So you want to be a travel agent, huh?
Maybe you’ve reached a point in your life that you want to make a change and you have always loved traveling so why not try it out. Or maybe you’ve just gone on your first big international adventure and now that you’ve caught the travel bug, you want to do it for a living. Or maybe you’re a very experienced traveler and you want to share your knowledge. Or maybe the practical perks of being a travel agent drove you to consider it - working flexible hours, being your own boss, and working from home.
Whichever one you are, you’re headed into an exciting and rewarding career. One which has been revered in the classy 1970’s and one which has been dragged through the mud during Covid. If there was ever a right time to join, though, it would be now. The travel industry is growing massively but the travel agent market is growing four times faster. And that is because of the demand for personal and professional support while planning trips.
But since you’re researching how to become a travel agent, you already realize that it is not a very straightforward process to get into the industry. There are trainings, new tools, and official government things you need to take care of before you can get started. Not to mention other questions I’m sure you have like “what if covid comes back”, “how will I make enough money”, or “I don’t know how to run a business”. While we cannot answer these questions for you, we can help you get started.
The boring stuff: Licenses and certifications
I’ve got good news for you! To sell travel products and services, you do not need any certifications. That’s right - you can get out there and start selling. But maybe you want to brush up on some business skills and get some industry knowledge first. Good, let’s talk about your options.
- The Travel Institute - Certified Travel Associate $550
- Hopper - Bunny Bootcamp $299
- IATA - Essentials for Travel Agents $399
Just like in any profession, continuous learning and understanding the latest trends, technologies, and threats will keep you on top of your game and help you grow your brand and business. For travel agents, there are hundreds of great resources to keep you up to date on everything you need to know to keep your clients happy, safe, and on time. You will find your favorites over time.
- Travel and Leisure - a staple of the travel industry
- TravelPulse - trending topics in travel
- Skift - trustworthy news and industry report
- PhocusWire - technology focused news arm of PhocusWright
The best way to learn, however, is just getting out there and starting to work with clients. They will tell you what you need to improve and it’s better than spending months on getting trained on every topic under the sun when you likely will not use those skills at the beginning. Please keep in mind that if you want to purchase flights via IATA, you will need to be accredited by them.
Operating as a tourism business
There are a few ways you can get started as a travel agent, ranging in independence, risk, and reward. Starting with least independence - you can either become an employee of an existing travel agency, become an independent agent at a host agency, partner with some other agents, or start your own business and eventually hire employees.
Working at a travel agency
Definitely starting with some certifications and training will help and be sure to update your resume/CV to suit your new career. You can expect to get an hourly or yearly salary and share some of the commissions from your sales. This is a great way to get into the industry and build up some experience before jumping totally into being an independent agent.
If you’re not quite ready to be fully independent and responsible for all operations, transactions, and software subscriptions, you can join a host agency. To use the name, systems and relationships of the host agency, they will need compensation, but this may look very different from company to company. Generally speaking you can expect to pay some monthly host costs ($150-$1000) and they will take 10-50% of your commissions.
Starting your own company
If you want to fully commit to your calling of being a travel agent, setting up your own company is the best way to have control over how you do business, in which regions, specialties, and how much business you want to do. A good way to start is to find a partner or group of other travel agents who want to work together. Otherwise starting on your own will give you the biggest reward and you can choose when to hire employees and grow your business.
To do this, you will need to set up your business in the state or country you will be operating in. For the US, start by setting up a LLC and get a business license for the state you will host your company. Make sure to put together a business plan and decide which regions and specialities you want to focus on at the beginning. Business set up costs can range from $300-$1000. Something to note is that you can create your company as part of a franchise.
Lastly, you will need to determine how you will make money and charge your customers. Most travel agents make their money through commissions, but this can constrain the choice of experience for the client and brings the risk that you will plan a trip in detail only for the potential customer to walk away with your itinerary and book it themselves. At Ravel Trips, we charge customers a small planning fee in order to secure their trip and ensure the trip planner can spend the amount of time he or she really needs to plan an amazing journey. You are welcome to join as a partner and be part of the Ravel Marketplace to sell your services to clients on the platform and charge them a planning fee to secure their trip while you plan it for them.
Tools of the trade
Travel agents are involved before, during, and after their client’s trip. That means that trust, organization, and communication are extremely important - so you need the tools to keep all of that in check.
