The pandemic has forever changed the travel industry. The same way 9/11 changed air travel in ways that are still around 20 years later (like extra security, limits on liquids, and more), the pandemic has already changed the travel business and some of these effects are permanent.One of the most significant changes to the industry is “redistribution of opportunity”. Sadly, many brick-and-mortar agencies have been reducing their staff and some have permanently closed. Struggling agencies are being purchased by other agencies. This consolidation is not unusual in times of contraction and is not unique to the travel industry.When travel resumes in full force, will these agencies restaff? Maybe, but many say they won’t. That means that there will be lots of experienced travel agents – both leisure and corporate – all competing for very few jobs. Over the past 10 years, the number of employee travel agents has been steadily shrinking. The pandemic accelerated that significantly. Bottom line: there is very little opportunity in the travel industry as an employee travel agent.But it’s not all bad news.Fortunately, there is plenty of opportunity in the travel industry as an independent agent. Lots of opportunity.Expansion always follows contraction – and the travel industry is poised for record-breaking expansion. Many travel advisors who were formerly employees see the opportunity coming and are shifting gears to become an independent contractor – because that’s where the opportunity is.So, if you have been an employee in the travel industry – either as an in-house agent or as a rep for a travel company –and you still love what you do, your best bet is to build your own business.Here’s the catch: You cannot just hang out your shingle and say, “I’m a travel agent” and expect clients – whether your previous clients or new ones – to flock to you. It just doesn’t happen.There are 3 critical steps every travel entrepreneur needs to go through if they want to have a profitable and rewarding business:
- Figure out who you want to serve and what makes you unique. Just saying “I’m a travel agent” doesn’t work. The riches are in the niches! Don’t fall into the trap of “book everything now and figure out a niche later”. If you do that you will work harder than you need to, make less money than you should, and end up frustrated with marketing.
- Master client attraction. Of course, you want to tap into your network and possibly even former clients, but for most people that isn’t enough to build a successful business. You need more clients and attracting them is an art form all its own. Before you can start attracting something you have to know what it is you are trying to attract. In other words, you can’t even begin to think about client attraction until you figure out #1.
- Understand revenue drivers so you get your business mix right. When starting a business, it is very beneficial to start with your end goal in mind (how much money you want to put in your pocket) and work backward to determine how you will get there. You have control over how much you make (really!), and you need to be deliberate about it. You can’t do this step until you figure out #1 and #2.
It is so frustrating to see people head down a path that you know won’t turn out the way they think. I see this all the time with new travel agents. They sign up with a host who doesn’t require any training or maybe just a few vendor courses, they post on social media so all their friends know they are a travel agent, and wait on the business to come rolling in.And what happens? Not much.The majority of them will end up booking a few things, but not making nearly enough money to pay the bills. A few will have quite a lot of inquiries and then find after they help the client they go book direct bypassing the agent completely. A small number will have a good amount of business, but they get lost when it comes to systems, marketing, and figuring out how to make the most amount of money from the time they spend in their business. Many of them get frustrated and quit because “you can’t make any money in travel”. That’s simply not true. You can make money in travel IF you know how to be a travel entrepreneur.If travel advisors want to make more money, be more respected, and be sought out by the very best clients, then we all need to up our game. Independent travel advisors need to embrace the entrepreneurial journey and take it seriously. They need to spend less time on vendor training and more time learning marketing systems and revenue drivers. They need to make sure their brand is dazzling and not DIY.Let’s up-level the role of travel advisor so everyone is happier, more respected, and makes more money. Won’t that be a wonderful way to come out of the pandemic?