The pandemic has brought about some interesting, and unexpected, trends among the independent contractor (IC) community.
In the past three to four months, Global Travel Collection (GTC) has onboarded "a substantial number" of ICs in the U.S. and the U.K., said president Angie Licea.
"They've come in many shapes and sizes, which is very interesting, but one thing we're seeing in my segmentation is the mom-and-pop-type agencies are saying, 'Look, I want to de-risk,'" she said. "'Brick and mortar, numbers of staff, just the infrastructure of back office and GDS contracts -- I don't want it anymore.'"
As a result, a number of experienced advisors have joined GTC, which is the Internova Travel Group brand skewed toward luxury.
Licea said these advisors feel they will be better positioned to recover once travel starts returning as hosted agents.
Nexion Travel Group, another Internova host agency, has onboarded a number of ICs who were either ICs or employees of agencies that have closed, said president Jackie Friedman. They're looking for their next home, and the hosted model makes sense. Nexion is also welcoming ICs from other parts of the travel industry, such as supplier sales representatives who were laid off but want to stay in travel.
Interestingly, Friedman said, Nexion is still seeing interest from new-to-the-industry advisors. Many have reported feeling this was a good time to get into the business and train, readying themselves for the return of meaningful travel volumes.
Both Licea and Friedman agree that in 2021, ICs will be among the best-positioned advisors for success.
"No. 1, they're entrepreneurs, and they are business owners," Friedman said. "They have that relationship with their customers, and those relationships, that trust, is going to be so important moving forward because travelers are going to need more than someone who can just transact a particular trip."
ICs also benefit from flexibility, she said. They can pivot to doing other things to get by while the pandemic rages.
The IC segment has, for some years now, been the fastest-growing segment of the industry. Though the Covid-19 crisis certainly will put a dent in that growth, it is unlikely to continue to stymie it once travel returns.
"I think that by the very nature of who they are, the flexibility that they have, and the relationships that they have with their customers, they are going to emerge to continue to be the fastest-growing segment," Friedman said.
Licea agreed. She pointed to the tenacious nature of travel advisors, who have worked for months with refunds exceeding revenue, but without giving up.
"The thing is, they put their customers first on a consistent basis," Licea said. "And that's what makes the difference."
The segment, and the travel agency community as a whole, will also benefit from general pent-up demand as well as the increased awareness of the importance of working with a travel advisor.
"Travel will return," Licea said, "and our advisors are ready."