August 15, 2019 Blog

When you are first exploring the travel industry you will get lots of suggestions about the right way to start and build a business. Everyone has an opinion! And here’s mine: The biggest mistake you can make is to just jump in and be a generalist booking anything and everything. Lots of existing agents will tell you that you don’t need to have a specialty. Do a little bit of everything first and then figure it out.

I disagree completely!

How well would that work for a restaurant or a clothing store? It wouldn’t and it doesn’t work for travel either.

First, let’s be clear that you are starting a BUSINESS. And you need to run it using sound business principles if you want to succeed. This is what makes the difference between people who are financially successful in travel and those who are busy but not making money: They run their travel business as a BUSINESS.

If you never take off your travel agent hat and put on your business owner hat, you aren’t going to be profitable. You might work your fingers to the bone but when you look at how much you made from those 50- and 60-hour weeks you will probably be disappointed. And might think about going to work at Walmart instead.

But there is a better way! You need a specialty. You need to have something to guide your marketing. If you don’t have a clear message to market yourself you will end up using vendor promotions as your marketing. That’s marketing them – not you. And how does that distinguish you from anyone else?

Sure, it’s hard when you are first getting started to know what that specialty should be, but you have to figure that out. A great coach or mentor can help you do that. There are also training programs that will help you (Travel MBA for one!). But the point is you need to figure this out first. It drives everything from your brand to your marketing.

So, what’s so bad about not specializing? When you promote yourself what are you going to say if you are trying to attract anyone and everyone? When you say, “I do everything!” (or something similar) what you are really saying is “I’m a Jack of all trades and a master of none”. A client who is looking for assistance with a special trip isn’t going to trust that to you. Nor are they going to pay you a professional fee, which is a big part of many agents’ annual income.

What’s so bad about doing everything for a year or two until you figure out what you want to do? First, you are wasting that time when you could be laying a solid foundation in your area of expertise. Second, you have attracted clients that you have to retrain and/or fire. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to retrain clients. They put you in a box when they first meet you and they have a really hard time changing that box.

I worked in an agency where most of the agents specialized in Disney. To begin with many were very happy to just book trips to WDW. And then they figured out how much they were making per hour and wanted to expand to more profitable products. For some that revelation took months and for others years. But they all had to go back and retrain their audience that they were more than just a Disney specialist.

For one agent the reality of how hard this is happened when she saw pictures a client posted from their 12-night Alaska cruise-tour. The pictures where showing off their beautiful suite. When they returned she reached out and found out they never thought to ask her about the trip because she’s the “Disney Lady” even though for months she had been posting and emailing about other types of travel she does. They already had her in the “Disney box”. She would have made about $4,000 on that booking. Ouch.

The bottom line is this: You are starting a business. Operate it like a business. You wouldn’t open any other kind of business and figure out what the business is as you go. Don’t do it in travel! There are lots of resources out there to help you with these decisions. Your host agency is a great place to start. And if they aren’t a good fit, change now before you get a lot of bookings!

And one reminder before I go:

  • Join me for a free webinar where I will demystify making money in travel: “Travel Agent Startup Series: How To Make Money as Travel Agent.” Register Here!
By Sandy Saburn