Today, the majority of leisure travel agents are independent contractors who align with a host agency.
Translation: The average leisure travel agent is both "independent" and truly "entrepreneurial." The vast majority of leisure travel sellers in the U.S. are very much in control of their own destiny. They are free to set up their businesses as they wish with support from a highly functioning "back office" provided by their host.
This is real freedom. You can pivot your business in ways that travel agents who worked out of a retail office in the past never could. I do not refer to "outside agents"; I prefer the more accurate description: independent entrepreneurs.
So, for all the independent entrepreneurs out there, let me make just a few suggestions for when you reach the point where you are thinking about a business redesign.
Let's start with a somewhat artificial benchmark. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that full-time practitioners in the travel arts earned a salary of $46,580 in 2021. That represents an increase in travel agent salaries over the past decade of 26%. How can you beat the average? How can you increase your annual sales by changing your personal business model?
Here are three suggestions:
Stop calling yourself a travel agent: Instead, refer to yourself as what you are and what you want to be. Do you want to be a "specialist" in planning family vacations, church-related travels or nudist retreats? And please, never waste the tag line under the name of your business. This added line can highlight exactly what you do and don't sell.
Stop selling airline tickets: Any study of time and financial benefit will, I believe, clearly show that airlines ticketing is often a not-for-profit necessity. But the thing is, it isn't at all a necessity. Advisors tell me that about 90% of the complaints they receive revolve around air arrangements. Why leash yourself to that dog?
What you may not have considered is how much your clients will appreciate the fact that you are not a typical travel agent. They will appreciate that you outsource air to true air experts. They can be made to understand that by dropping air, you can truly dedicate yourself to the planning of their vacation details. If I sound passionate about this, it may be because my firm has not processed an airline ticket in 37 years. And we've done OK.
Design your own unbiased rating of products: Consumers turn off a good deal of travel advertising. Instead of screaming price and printing other people's ad copy, rank the top 10 products in each category you sell and then take a deep breath and refuse to sell any product that has not qualified for your top 10 list. Yes, this will disqualify many major brands -- you know, the ones everyone else is selling. But by having your ad-free listings set the standard in your area of business, you will receive a major integrity boost, your commissions may double and you will move to a lifestyle filled with truly satisfied clients.
Imagine that you gather your friends and drive up to the largest shopping mall in the state. You all go inside and ask the first 1,000 people you meet to name the top-ranked cruise line in the world. I promise that less than five people you stop will know. That is the void you need to fill.