You will need to create a brand, attract customers and convert the sale. This will be a lot of work at the beginning so be smart about where you put your energy.
- Email campaigns, websites, social media, spending ad dollars to fight against companies just like you. That’s a lot of different channels, a lot of different skills needed, and a lot of time
- On Ravel Trips, travel professionals can publish real trips they have planned in the past (and even sell them as templates). One place for clients to search and filter to find the perfect agent for them - that could be you! You can still include your trips on your website with our trip widget.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
Managing your customer flow through sales, retention and re-conversion will be key to making sure you are bringing in business and measuring how well you do it.
- Salesforce ($25-325), Zoho ($25-100), SugarCRM ($52-1000), Freshworks ($19-125) - these are strong CRMs used broadly across many industries.
- Ravel Trips (free trial then $10) is built for purpose focusing only on the acquisition, conversion, and retargeting. Ravel has a focus on efficiency. You will not hold on to every customer because they may not return to your country, but at least in the Ravel ecosystem you can acquire those clients from similar businesses to you
Of course you will need to share beautiful itineraries with your clients and this is where targeted and efficient feedback is important.
- Tourwriter ($39-250), Tripcreator ($70) are two examples of really great itinerary builders, which you can share after you build the trip. Tripcreator even has a mobile app you can get with agency branding for $1000 set up $350 monthly maintenance fee.
- Ravel Trips is about constant collaboration so you can quickly adjust the plan to keep your customer happy and make the sale earlier since they feel part of the process. The Ravel Trips consumer mobile app is free for all users.
The platform made for travel creators
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You need to stay in constant contact with your client during planning, while the client is traveling, and after their journey. There are many solutions to stay connected but it really depends on your preference and the client’s tolerance for new tools.
- Email, Whatsapp, Zoom, Slack, Asana are great communication tools however they are not optimized for communication with context. In other words, they are great for conversation but not referring to data within an itinerary.
- Ravel Trips is implementing chat within the trip to share everything in one place. You’re both there already, it just makes sense.
We all know there are a million different websites out there to make bookings. There are also systems (GDS), which connect you directly to the bookings. We recommend going for the easiest just to get your business started, then you can branch out. But keep commissions in mind when making your decision.
- You can sign up for the affiliate programs at Booking.com, Expedia, etc. and book there or share your affiliate links to customers to book on their own. Or you can sign up for affiliate programs like Travelpayouts
- Booking directly with hotels, car rental companies, etc. is also possible but it is on an individual basis and you need to set up affiliate agreements with each one.
- Booking flights is more complicated as you might need an IATA certification to book on their systems or you can book directly with the airlines. Here you will get pretty low commissions either way.
- Ravel Trips makes it easy to book everything in one place and get your commissions - soon to integrate into GDS as well!
Once you get a client, you will need to provide your service and make sure to charge them just like in any other business. Some of these invoicing services offer additional things like accounting and payment processing, so spend some time and find the right one since you might be married to it for a while.
- Some general use companies and apps provide good services to create invoices and deal with payments like Quickbooks, Stripe, xero, wave apps but these can be a bit heavy at first or you might even need multiple
- Ravel Trips provides secure payments integrated in the app, and clients already on the platform don’t need to provide you any payment details. Many clients may be scared of bank transfers with no guarantee - Ravel provides that security through our partnership with Stripe.
Once you’ve completed your service and your clients have had the best trip of their lives, you’ll want to hear from them and make sure they share with their friends. It’s great if you get testimonials to add to your website but public reviews are the most trustworthy way to get your customers’ voice out to the world.
- Google reviews, Trustpilot, etc are difficult to organize and find real examples of reviews for many agencies and individual agents. Also you don’t actually see the trip that the client took to make up your own mind on the quality.
- On Ravel Trips, each trip is reviewed and the agent is rated so agents can happily share their past portfolio with the world and clients can feel comfortable in seeing real reviews by real people.
Now, get out there
The last step is to now get out there. Build your brand, decide on your niche and discover what makes you stand out from the crowd. Tailor your business stack to suit your style of working, however we recommend the Ravel Trips platform to simplify your workflow and supercharge your business.
Click here to start a free advisor trial or try out the platform as a traveler for free