In my 25 years in the travel industry, one of the most consistent questions I hear is, “Cyndi, how do I actually become a travel agent?” So let's walk through the three steps for determining if becoming a travel agent is the right step for you.
Step 1 – Are You Passionate About Travel?
When you’re thinking about becoming a travel agent, I want you to think about if this industry is right for you. That should be the focus at the beginning of your journey. Are you passionate about travel? Passion is something that you can’t shake. It’s not a passing feeling or a phase. A passion is in your bones and in your soul. If you truly have a passion for travel, then this will be an amazing journey for you. If you don’t, I would strongly recommend that you really evaluate your desire to jump into the industry. You may want to move on if this isn’t truly your passion.
When you decide to become a travel agent, you have to dedicate yourself to learning the industry inside and out. This isn’t going to be easy. This is hard work and real dedication. It’s not as simple as searching Expedia for some good deals or knowing how Disney’s FastPass+ system works. There is a lot to know about the industry and regulations that you need to learn when you get started.
Step 2 – Do You Have the Required Resources?
Our two most precious resources are time and money, right? So many people ask me if this is a business they can start on a tight budget. The short answer is yes, it is…but it might not be the business you want to build. The truth is, to build a successful travel business, you have to invest in yourself and in your business. I want to manage your expectations for what you can get out of this business versus how much you’re willing to put in. You will need things like marketing, a customer relationship management system, and other tools that do cost money. But these tools will help you establish a solid business and help you thrive in this industry. You’re not going to take this business to six-figures and beyond without investing in this business. You will have up-front costs to establish your business, generate leads, and start serving your clients with excellence.
The other resource you need to have is time. Travel is not a set-it-and-forget-it business. To serve your clients and give them an amazing travel experience, it may mean spending hours on the phone to get through to a travel partner. It may mean emails from your clients on the weekend. Want to build a travel business on the side while you’re continuing in your 9-5 job? You may have some late nights or early mornings to book the best dining reservations or to get the stateroom your client wants for their cruise.
The best advice I can give you is to approach this as a business. So many people get into this industry “for fun,” but then they don’t treat it as a business, so they fall by the wayside time and time again. This takes actual work and prioritizing long-term goals over short-term gains. My career has allowed me to have so many amazing things, but it’s not without work and sacrifice. I really want you to understand that. You have two choices on how you’re going to build this – you can build it with instructions, or you can try to DIY it. Many times, I’ve seen the DIYers fail. Can you be successful in doing it yourself? You can. But if you have a coach or someone who is rooting for you and helping you along the way, it is much easier to hit your goals and thrive.
Step 3 – Are You Ready to Run a Business?
So you've decided that you have the resources to become a travel agent. Great! But do you know what it takes to run a successful online business? It’s much more than getting a website, some CRM logins, and being “open for business.” If you can’t get people coming through your door (or, in this case, your virtual door), your business will not be successful. So many people approach becoming a travel agent as a hobby – but if you want to be successful and live the life you dream of, you have to run a BUSINESS.
Marketing is a huge part of any business, but especially in our industry. If you’re not marketing your business, your business is either stagnant or dying. As a travel agent, you truly can run your business from anywhere – as long as you know how to market your services and position yourself as an expert. I can’t stress enough that marketing will be the lifeblood of your business. At the end of the day, you need to know how to fit all the pieces together – passion, knowledge, business sense, and marketing. These building blocks are like the Legos of your business. You need to find the way that they all fit together that works best for you to have the business that you dream of.
There are many different ways to get set up. You can take the DIY route and try to piece everything together yourself. This can work, but it takes an amazing amount of grit, street smarts, book smarts, and dedication as well as faith to see you through.
You could go the hosting route, where you work with an established agency as an independent contractor. You run your own business and retain the liability, while they take a portion of your commission for the hosting privileges. Working with a host can be a good solution for some new travel agents because they can take advantage of the host's resources – basic training programs, optional systems, and a network of professionals for support.
However, there are downsides to hosting. You retain liability if something goes wrong, and you lose a percentage of your commission as well. You don’t really get personalized, hands-on training as they have hundreds (if not thousands) of people like you on their roster. The other reality is that hosts are not teaching home-based agents how to effectively market using the best available systems and strategies. After all, they still collect fees whether you are selling or not. It can become overwhelming very quickly. It can take years to hit your goals and get your business in a stable state (assuming things settle down soon and our lives start to go back to normal). So often, new travel agents will get frustrated or lose their motivation as time goes on and just walk away.
My goal is to help those who want to become travel agents and be in this industry. So I've used my experience as a travel veteran to create resources for aspiring and experienced agents to help them avoid some of the pitfalls that can plague the DIYer.
The truth is, though, that you only have to “go it alone” if you want to. If you’ve been in this industry and are struggling, I’d love to help you. If you’re brand new and ready to get started right, I’d love to help you as well. Check out my free masterclass, “5 Shifts to a Six-Figure Travel Business and Beyond,” to learn exactly what you need to know to determine if a travel business is the right next step for you.
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