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 Michelle Fee. 

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 Alaska sailing.

"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 agents."

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 knows when?"

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."

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