How to become a travel agent & earn six figures In 2022
June 3, 2022
minutes of reading
According to Salary Explorer, a travel agent earns between 15k and 48k per year, the average salary being 31k. This gap is due to incomes varying with experience, skills, gender or location of the agent. Their main goal is to make the process of travel planning easier for their customers. Simple, right? Well, it goes way beyond that actually. Since they cater to a wide demographic - serving everyone from individuals to corporations -, and have to book flights, cruises, hotels, rental cars and even events depending on their clients’ preferences and local requirements, they need to be multi-skilled. With drastic fluctuations in salaries occurring over the past decade, and especially the past three years, one might wonder if it is still worthwhile becoming a travel agent. But what if we told you it is actually possible to reach the 6 figure mark? How does one become a travel advisor earning that much? And above all, how can you distinguish yourself sufficiently to do so?
1/ What is a travel agent and how to become one? ✈️
To reduce competition, travel agents whose main purpose is to remove hurdles from your travel plans, may concentrate on one sector of the field only, whether it’d be leisure travel or business trip, specific locations or activities. Once you’ve chosen how to distinguish yourself, let’s see what a typical day could look like for you.
A travel agent’s daily work routine might look like this:
Monitor the travel industry trends and prices;
Research and study travel destinations;
Promote and offer good deals;
Suggest suitable travel options to meet their clients’ needs (taking into account their budget; schedule, prefered method of travel and sometimes health condition even);
Book tickets, and reservations for accommodations and transportations;
Research, understand and forward customs and international travel requirements, etc.
This is a very short and basic checklist as no one will ever book the same trip. It is essential for them to keep up with the latest trends concerning the travel industry all around the world as well as locally with the help of travel magazines, online travel publications, travel regulations updates, etc. In some cases, agents will travel to obtain first-hand experience on the destinations they wish to include in their offer and promote it to their clients.
How does one become a travel agent ?
In many countries, you can get by with just a high school diploma or equivalent, with additional training in the subject via vocational schools for example. This has been the case in France, for example, since 1 January 2016 (the obligation to hold a diploma or qualification was previously mentioned in Article L211-1 of the Tourism Code). However, it is recommended to go through a few more years of higher education to obtain a diploma in tourism and travel management, or other training focused on the subject.
You will definitely benefit from it as it can help you gain extra knowledge on essentials such as booking softwares, sales, accounting, etc. Developing good marketing and interpersonal skills afterwards to ensure success is a must. Destination and travel trends change rapidly, therefore it is crucial to stay constantly educated on travel products and best business practice. There will always be something to learn in this field, and it is best to stay up to date with the latest news.
In most countries, diplomas are not required to set up a travel agency, but requirements have to be met to be able to practice, especially financial ones.
2/ What are the costs of being a travel agent? 👩🏽💼💻💰
On top of what you might invest in your education, let us not forget to address the costs of actually being a travel agent. Diplomas are one thing, but one has to obtain certain permits before starting to sell trips and everything related. There are different ways one can start its journey in this line of work.
When joining an agency or buying a franchise
The good news is that if you join an already existing agency, the majority of the costs are cut. You do not have to pay for any rent, permits, accreditations and so on… The only drawback here being that you have to follow your agency business plan and projects, especially in big renowned groups. At your arrival, it is likely they already have everything settled from brand image to partnerships. Your only job will be to sell whatever travel packages already exist in their catalog. Nevertheless, it is a great start for people searching to test themselves, see if they actually enjoy working in the tourism sector at all and learn all the basics.
There is also the option of host agencies. They act as a middlemen between travel retailers and travel suppliers and support professional and administrative requirements of home-based travel agencies. They have the ability to provide ressources a newcomer cannot afford at the beginning of their career. When you belong to a host agency, you will be using the same accreditation number as other independent travel agents belonging to the same host agency to book travels; you will therefore appear as a large group, instilling trust as one reputable client instead of a single retailer with low volume sales. Your administrative requirements (credentials, insurance policy, etc.) are taken care of, and you get access to good deals for a fraction of the price you’d have to pay if you were to open your own agency which is an effortless solution for beginners. In return, a host agency will split commissions and charge you a fixed fee for the service and resources provided. Fees might have to be paid monthly or annually and may range anywhere from 2,000€ to 4,300€ annually, depending on which area you will settle your business in, your host agency fees and local regulations. Beware host agencies which put more effort in recruiting new travel agents rather than in selling travels: it is most probably a pyramid scheme!
Another easy way to jump into the market without much work to do is buying a travel franchise. That way, you will enter the market displaying the colors and reputation of an already well established agency, receiving support before, during and after the creation of the company and benefiting from its resources and influence. The minimum personal contribution for an average agency surface of 40m2 is between 60 and 100,000€.
As an independent travel agent
Although it is pretty uncommon for newcomers to take this road from the get-go, some actually muster the courage and funds necessary to be autonomous at the beginning of their adventure. They do everything on their own: obtaining permits and accreditations, creating their branding and forge relationships with the suppliers of their choice, etc. Except for the accreditation itself (which costs between 150€ and 500€), the rest may vary, depending on which service provider you’ll rely on for your branding, accounting, or communication. That is if you even chose to rely on some. Some rather skilled and polyvalent agents cut the costs by taking care of a lot by themselves.
However, here are a few basic costs you might cover when going solo:
100€ to 300€ for a website template you’ll have to implement and maintain yourself (up to 2000€ if you wish for a custom one, completely branded);
Between 50€ and 800€ for a logo, more for a complete branding;
from 150€ to 300€ for licensing fees which depend on the area your business is located in;
Insurance fees (depending on the specifics of your business, but also on the specifics of your company).
