal travel? No. Does anyone have all things Dolly Parton as a niche? I hope so, but we didn't include it here1. Instead, the rankings are intended to give a broader look at the popularity of different specialties. 

Do the rankings surprise you? Drop a note in the comments below.  

Income-Producing Specialties: The Big Picture

There are a whooooole lotta factors that will influence travel agent income, and specialty is just one of those factors. Rest assured, this article is not about "Specialty Y is better/worse than Specialty X." We just wanted to figure out which sectors might get the most cash into your pockets and how you might maximize your income by selling trips you love (whether they are "top producers" or not). 

The more specific (and popular) niches in the survey—golf, LGBT, corporate—registered a lower response rate among travel agents. The income averages they rendered were not reliable enough to publish here. Bummer. If you're feeling left out, be sure to fill our survey next year so your specialty can be included in our findings!

We crunched, calculated, tallied and rounded our numbers to come up with a ranked list of highest earning specialties in 20182

  1. Luxury: $58,688
  2. River Cruise: $51,049
  3. Adventure: $47,224
  4. Weddings/Honeymoons: $45,343
  5. Groups: $43,128
  6. Destination Specialist: $38,292
  7. Ocean Cruise: $35,521
  8. Family: $35,024
  9. Disney: $30,990

In the graph, you can see how average income by specialty compared to overall average income. River Cruises registered as a high-income earning specialty (which is more likely to also fall under a Luxury focus). On average, agents who sold primarily river cruises earned a 43.7% higher average income than those who sold ocean cruises

As a specialty, Disney registered as a lower income average in 2018. This is likely due to the fact that Disney has a flat 10% commission for all agents, regardless of volume sold, stifling greater income potential. 

Top 3 Travel Products Sold 

We also took a peek at most popular travel products sold in 2018 and the income average of those who reported selling, primarily, that product. 

  1. Tours & Packages: $52,367
  2. Ocean Cruises: $35,126
  3. All-Inclusive Resorts: $33,068

These three products are the most popular among travelers. Regardless of how you specialize, if your niche excludes any these top selling products, you may want to consider how these products might incorporate into your speciality. Another option is to partner with another travel agent or to hire a sub agent to sell these demanded products. This way, you can still focus on your specialty, while leverage income from popular products that fall outside the purview of your niche. It's not an income source you'll want to miss out on.

Curious to see how travel specialities related to service fees? Psychic. So were we. 

Specialty and Service Fees

Service fees have potential to be a substantial revenue stream for travel agents. For this survey, travel agents reported at a 28.2% rate that they charged a service and/or consultation fee. We broke it down further, looking at travel agent specialty and the likelihood of agents charging fees for those sales in order to see how it compared to the industry average. 

Below is a tally of the percentage of agents, by specialty, who reported charging a service fee or consultation fee.3

  1. Luxury: 43.9%  
  2. River Cruise: 39.2%   
  3. Adventure: 39.1%
  4. Weddings/Honeymoons: 36.4%
  5. Destination Specialist: 32.1%  
  6. Family: 31.4%  
  7. Disney: 29.3%
  8. Groups: 29.0%  
  9. Ocean: 28.6%

There is a strong correlation between income averages and likelihood to charge a service fee. The top 3 specialties most likely to charge a service fee are congruent with the top three highest-earning specialties. Coincidence? I don't think so. 

Of those who did report charging a service fee, we decided to dig a little deeper to see what percentage of their overall income consisted of service fees and/or consultation fees combined. Surprisingly, it was pretty static across the board with most agents reporting that fees made up approximately 3-5% of their total income.

Interested in beefing up your income with service fees? We have a few ideas about how to do that here.

Specialty and Satisfaction 

Travel agents are generally a happy bunch. When asked about job satisfaction, only 3% responded with "don't ask, it's depressing."4 The remaining agents were satisfied with their jobs, with 97% reporting they'd choose to be a travel agent again. 

This enthusiasm also extends itself toward agent specialties as well. 93.3% of agents reported that they would choose their niche again in the 2018 survey. That's a high baseline of satisfaction! Below we broke down, by category, how travel agents responded to, "would you choose your niche again?"

