Travel Leads: A Complete Guide [+Comparison Chart]
If you’re struggling to grow a thriving client base, a travel leads program may be a good tool for you. This article will take a closer look at travel industry association, host agency, consortia, and franchise lead generation programs, addressing:
- Travel Leads. What Are They?
- What to Expect from Travel Lead Programs
- Evaluating Travel Leads Programs: 5 Questions to Ask
- Travel Leads Comparison Chart
- Alternatives to travel leads programs
All the programs on our comparison chart are listed on our site! So be sure to check them out!
What Do I mean When I Say Leads for Travel Agents?
For the purposes of this article, when I’m talking about lead generation program I’m talking about client leads that come from your host agency, franchise or consortia. I’m not talking about lead generation apps and programs outside the travel industry. I’m also not talking about referrals from Jack who’s in the PTA with you, or Sally from your kickboxing class. I’m talking about the kind of travel leads that are not a direct result of your own connections, marketing or social media efforts.
Rather, the host, franchise or consortia will leverage their own marketing and branding to attract clients and somehow pass them along to you, the agent.
There are two primary kinds of travel lead generation programs. Before I jump into it, I just want to mention that I'm making these terms up to help explain them. So you will not find them in textbooks or the Googleverse:
1. Mediated Travel Lead Generation Programs:
By a "mediated" lead generation program, I mean that the host agency, franchise or consortia qualifies the travel leads and designates which agent they will be assigned to. That's right, they are the matchmaker. So when kickbox Sally calls into Supernova host agency asking for a wellness trip to Tulum, Mexico, Supernova host agency will use their worker bees or some kind of algorithm (the matchmaker) to decide which travel agent will be the best fit for Sally.
The leads will (likely) be distributed based on factors like travel agent niche, expertise, destination, sales history etc.
2. Unmediated Travel Lead Generation Programs:
This is the much more common style of lead generation program. This method, the host agency, consortia or franchise is hands off. Typically it operates like a travel agent directory, offering a platform for travel agents to list their expertise, niche, experience, bio etc. This way, kickbox Sally will choose for herself what agent she wants to approach to book her trip to Tulum.
Instead of a matchmaker, it's more like an online dating profile where the clients go shopping around for the best match. With unmediated travel lead generation programs, you need to ensure you still have a strong profile that engages clients (more on this another day).
How Do Lead Programs Work?
With both methods, the travel agent benefits from the marketing/branding magnetism of their particular host, franchise or consortia. Some host agencies will offer their own travel agent directories in addition to a consortium's directory. The more places an agent is listed, the more likely kickbox Sally will find you.
That said, when I reached out to places offering travel leads, many of them were clear to point out that lead programs are intended to complement an agent's (or agency's) own lead generation efforts—not replace them. So if you're thinking that you're going to sustain your business on a lead generation program alone, you may be disappointed.
This brings me to . . .
What to Expect from Travel Agent Lead Generation Programs
Host agencies reported average close rates that ranged from 10-95% in 2019 (and many hosts did not have a number or exact number available). Ultimately, lead programs are only as successful as the agent who is receiving the travel lead. In order to turn leads into sales, your marketing and sales game has to be on point. If your agent profile or travel agent website is not A+, receiving a travel lead won’t do you much good.
It’s kind of like if you have a surprise guest come stay at your house. You want the sheets to be on the bed and the cupboard to be full of snacks if you want that guest to stay and keep coming back. (I apologize to all introverts if this metaphor doesn’t work for you because a surprise houseguest is a thing of nightmares . . . but you get the gist of it.)
Some other day, we will do an article on closing travel leads. But in the meantime, you can check out our 10 Bazillion marketing resources on the site.
Evaluating Travel Lead Generation Programs: 5 Questions to Ask
If you’re here, you probably know that you want to use a lead generation program, but you’re not sure where to start. Like finding a host agency, there’s no one travel lead program that will be perfect for everyone.
