How To Find the Best Host Travel Agency (For You) – Your Travel Center
Written by Connie Miller, Business Development Director of YTC
Chances are if you are reading this article you are an independent travel agent looking for a host agency to help you to grow your business. The good news is that the steps to finding a good host agency are the same regardless if you are an experienced travel consultant or just starting.
Simply stated, you must first spend some time reflecting on are your needs (must haves) and wants (optional). Secondly, you must look for an appropriate partner (a host that matches your needs and most of your wants).
It sounds simple, right?
In reality, it’s a bit like finding the right marriage partner. While most hosts will satisfy your basic need to book travel, a host agency in line with you and your business model will provide you with greater resources, more support and increased profitability.
This article explores some necessary considerations when evaluating if a host agency is right for you. We hope this makes your search easier.
HOW TO PICK A HOST AGENCY - DEFINE YOUR NEEDS:
Each independent contractor has their own set of priorities and needs.
Do you know what yours are?
If not, the questions listed below will are designed to make you think about business model and to help you to understand and define your priorities. So, take inventory and start your quest. There are no right or wrong answers; it’s about knowing and understanding what you need from your host travel agency.
1. How much experience do I have as a travel agent?
Travel consultants new to the industry typically have different training needs than more seasoned consultants.
If you are new to the industry, you may want to work with a host agency that caters to those entering the profession.
These hosts generally provide training focusing more on “how to” classes; they may have an online chat room where questions can be asked of those within the group.
Those more seasoned consultants may prefer working with a host that offers more vendor, lifestyle, selling and marketing classes. Some experienced independent contractors may only want to have access to vendor reps with little or no need additional training. Others will even work as a travel agent from home.
2. Do I have a travel niche and what is it?
Matching your strengths to those of your host agencie’s is critical. For example, a cruise counselor will benefit most by partnering with an agency strong in cruising.
As a cruise counselor, your strength is magnified when you partner with a host travel agency that is known for its cruise expertise. You will have more clout with the cruise lines and cruise reps will know who you are when you call.
Typically, your commissions will be higher and there will be more training, coop and added amenities or specials for your clients. Regardless of your specialty, it’s in your best interest to partner with a host that is strong in your niche.
3. What are products/destinations/vendors I sell or want to sell?
Similar to the niche statement above, matching yourself to a host agency that has strong relationships with the vendors, destinations and products you use is important.
Usually host agencies have preferred relationships with specific vendors. These relationships translate to increased commissions and a preferred standing with the supplier.
Aligning yourself with a host agency that offers the products and vendors you prefer will provide you with better relationships and increased commissions.
4. Who are my clients? Are they luxury or mid-market travellers?
While most travel consultants have a blend of luxury and mid-market clients, some will have almost all luxury travel or all mid-market vacations. Aligning yourself with the host that can serve you and your clients is critical.
If you have luxury clients, you need a host that understands the needs of a luxury clientele. Not only do you need the mindset of a luxury provider, but if you are using your host’s marketing materials, you need marketing that matches your client’s lifestyle.
Conversely, if the core of your business is main stream or mid-market, advertising over-the-top luxury travel and experiences will alienate your audience.
Perhaps you are looking to “move” your clientele to a more upscale product. This, too, requires choosing the right partner.
Knowing your clientele and selecting the appropriate host agency to support your efforts is imperative to success.
5. How “Social” am I?
Which social or online media activities do you use or plan to use for marketing.
For some consultants, business comes solely from referrals. For others, a strong online presence is necessary. Host agencies vary in what they offer their Independent contractor travel consultants.
For example, some host agencies will provide a customizable website and email content for their ICs. Still others provide assistance with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn.
The key to success is to first create a marketing plan based on your needs (focusing on how your clients find you and/or how you want to communicate with your clients).
If you need assistance in social media, then you should find a host that is knowledgeable with social media and one that can assist you with content. Knowing what you need, finding assistance and setting aside time work your marketing plan is the key to success.
6. What about airline tickets?
The first obvious question to ask yourself is how you plan to address airline tickets.
While many successful independent contractors do not offer air ticket procurement as part of their service; others, particularly if they are GDS trained, include airline tickets as part of their service. Some Independent contractors rely on air consolidators for airline tickets while others want a host agency that offers an air desk.
If you are a ticketing agent, there are additional things you should consider.
For example, some hosts will provide full GDS access to experienced agents while others will only allow the agent to make reservations with the host doing the ticketing.
If you issue a lot of air, it is important to ask your host about their airline relationships. Do they have air contracts that offer upfront commission, special help desks and/or what used to be called “waivers & favors?”
Corporate travel consultants should also ask about the availability of after-hours service (if needed) as well as management reports and preferred hotel and hotel agreements.
7. Do I have sub-agents and how do I want a host to work with my sub-agents?
Maybe you are a small agency or you have a partner working with you, perhaps you plan on growing your business and have other agents work for you.
In each of these cases, you need to determine what your needs are of your host agency. For example, do you want to 1099 your independent contractor travel agents or do you want your host to provide that service.
How do you share booking information, sales information, etc.? Is that model supported by the host travel agency you are considering joining?
8. What training needs do I have?
Training needs include instruction on the tools/technology provided by the host agency, vendor training, “how to” sessions for topics including marketing, branding, selling to the upscale, life-style selling as well as destination information.
Knowing what your needs are as well as how you learn best (i.e. in person, live webinar, recorded webinars, meetings, networking with others, etc.) will help you match your needs to the host’s training options.
9. What technology do I need/want?
The types of technology that may be provided by a host agency can include but is not limited to: CRM tools, customizable invoicing tools, procurement (booking) tools, GDS system(s), online commission reports, customizable websites, etc.
Not everyone needs all of these tools and not all host agencies provide all of these tools.
10. Do I want to keep my name?
This is an important consideration. Simply put do you want to be:
- Part of a larger presence (i.e. Independent contractor of ABC TRAVEL)
- Part of a larger and local presence (i.e. Independent Contractor of ABC Your Town Travel))
- Co-branded with your host (i.e. Gabriella’s Travels, Independent Contractor of ABC Travel)
- Or do you prefer that your host work in the background supporting you without use of their name (i.e. Gabriella’s Travels).
Each of these options has merit and is dependent upon your business model. Knowing this is important because some hosts require that you use their name.
11. Do I need “community” to be happy and/or successful or do I work well on my own?
Community means different things to different people. For some, it is a local office that they can “visit.” For others, it’s a first-name basis relationship with host agency personnel; for others, it may mean a virtual or social presence where ideas can be shared and discussed.
Still others may want opportunities to network face-to-face with other host agents at meetings, trainings or host specific familiarization trips.
START LOOKING FOR YOUR HOST TRAVEL AGENCY
With these questions answered, you should have a solidly formed idea of what you expect from your host travel agency. With so much variety in the types of services that host agencies can provide, it is important that you take your time searching for one that satisfies all your needs.
Good luck on your search!
Article written by Connie Miller, Business Development Director, Your Travel Center/Montecito Village Travel, Santa Barbara, CA
Your Travel Center is a host agency with over 300 Independent Contractors, several branch offices and $125,000,000 in annual sales. Connie is responsible for developing Independent Contractors and Agencies. Her career includes work as Sales and Marketing Director, Corporate Travel Account Manager, Office Manager, Group Travel Coordinator and Travel Consultant. Connie's passion for travel is evident and it underscores her personal philosophy is travel is the perfect way to bring the peoples of the world together.