So, to be able to start working as a full fledged travel agent, you should not need more than 2000€ to start with a decent business.
Due to COVID-19, some governments (Quebec for example) suspended travel agent fees, enabling interested individuals to revive the market. In the troubled era we are living in, make sure you constantly enquire about your local legislation.
3/ How to make money with your travel agency? 💁♀️💶
If you reached this level of the article, it probably means you plan on, or consider being an independent travel agent, whether it’d be through a host agency, or fully on your own. You probably wonder how exactly do travel agents make money, how do they get paid. Now that we have covered your initial expenses, let’s see how you can and will make great returns on investment.
First of all, full disclosure: do not expect outstanding yields the first few months. Truth is, it will take you a while to build your client base and develop your brand and reputation. Even with your first bookings, you will not receive your commissions until after your clients complete their travel.
But do not be discouraged! Let's see what initiative you can take to speed up the process as well as enjoy your career.
How to make money solely through your core activity
Collect your commissions: The main income of a travel agent is the commissions coming from clients buying travel products through them. It is making up a great percentage of their income. Make sure you have reliable and quality driven partners to work with;
Implement service fees: Commissions are coming from your partners, but service fees should directly come from your clients, for all the work provided booking everything. You can have a flat fee, an hourly fee, fees per transaction, etc;
Offer consultation: Even when not actually buying travels, travelers sometimes need help making plans. That is where you step in. Guide them through their ordeal and make extra money;
Distinguish yourself: Although not necessary, sticking to a niche will help you focus your energy on a specific group of specifically interested clients and prospects who will not hesitate to pay for your services. However, make sure the niche you chose is in demand. As durability has been a hot topic for the past two decades, you may for example focus on Slow Travel (get to know what Ezus has to say on the matter here);
Sell add-ons: Travel insurances for example, are something travelers often forget, especially when traveling within their own country. You can also offer local internet connection packages to facilitate your clients staying in touch with you and their loved one in case of emergency, or local public transport passes.
Diversify your activities to generate extra income
Like everyone though, the urge to earn more is present in this field as well. Can a travel agent reach the 6 figures mark? You’ll need to do a little bit more than what is written above. First of all…
Select your clients: Rather than letting customers come to you, set your mind, goals and efforts toward specific clients you know will undoubtedly increase your turnover. Upgrade your prospect list to increase your earnings;
Step up your knowledge: It is critical, if you want to weigh in in your sector and among your direct competition. You need to go through a lot of fam trips (familiarization trips) to get to know from the inside out the product you’ll be offering as well as learn one or two languages to reach the largest number and facilitate exchanges with your potential future partners and clients. Stay up to date with the sector’s latest news on social media. Talking about that…
Become an influencer: Yes, you read that right. Online presence is a necessity. Being on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is the minimum required. It will be free advertising without you putting much effort. With well-crafted targeted content, you’ll also have a lot more chances to land relevant partnerships. When on those famous fam trips, do not forget to take good quality pictures and post it on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook to reach your public. Not only will it let hotels, tour operators and other tourism stakeholders know you are open to making content for them (in exchange for commissions of course), but it will also let travelers know you can act as an intermediary between them and these amazing places you are showcasing. you can easily get your name out there if you produce the content travel aficionados are looking for;
Invest in advertising: You can start telling about your business to friends and family for free, but it won’t guarantee you the volume and quality of customers you need to reach a 6 figures income. You’ll eventually need to invest in advertising to reach your target audience. As we spend more time everyday on the internet, online advertising is guaranteed to reach the largest number.
4/ How is becoming a travel advisor still worth the effort? 🎇👨🏾💼🎇
Travel: in constant demand
The tourism industry suffered the worst turmoil during COVID, and although experts expect a full recovery of the industry two years from now due to the surge of new variants, a good amount of others revived the industry since sanitary restrictions have been majorly lifted around the world. The demand is so strong that off-peak travel bookings are at the highest. Airports, airlines and hotels are struggling to keep-up with the intensive demand, and companies which had to unfortunately lay off staff are now trying to compensate for the void. Virtuoso for example, a travel network with more than 20,000 travel advisors globally, witnessed a 50% increase in demand in the last year alone with millennials and Gen Xers being the fastest growing portion of new clients.
Travelers still eager to rely on experts
Despite the fact that consumers are eager to travel again, a vast majority of them are still reluctant to book trips because of the rapid changes in sanitary regulations. Because of this, travelers need more guidance than ever to plan future trips, so your expertise will come in handy as people navigate travel in an ever-changing environment. They will not hesitate to invest in and put their trust in someone capable of providing crucial advice, safety nets and information about their dream travel. The truth is, the demand for travel advisors is now on the rise, especially among Millennials looking to live affordable and meaningful experiences while outsourcing time-consuming tasks. It is not only about just making reservations anymore. Offer knowledge, expertise and genuine point of views to gain your clients’ trust. The flow of information is overwhelming for a lot out there, and they need someone to filter it all. As long as you have great marketing and networking skills, as well as competitive pricing, you will surely meet success.
The industry definitely went through a lot of hurdles in the past decades, nearly reducing the number of agents in half. Nevertheless, it still has a bright future ahead. Even with doubts around the profession, passionate and motivated people are throwing themselves into the adventure. People are still dreaming of new horizons and always will: it is now up to you, travel agents, travel consultants and other advisors to lead them there. The profession is still relevant, still worth it.