How To Become a Travel Agent
Seeing the world is a classic bucket list item, and many people’s fondest memories involve childhood holidays or messy weekends abroad with friends. As a travel agent, you’re the facilitator for fulfilling that wanderlust and helping to create those lifelong memories.
Being stuck at home throughout the pandemic has only seen this desire to travel grow for many, and with the industry projected to rise to over £900 billion in 2021, starting a travel agency could be an incredibly lucrative venture. But how and where do you start? We’ve got some top tips to help you get started on your journey.
1. Undertake training
First things first, if you want to become a travel agent, you’ll need to know how to do the job, and that means training. A lot of your training will come on the job, as a lot of the skills needed are ones best learnt by doing. However, there are a number of routes towards your first travel agency job which can prepare you for the role before you take your first step into the workplace.
While a degree isn’t essential, studying Tourism or another hospitality related degree could be good preparation. If you’re looking for a more direct in though, look no further than training and certification through a recognised travel certification organisation, like the Travel Institute. Here, you’ll learn all you need to know about working as a travel agent and will make numerous valuable contacts, giving you the best start possible in the industry.
If you’re looking to run your own travel agency business, you may also want to look into training courses in areas such as business management, human resources and accounting. This will ensure you not only know how to make your customers happy as a travel agent, but also how to keep your business running successfully.
2. Choose a speciality
What kind of travel agent do you want to be? Who are you selling to and what kinds of trips are you selling? By narrowing in on your niche, you can personalise your marketing and customer service to your exact target audience.
Maybe you’ll market towards a particular age group. Perhaps you’ll focus on a specific type of destination, or a certain region. You could offer wellness and relaxation breaks, or go the opposite way and sell thrilling expeditions. Whatever you decide on, make that your main focus and the centre point of your brand and marketing.
It’s important to remember though, as a travel agent, you sell the holidays, but you don’t organise them. That’s the job of the tour operator you’ll be working with. Your job is to handle the logistics, such as advising your customers on which destinations will suit their needs, what local customs to pay attention to when they’re there and how to get around.
3. Create a business plan
Once you’ve decided on your niche and you’ve got a good idea of your brand, it’s time to put together a detailed business plan, so you can get those ideas off ground and start heading towards your final destination.
First up, you’ll need to know what type of business you want to run. Will you be a solo operator working purely in the online space, or are you looking to expand your business and build a larger team in a physical premises? Are you doing this as a side hustle, or are you looking to kickstart a career and take on the big brands? Think hard about this and make a decision early on, because once you get started on a certain path, it can be difficult to change course later on.
Once you’ve decided, you’ll need to register your business with HMRC and Companies House as a sole trader, a limited company or a partnership. You’ll also have to ensure your operating premises are filed under the correct use class with the Local Planning Authority.
What do I need to include in my business plan?
Writing up a business plan may seem complicated, but if you know what kind of business you want to run, it can be a pretty straightforward process. You’ll want to think about:
- What kind of travel agency want to run – physical or online?
- What’s your niche?
- What’s your budget?
- What funding do you have?
- Where will your business be based?
- What staff will you need?
- Branding and marketing
4. Choose your premises
More specialist agencies may work just as well remotely, saving on the cost of a physical premises, but if you’re targeting a wider audience, finding the right premises for your business is essential.
Depending on where your business is based will greatly affect the cost you’ll be looking at for your premises. Consider your target audience and where you’re most likely to find them. If you’re looking to attract the widest audience possible, you’ll want to be based in a busy town or city. However, this will mean a much more expensive premises, putting the onus on you to ensure you’re bringing in enough business to cover the cost. You’ll also need to think about how much space you need. The type of business you’re running and the number of staff in the office each day will dictate the size and price of the space you need, or could eliminate the need for a physical premises altogether.
The most important thing to remember throughout this whole process is your budget. Rent or mortgage costs for a commercial premises can range from £1000-5000 a month on average, so it’ll likely be the most expensive facet of your business. You’ll also need to consider the costs of conveyancing, or having a solicitor oversee the leasing or buying process. This can cost anywhere from £400-1500, depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.
But what happens if you go through all that bureaucracy and finally get your budget in order, just to be hit with another huge bill because of damage to your premises because of a fire? Or find your office equipment is lost in a break in? Worry not, because by investing in a comprehensive travel agent insurance policy, all this and more will be covered. With that stress off your mind, you’ll be able to put your full effort and attention into providing those life-changing holidays to your clients.
5. Market your brand
Activity-filled family holidays, relaxing wellness breaks or soul-searching backpacking trips, whatever your brand is, you need to get it into the public eye.
Depending on your brand, there are a number of marketing options available to you. At a local level, putting a listing in the local newspaper or posters around the high street can be a great way of getting your business’ name out there.
If you’re thinking bigger, or especially if you’re thinking younger, social media marketing is a great way to advertise directly to your target audience, giving you the opportunity to visually show your brand and destinations through photos and videos. You may also want to consider Google paid ads, which lets you bid to place ads on the front page of Google. This is an especially effective option if you’ve already got a website or social media presence.
Marketing your brand is one of the most important aspects of running your business, but it can also be one of the most complicated. If you’re feeling disorientated by the whole process, you can always look into hiring a marketing agency to take care of it for you. This will cost more than handling things yourself, but it can be a great investment, especially if you hire an agency with experience in travel advertising.