While veteran travel advisors with decades of experience continue to dominate the U.S. travel agency workplace, the industry is showing positive growth when it comes to new agencies and advisors, according to “The U.S. Travel Agency Landscape 2022,” a report prepared for Allianz Partners by Travel Weekly in partnership with Phocuswright.
The study, based on an online survey of 1,356 travel advisors, confirms an increase in new entrants into the marketplace. Nearly 50 percent of respondents, for example, have worked in travel 10 years or less, compared to just 21 percent in 2019. In addition, 23 percent of traditional agencies have started within the past five years, a sizeable jump from the 10 percent reported in 2019. And eight percent of survey participants had started a new agency within the last two years, while the number of storefront agents jumped by five percent since 2021.
The fact that new travel advisors and new agencies are entering the market seems to indicate that efforts to attract new talent are having positive results, the report concludes.
Industry experts are also reporting growth. “There has never been a better time for new travel advisors to come into the industry,” says Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group in Irving, Texas, who began her career in 1984 as a frontline agent. “The pandemic certainly didn’t slow the interest. If anything, consumers developed more awareness of the importance of booking with an advisor.”
How can someone new to the industry ramp up a successful career as an advisor? Here are tips from several experts.
Identify Your Goals and Target Market
Jumping into a new career track requires careful planning, according to Friedman. “New advisors need to focus,” she says. “Pick something you are passionate about and will be good at selling. It may sound counterintuitive, but by narrowing your focus, you will grow your business. Strive to do more with less, not less with more. Once you get experience and build a strong client base, you can expand naturally. But don’t start as a jack of all trades. You cannot be all things to all people.”
Angie Licea, president of Global Travel Collection, a division of Internova Travel Group, emphasizes the need for new advisors to recognize their clients’ needs. “My biggest piece of advice would be to truly understand your client base and always continue to learn and adapt to meet the changing travel environment,” she says. “In this current travel environment, it is important to be nimble and look at ways to expand [your] area of expertise.”
Build Strong Client Relationships
Selling travel is a people business, so savvy social skills can go a long way. “Relationship building begins one conversation at a time,” says Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager of Dream Vacations, a division of World Travel Holdings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Focus on the conversation and creating a personal connection, because that is what will solidify a long-term client. Trust is a key ingredient in the foundation of establishing a long-term relationship.”
To find new clients when starting out, Friedman recommends looking close to home. “Many potential customers are people that a new advisor already knows,” she explains. “A helpful acronym is FRANK: Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors, Kids/Klubs. Reach out and let them know you are able to be their partner in travel. Find relevant ways to keep in touch, not just when you need business coming in. Send regular newsletters, check in on milestones and offer to create a multi-year travel plan, similar to what financial planners do with money.”
Above all, Friedman says that advisors should view clients as more than just dollar signs. “You will learn that clients are your greatest assets,” she says. “Cultivate them with the goal of building customers for life. They are not a transaction.”
Learn All You Can
“The U.S. Travel Agency Landscape 2022” report also found that advisors value product education and training — especially online training, in-person conferences, local training and in-office visits by supplier representatives.
Daly agrees about the importance of education and training to build a successful career and business. “Knowledge is power for a travel advisor,” he says, noting the educational opportunities his company offers to member agencies. “I encourage new advisors to our network to attend as many in-person and virtual conferences as possible. These opportunities allow them to hear firsthand from suppliers and other colleagues.”
Licea, who’s been in the industry for 34 years, agrees about the importance of education, noting Global Travel Collection’s programs. “Throughout the year, we offer professional development days and educational programs, providing valuable insights through workshops and ideation sessions that are carefully designed,” she says. “This provides our travel advisors with information on the latest trends as well as strategies they can put to work immediately to help expand their businesses, making them more productive and profitable.”
Friedman, meanwhile, recommends her own company’s educational offerings. “I have to toot my own horn here for a minute and talk about Travel Leaders of Tomorrow, a travel advisor program,” she says. “We welcome anyone—you don’t need to be a part of Nexion Travel Group or Internova Travel Group.”
Friedman also suggests several other ways for new travel advisors to increase their knowledge. “There are lots of great resources out there: the Travel Institute, with their TripKit and TAP Test, ASTA and their Roadmap to Becoming a Travel Advisor, sites like HostAgencyReviews.com and their Seven Day Setup, and FindAHostAgency.com,” she says. “The Professional Association of Travel Hosts is another great resource, with their standard-setting for hosts.”
Partner with the Right Suppliers
Just as travel advisors qualify their clients, they must also carefully choose the suppliers with whom to partner.
“With so many products available to offer a client in the travel space, knowing who to work with is challenging,” says Daly, noting that host agencies can help by pre-vetting suppliers. “When looking at what supplier to use, [advisors] should look for suppliers who have a strong reputation within the industry and they should rely upon other travel advisor testimonials.”
“Suppliers that show their support for travel advisors always win,” Daly adds, noting that advisors should look for suppliers that support their marketing and business efforts, offer superior customer service, provide solid learning opportunities and are easy to do business with.”
Consider a Host Agency
It’s not surprising that the interview subjects interviewed for this article all praise the benefits of affiliating with a host agency.
“Someone new to the industry should absolutely join a host,” says Friedman. “Most times, your host has access to consortia benefits. There are also programs and tools like a CRM, lead generation, website creation and more.”
Daly, who’s worked in travel for more than 27 years, says that a host agency can be an especially good fit for entrepreneurial advisors. “When you join a host agency, you are in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” he explains. “Our network of franchise owners, partners and associates know that when they reach out, our headquarters team will be there to support them.”
Global Travel Collection, meanwhile, recently finessed its host agency offerings by introducing the Path Forward plan, which includes organizational changes designed to give advisors more advantages. “The core of the Path Forward is to deliver added consulting and support services to our advisors by providing a long-term success path,” according to Licea.