  1. LGBT: 100%
  2. Golf: 100%
  3. Accessible: 97.6%  
  4. Corporate: 95.7%
  5. River Cruise: 95.6%
  6. Ocean: 95.0%
  7. Destination Specialist: 95.0% 
  8. Disney: 94.5% 
  9. Luxury: 94.3% 
  10. Groups: 94.1%  
  11. Adventure: 93.4%
  12. Weddings/Honeymoons: 93.4%
  13. Family: 92.2%

At the end of the day, an agent's specialty had very little impact on job satisfaction. Only 6.7% stated they would choose a different focus if they could do it again. But even those who regretted their choice were happy with their choice of profession overall: 85% of those who wished they chose a different niche reported they'd still be a travel agent if provided the opportunity for a career do-over. 

This is good news. Remember that analysis paralysis we were talking about in the beginning? Well, perhaps you don't have to worry so much about how you specialize! Your travel agency specialty can change and evolve over time . . . just like you, your growing client base, and the ever-shifting needs of your loyal clients!

Success is more than the number after a dollar sign. The happier a travel agent is with their focus, the more likely that travel specialty will be lucrative for them financially, professionally and personally. At the end of the day, selling what you are most passionate about will translate to the best success for you and your travel agency.

I think this calls for a warm fuzzy moment from the movers and shakers at HAR:

B Sides: Site Resources by Specialty

Now that we got you thinking about potential specialties, we want to arm you with some resources to learn more about these areas!

1. Disney

If you want to maximize your Disney income, check out these resources to learn from agents who've been around the park plenty-o-times!

  1. General Disney
  2. Disney World
  3. Disneyland
  4. Disney Cruise

2. Corporate 

Corporate travel has reputation for having higher income averages. We didn't have enough data from the survey to reliably affirm this suspicion, but ASTA's most recent Labor and Compensation Report latest (2015) identified a $7,000+ wage gap between corporate and leisure travel agent employees. If you're interested in looking into corporate travel, look here:

  1. Breaking in to corporate travel
  2. Travel Agent Chatter with corporate travel agent, Karen Hurlbut

3. Ocean Cruises

Ocean Cruises are number two in volume of product sold and niche popularity. If ocean cruises are your thing (or are about to be), don't miss these resources:

  1. Info on CLIA accreditation
  2. How to get the most from a cruise ship inspection 
  3. Travel Agent Chatter with cruise agent extraordinaire, Deb Fogarty of Be Well Travel
  4. Disney Cruise
  5. Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld event, 2018
  6. NACTA's 2018 annual conference + Carnival Cruise FAM

4. LGBTQ Travel

We like to celebrate pride at HAR. If you're interested in an LGBTQ travel focus (or if you want to better accommodate your LGBTQ clients), explore these resources:

  1. Top LGBTQ blogs for travel agents of 2018 
  2. How to make your travel agency LGBTQ-friendly (or friendlier)

Don't forget to also check out the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association)!!!

5. Adventure Travel

Do you clients want a cliffhanger . . . literally? On you way to checking out resources from the ATTA (Adventure Travel and Trade Association), don't forget to stop by these site resources: 

  1. "Adventure Travel Is No Longer Uncharted Territory for Leisure Agents"
  2. Adventures in Alaska . . . With Arthritis
  3. Adventures Travel World Summit, Tuscany (2018)

6. Honeymoon and Destination Weddings

And then there comes the time when your amazing readers give you feedback about a resource you plum forgot to mention. How could we forget DWs and honeymoons?! Thanks for the tip, Will Medina!

  1.  Destination Wedding and Honeymoon Specialists Association
  2. DWHSA Romance Travel Boot Camps (2018) - Baltimore, MD; Calgary, AB; Atlanta, GA

Stayed tuned for more! We're cooking up some articles and resources on other specialties too . . . but you'll have to wait to check those out ☺️ 

 

Footnotes

  1. Seriously, if you know a travel agent with a Dolly Parton niche, please contact me STAT!
  2. Income include data from agents with 3+ years experience (see prior articles, linked above, for explanation). Respondents were able to select multiple niches. Data per niche indicates that the travel agents selected that option as one of their specialties and may have also selected other options
  3. Agents who answered "yes" to "do you charge a service fee" or "do you charge a consultation fee?"
  4. The majority of the bummed out agents were in their first two years of business, when income is at it's lowest. Want to know what kind of dough you can expect starting out? Check out this article on starting up, here.
About the Author

Mary Stein

Mary Stein has been working as a writer and editor for Host Agency Reviews since 2016. She loves supporting travel advisors on their entrepreneurial journey and is inspired by their passion, tenacity, and creativity. Mary is also a mom, dog lover, fiction writer, hiker, and a Great British Bake Off superfan.