Conduct Market Research
As a travel agency owner, you have a unique set of competitors. Not only are you competing with fellow travel agencies, you’re competing with the entirety of the Internet. Anyone can conduct a search online for the most competitive airline prices or the best deals on hotels. Sites like Kayak and Expedia let users browse multiple options to attain the lowest prices, and let’s not forget the ever-popular house sharing site AirBnb.
What sets you apart from all of these? Your inside knowledge. People can spend hours searching for the perfect seaside hotel or the most picturesque winter getaway, but more often than not they will either end up frustrated or they won’t have access to the best deals. That’s where you’ll come in.
Research the market to determine the following:
- What have been the trends in travel over the last few years
- What trends can you predict will emerge over the next few years?
- What are the hassles of travel and planning that you can take care of for your clients?
- What services are people willing to pay a little more money for?
Convenience is truly the name of the game, but with your help, clients will be appreciative of the personal touch and the inside information you can use to help them get the best vacation possible.
Find Your Niche
If you plan on working by and for yourself, then you will need to be realistic about your niche. There are two options ahead of you: choose a niche that you’re familiar with, or choose a niche that you want to become familiar with. This second option will bring with it much more need for research on your part, but that is okay!
Expect that you are going to have to travel to your destinations. Knowing this, how many different areas are you willing to get up close and personal with? It is never a good idea to take on more than you can handle, so you will have to decide where you’d like to send your clients.
Take a look at the following suggestions:
- Regional travel. Some travel agencies opt to do just one country; other agencies can accommodate an entire continent.
- Interests-based travel. Do you want to specialize in just wine countries? Historic locales? Places with the best beaches? Perhaps you want to offer experiences that are based on people’s interests. Again, this might require you to travel to more than one area of the world, but if that is what your heart is set on, you will make it work.
- Events-based travel. Some clients are interested in attending big global events, such as the Olympics, the World Cup of Soccer, music and theater events, and more. You could provide that experience for them, and this option might even bring with it an opportunity for group excursions.
You are nothing without your vendors and contacts, both national and international.
When you find out where you’d like to send your clients, start building a rapport with hotels, car services, tour guides, airline companies, and more.
This relationship will be a mutual one: If your contacts are able to provide you with special offers and deals, you will be able to provide the best services to your clients, thereby making them happy. In return, your vendors will be appreciative of your business, and will want to do their best to accommodate your clients. It is truly a win-win!
There is a beauty in partnering with tour guides in the areas where you offer travel experiences. For one, these are usually skilled residents of the town or city who have accumulated a wealth of knowledge. If you are, for whatever reason, unable to discover the ins and outs of that particular place, the tour guide will be able to fill in those blanks.
One of the loveliest experiences for your clients is to book them a private walking or driving tour through the town, which is a great first-day experience to immerse them in their locale.
Organize Your Finances
Working as a travel agent or tour operator will most likely be a commission-based job. This means that you are going to add your overall fee to the total price of the vacation package, and that number is what the client is going to see. Some of the most experienced travel agents can charge up to 40% commission for their services. If you’re lucky, you might even get to the point where you’re leading a group excursion, and with your commission fee, it might be all-expenses-paid for you!
The start-up costs involved in becoming a travel agent are low in comparison with other industries, and hover around $2,000 to $3,000. These total costs might reflect:
- Computer, internet, and phone costs
- Costs associated with online marketing, such as if you purchase a domain for your website
- Costs associated with branding, such as your business cards, brochures, and other paraphernalia
- Cost to join a travel consortium (not required)
- Costs to register your business entity, such as if you choose to become an LLC or a Limited Liability Company.
Remember too that your vendors might also charge a commission, so that will have to be included in the price of the package for your clients. When figuring out your finances, it is recommended that you remain organized. Utilize spreadsheets or websites to help you track your numbers.
Create an Online Presence
Clients are looking for a hassle-free experience. With this in mind, you will need to create an easy-to-access online presence. A clean website with clearly defined tabs and sections will make the experience all the more enriching for your potential clients. Don’t have them search for your contact information or the About Us page. If website building is not your forte, you can either hire a web designer or you can utilize one of the many online website building platforms. Keep in mind that there will be fees associated with either option.
Branding your company will also be of exceptional importance. No matter if your client is looking at your website, your social media page, your business card, or a brochure, you want to ensure that your company is recognizable. You can achieve this by doing the following:
- Creating or designing a logo that you use on everything
- Choose a color scheme and stick with it. Do not deviate or change the colors from one platform to the next
- Using the same or a similar font on all of your media
Think of all the travel websites you are familiar with, and if you can envision their logo, then that means they have created a solid online presence.
The purpose of branding is recognition, so if you make too many changes between your social media page, your business card, and your newsletter, for example, your company will not be immediately recognizable.
Expand Your Reach
Just because you create a website and print business cards does not mean you will automatically begin to see the business pouring in. There is some legwork you will have to do to get your name out there.
One of the best ways to do this is to attend Travel Expositions, known simply as Travel Expos or Travel Shows. These happen in some of the biggest cities almost every year and are a great opportunity for you to distribute your information and talk to potential clients.
Keep in mind that you will have to pay a fee to rent the small space you are given. You will also have to provide your own materials, brochures, press kits, and other hand-outs (many people like to give away things such as pens or magnets), which all come with a fee.
The only thing you might not have to provide is the table, but be sure to ask before you get there.
Be sure to also have a sign up sheet so you can collect clients’ information. Better yet, if you put them on an email list or a newsletter, you can make the first attempt at contact with them!
A wonderful way to track how much business you’ve acquired from attending an Expo is to provide people with a special discount if they met you during the Travel Show.
Some agencies offer perks like 10% off the first booked vacation if they sign up with you through the Expo.
There’s really no end to how creative you can get!
Finally, before you open for business, you will want to decide whether or not to hire employees, and what they will be doing for you. Some of the jobs available within your travel agency might pertain to the following:
- Marketing and/or Social Media Director
- Website Coordinator
- Secretary and/or Bookkeeper
Keep in mind that while you are away traveling to a potential destination, you might need someone back home to take care of your company’s matters if you are reluctant to close your business during that time.
Choose a trusted, organized individual to help. Of course, this will come with a salary and potential benefits, so be sure to factor that in when you are settling up your finances.
When opening a business, it is always recommended that you consult with a small business attorney. Be sure to also check your state’s website for any additional information you might need regarding registering your business, applying for taxes, and more.