Thanks to a variety of factors, including a solid economy
and better upselling skills, hosted travel agents are enjoying higher incomes
year over year in 2018.
Host Agency Reviews recently released its annual agent
income survey, which found that the average hosted agent's income is $40,377
this year, up 16% versus 2017. Host agencies largely said that is in line with
what their agents are experiencing.
Betsy Geiser, vice president of Uniglobe Travel Center, said
agents aren't "selling more, they're selling better."
"They're selling up," Geiser said. "They're
selling more balconies, suites on cruise ships. They're selling bigger land
packages. You know, I'm not seeing the number of passengers necessarily going
up, but I see the passengers that are traveling spending more money."
Geiser said that with many suppliers, bookings are up in the
5% to 10% range, but revenue is up 15% to 25%, further indicating that agents
are selling better classes of products.
Uniglobe is not alone in that trend.
Nexion president Jackie Friedman said, "We're
definitely seeing more hosted agents selling more premium, upper premium and
luxury products than ever before, and that's definitely contributing to their
overall bottom line."
At Nexion, Friedman said, "revenue growth is higher
than our passenger growth." She attributed that largely to increased training when it
comes to luxury products.
"I think, as agents become more experienced and more
comfortable, they're really striving to make the most out of all bookings,"
Friedman said. "We're teaching them how to supersize their booking and add
pre and post and insurance and activities and all the different
revenue-generating opportunities, to not only earn higher revenue but also to
really differentiate themselves and be that adviser to the consumer and not
just take a credit card number and be done with it."
According to the Host Agency Reviews survey, agents
specializing in luxury travel were the highest earners this year, with an
average income of $58,688.
Kelly Bergin, president of Oasis Travel Network, said her
host agency is also focusing on upselling in agent training.
"We're seeing higher-ticket items, which says to me
that they are [upselling]," Bergin said. "Either they're adding on or
they're selling a higher category of hotel room or a cabin on a cruise ship."
In addition to training, hosted agents are taking advantage
of other offers from their host agencies, including marketing support.
At Cruise Planners, for example, agents have access to
insights that can show them a client's propensity to buy, according to CEO
That helps agents when identifying a potential upsell
opportunity. For example, an agent might see a consumer who previously bought a
balcony on a seven-day Caribbean cruise, but they have the propensity to buy a
higher-end product. So that agent might offer that consumer a suite on an
"It's allowed our agents to have a little bit more
control of who their customer is and what to offer them," Fee said.
Hosted agents' income has also been bolstered by a strong
economy with consumers who are willing to spend more on travel.
"More people are traveling," Bergin said. "The
people traveling are spending more money on trips. More people are using travel
Jenn Lee, vice president of sales and marketing at Travel
Planners International, said she sees several other factors that could be
contributing to higher incomes for hosted agents. First, she said, they're
taking themselves more seriously as business owners. Instead of trying to compete
against the likes of Costco, they are selectively choosing clients.
"Because they're moving away from trying to win
business that's unwinnable in many cases from a pricing standpoint, they're
just choosing to go away from those clients, or they're choosing to focus more
on things that clients wouldn't be able to get from a Costco," Lee said.
Agents are increasingly bringing on sub-agents, acting as
their mentors for a cut of what that agent makes. That helps their bottom line,
Lee said, as do the service fees she is increasingly seeing agents charge.
Suppliers also have an impact on hosted agents' incomes. For
one, prices are steady or increasing, helping agents earn higher commissions.
Additionally, what Friedman calls "the product-within-a-product phenomenon"
is helping bolster sales. This includes higher-end products within more
mass-market products, such as the Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line ships.
Host agency leaders were largely optimistic that hosted agents' incomes will continue to
increase, but they cautioned that is largely dependent on the economy.
As numbers stand right now, 2019 is on track to be an even
better year for Oasis than 2018 has been, Bergin said, "as long as there's
this positive feeling about the economy."
"But, as soon as that turns, it's a whole different
ballgame," she said. "When and if that will happen -- I mean, history
will tell us that, of course, it's going to turn. That's what it does. But who
Friedman agreed: "As long as the economy stays as such,
where folks are prepared to pay and agents are successful in selling the added
value versus discounted prices, that will continue."