Here’s a few questions to ask companies to see if their lead program is right for you:
1. How many travel leads do agents receive on average?
Ask how many monthly or annual leads you can expect. Leads are also a balance of quality and quantity: If you get a fewer quality leads (known as warm leads), that might have a greater impact on your bottom line than getting a ton of leads that are more difficult to close. (See below about the close ratio.)
2. How is it determined which agent receives the leads?
Who will get the leads? Ask your host, consortia, or franchise how they determine which agency receives which lead. If it's dependent on niche, for example, you can ask more specifically how many leads they pass on looking for you niche. If it depends on prior sales, you might want to ask how a new agent can get an added edge for receiving leads (if you're a newbie).
3. What is the commission split for bookings generated from the leads program?
Most travel lead programs do not cost anything up front. Instead, the company may generate some income by taking a higher portion of the commission split. If the commission split from a leads program is lower than your standard commission with the host/franchise/consortia, you may also want to ask if this modified commission split continues with future bookings for the same client.
4. Who do the travel leads belong to?
This is an important question to ask in case you ever leave the host agency/franchise/consortia to join another or get your own accreditation. If the lead belongs to the host/franchise/consortia, that means that the client cannot stay with you if you change host agencies. This is similar to a travel agent employee who quits working at a storefront agency, where clients typically go back to the agency rather than follow the departing agent. So even if you develop a relationship with that client and work with them for a long time, you may not be able to keep their business.
5. What is the average close ratio of the leads among agents?
Remember that the travel company is not responsible for closing the sale. That's on you! But a closing ratio can give you an idea of how quality the leads are. If the closing ratio is lower, it might be okay if you receive more monthly leads.
You’re probably thinking, gosh wouldn’t it be nice if there were a handy resource that outlined all that information? Well guess what?! You’ve struck gold . . .
6. [Bonus Question] how are you adapting your lead program to covid?
The travel industry entered some seriously uncharted territory in 2020. All the data companies provided us with for their leads program is from 2019, before COVID.
So if a leads program is an important asset to you, it's important to ask how they anticipate the landscape of their leads generating platform will change.
Travel Lead Programs: Let's Compare
I reached out to our travel industry connections and asked them those very questions and we created a nifty table with the info. It's important to note that their lead info is from 2019, before COVID. Yes, I'm repeating myself :) But it's important to keep in mind to help manage expectations of a leads program. The resource below is still offers great insight into how a leads program may look once the industry moves toward recovery (it's coming!)
Also, just because a company isn’t listed on this table, it does not mean that they don’t have a leads program. It just means they chose not to participate.
Travel Lead Programs Comparison Charts
Here's a list our listed travel companies who weighed in on their leads program. Click on their card to see the full info on their program. (I also recommend clicking on "view larger version" on bottom right corner. That will make it easier for you to sort by what you're looking for in a leads program.)
2. Other Lead Generating OPportunities
Below is a chart of travel companies that don't have formal lead programs, but (some) offer viable alternatives that may meet your needs:
Alternative Travel Agent Lead Generation Opportunities
Beyond hosts, franchises and consortia, some other organizations may also offer agent directories that are consumer facing. ASTA's (the American Society of Travel Advisors) and ASBN (ASTA Small Business Network, formerly "NACTA") Travel Sense offers a directory of member agents on TravelSense.org. You need to be an ASTA member to be listed.
These are just a few examples off the top of my head. If you know of other, please let me know! If you're interested in membership to some of these travel organizations, ask if they offer this type of service. You can ask them the same questions above that you'd ask a host, franchises and consortia regarding close rates, and fees. Milk those memberships!
Moral of the story: You can lead a traveler to a travel advisor, but you can't make them book it. But I'm curious to hear from travel agents and your experiences of using (or having used) travel leads. What challenges and joys did you encounter? What questions do you ask?
Let us know—I'm really looking forward to hearing from you.