Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

As independent contractors (ICs) have proliferated in the travel industry, so too have host agencies.

It makes sense. As the number of ICs in the industry increases, it's an attractive business model. Hosts can offer different levels of service and support to fit different kinds of ICs, whether they are veterans or new entrants to the industry.

Travel Weekly's 2019 Travel Industry Survey found that 48% of all respondents use a host agency, and a whopping 70% of home-based respondents are affiliated with a host. They use their affiliation for different reasons. Most, 84%, use a host for access to their preferred suppliers. Another 65% use their host to book travel, 60% for accounting or marketing services and 20% for access to lead generation.

Further, Phocuswright's U.S. Travel Agency Distribution Landscape 2016-2021 report found that affiliations with hosts are on the rise. In 2007, 6% of agencies surveyed reported a host agency affiliation. That number doubled to 12% in 2018.

But with the number of hosts that exist -- entire websites like HostAgency Reviews.com and FindA HostTravelAgency.com are dedicated to reviews and information about them -- how does a host define itself to attract the kind of ICs with which it works best?

Both Avoya Travel (No. 28 on Travel Weekly's 2019 Power List) and Travel Experts (No. 34) recently announced awareness campaigns. Avoya's is called "More Time," and Travel Experts' is "The Value Proposition for the Next 30 Years" (the Raleigh, N.C.-based host is 30 years old).

Fourteen years ago, Steve Hirshan joined Avoya as an agency owner. Today, he is Avoya's senior vice president of sales, but his advice to agents looking for a host has essentially remained the same: "Do your due diligence. Talk to a number of different hosts."

Avoya originally focused on bringing in experienced agents, he said, but it pivoted around five years ago when it decided it wanted to grow the agency community, not just poach agents from other hosts. So Avoya shifted to welcoming new-to-the-industry agents.

That's a group with a very different set of needs than experienced agents, Hirshan said. The time they devote to their travel business needs to be flexible, as they might have other jobs or school. They need technology that sends them leads and helps them work efficiently.

"We've had to adapt over time, and we want to let people know that we are the best place for people from an efficiency point of view," he said.

Hence the "More Time" campaign that highlights Avoya's technology and resources.

Travel Experts has decided to use a different tactic.

Sharon Fake, director of operations, said the host agency no longer really needs to recruit advisors; they tend to find Travel Experts.

Instead, its "Value Proposition" campaign is dedicated to reassuring advisors that while Travel Experts has been on a solid growth trajectory, it still offers the same level of service. It has added and refocused staff members to maintain service levels for its ICs.

Travel Experts is selective in the agents it brings onboard. They usually come from existing agencies, and they have to have a reasonable amount of business. If they don't, Travel Experts refers them to other hosts with mentoring and training programs.

"We just want to make sure that we are still able to distinguish Travel Experts as somewhat unique in the world of independent contractor agencies and that we are making sure that our basic philosophies are still being maintained at the level that we want them to be," Fake said. "We don't lose that personal touch."

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